Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pennybacker's sermon against sermonizing

Albert Pennybacker's editorial appeared in Monday's Lexington Herald-Leader right below my piece calling on the University of Kentucky to practice what it preaches about diversity.

The headline for his piece was, "Foundation using religion to divide, not to embrace." The "Foundation," of course, is a reference to The Family Foundation, which is the organization that has been spearheading the attempt to bring attention to the taxpayer-funded political activism at the state's universities.

Trouble is, the Family Foundation did not use religion in its effort to expose the hypocrisy at UK. Nowhere is religion even mentioned in any of its comments on the issue. In fact, as far as I know, Pennybacker is the first one to invoke religion in this debate. Ironically, he invokes it in order to condemn people who invoke it, which is just slightly self-defeating.

In fact, this is hardly the first time that The Family Foundation has been charged with bringing religion into a public debate by people who can't seem to stop talking about it. I'm thinking here of State Rep. Kathy Stein (D-Lexington), another public figure who is so opposed to the inclusion of religion in public life that she can't stop talking about religion--especially in debates in which no one else is talking about it.

In fact, Pennybacker is not only the first one who has mentioned religion in this debate, but he is a minister--Rev. Albert Pennybacker. Does anyone find it strange that the very person bringing religion into the debate is himself not only the only person who is discussing religion, but is himself employed in a religious vocation?


Now to be fair, Rev. Pennybacker didn't write the headline, but the content of the piece says basically the same thing and includes other charges that are both untrue and unfounded.

The basic problem with Rev. Pennybacker's piece is that he clearly doesn't understand what he is talking about. In fact, I don't think he even read the publications that discussed the six UK professors that he spends so much time decrying since the only copies available were given to legislators and the press.

We didn't distribute them to ministers like Rev. Pennybacker.

If he had read them, he couldn't have written that the Foundation "attacked respected professors at the very best of our Kentucky universities and sought to manipulate state funding against them."

How does reprinting what the University of Kentucky website itself said about the professors constitute an "attack"? Nothing was even said about them except what the university itself said about them, and none of it had anything to do with whether they were good or bad people. All they did was to discuss the groups they were involved in and what their studies focused on.

"And this action," he says, "... is taken on the basis of the foundation's ideological agenda." Well, if we have an "ideological agenda," at least we are furthering it with private money, not the public money that liberals at UK are furthering theirs with. Why is Rev. Pennybacker upset at ideological agendas that are privately funded and not those that are funded with tax and tuition money? Could it possibly be because he shares the latter and not the former?

"Second," he said, "the foundation is an integral part of a larger network of exclusivist religion -- 'my way or the highway' -- which is always suspect." There he goes talking about religion again.

This is an indication that Rev. Pennybacker just simply doesn't understand the issue. In fact, his argument is exactly what we have been saying about UK. Has Rev. Pennybacker read the "Commitment" on the Gender and Women's Studies website? The whole point is that there is only one way department staff can approach gender and women's issues. It's their way or the highway.

"Good religion," he argues, "affirms an open mind, advocates honest inquiry and applauds sound intellectual contributions to understanding the complexities in the life we share." Well, once again, it's nice to hear Rev. Pennybacker in his sermonic mode, but if he's so concerned about open minds, why doesn't he go talk to the ideological gatekeepers at UK who brook no dissent in their own departments?

Of course, as far as "complexities" go, Rev. Pennybacker is not going to find any at places like the Gender and Women's Studies Department at UK, where only one perspective is welcome.

Rev. Pennybacker then goes off and talks about sex, another topic which he has inserted into the discussion and then wants to blame on someone else.

My past associations with Rev. Pennybacker have always been pleasant and I consider him a gentleman, but I think he should at least understand the issues he is discussing before he makes intemperate public statements about them.


Anonymous said...

"Religion is the Masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains peoples as to how they shall think." Arthur Schopenhauer

"What can be assumed without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence". christopher Hitchens

Martin Cothran said...

I wonder where Shopenhauer learned that? And in regard to Hitchens, his statement is one of those statements that does not meet its own criteria: it can be dismissed because there is no evidence for it.