The Father Who Went to Jail

Sermon audio (10-26-08): Aggression Against Christ In You Last week, I received an email with a video claiming that a Massachusetts man went to jail for protesting pro-gay material that his son was given in public kindergarten. The video was produced by the Family Research Council (FRC), and was sent up and down California by the American Family Association (AFA). It interested me because of the defiant beggar we are studying at our church these days (audio above).

Let's score it.

First, I'll make a distinction. I am discussing the way this story is told by the video's producers, the FRC. The Parkers, the couple featured in the video, will have said many things in the process of making it, only a few of which the producers kept in the presentation. So I am focused on the decisions made by the producers, and by those who distributed the video.

Start with the email that went out from the AFA. The subject line was, "A father goes to jail to protect his son." That was written to be scary. The implicit claim is that if one father is arrested then others will be too. The explicit claim is that the father was arrested was "to protect his son." If those claims are true, then the subject line is scary for a good reason. If not ...

Move to the video's music. The sad and scary sound of the introductory music sets an ominous atmosphere for the story. It's a not very subtle technique that lowers the video's tone to that of a tabloid piece or a negative political ad.

The narration of the story is calm. For the beginning, the producers seem to have made the sensible decision to let the facts of what the Parkers' son encountered speak for themselves. He was given a book making a positive portrayal of a homosexual household. The producers show the Parkers expressing shock that they were not informed about this book in advance, but their point of view comes across without melodrama.

So far, while I am bothered by the tabloid gimmick telling me what to feel, the video lays out its case in a defensible way. It asserts that if same-sex marriage is legal then teaching about it will come in public schools, regardless of parents' views. This is a reasonable assertion, and the tone and content of the video up to this point are consistent with it.

But the story abruptly lurches toward a shocker ending, as the subject line of the email and the tabloid gimmick announced it would do. Mr. Parker demanded an assurance from a school administrator that he would be notified before any more teaching about homosexuality, adding that until he received such an assurance he would not leave the school.

The producers show Mr. Parker saying that he was arrested, and they juxtapose comments from Mr. and Mrs. Parker making the clear assertion that he was arrested for demanding his parental rights. The producers show Mr. Parker describing the small filthy cell, and they show him breaking down. Then they switch to a voice-over of Mr. Parker giving a call to arms.

The video, in other words, tips from a reasonable assertion to a shocking one, an assertion that totalitarians run Massachusetts. If indeed a school administrator had Mr. Parker arrested for demanding parental rights -- for using his rights to free speech -- then we have a clear case of tyranny.

So what about that claim?

Here is the Boston Globe story on the incident. "David Parker was arrested for trespassing ... when he refused to leave the building until school officials promised to give him prior notification of their use of books that include homosexual characters." Arrested for trespassing.

Contrast the story on WorldNetDaily. "The dispute grabbed headlines when Parker, on April 27, 2005, was arrested and thrown in jail by school officials over his insistence on being notified regarding his son in kindergarten being taught about homosexual relationships by adults." Thrown in jail because of the gay agenda.

You're the administrator. The guy in your office escalates a disagreement by saying that he will not leave the facility until you give him what he demands. At this moment, what's the issue? And what's your decision? In an era of random school violence that has been the subject of planning and training at all levels for at least a decade, your decision is open-and-shut. He does not have the right to make that threat.

The score is: Boston Globe -- 1, FRC/AFA/WND -- 0. Whatever value the video might've had in warning Californians about the probable consequences of the failure of Prop 8 is undermined by the producers' fatal overreach. This was not a case of state aggression, but of civil disobedience. If you are a victim of state aggression, you get thrown in jail against your will. If you protest through civil disobedience, you have announced that going to jail is your intention.

Mr. Parker may make this clear when he speaks without producers editing his statements. (He comes close to doing so at one point in the video itself.) What dismays me about this video is the willingness of the producers and the activists to exploit such an incident for no other purpose than fear-mongering.

When did Christian leaders decide that propaganda was okay?