Choosing a ‘righteous’ cause means looking beyond yourself


“No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.” — Theodore Roosevelt

“Just ‘cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” —  George Carlin

Many will agree that the most profane results frequently come from people pursuing the most holy causes. Often, the question is: “What are we willing to sacrifice to see our cause to the end.” Maybe the question before that question should be: “Is this cause one that should be embraced in the first place?”

Do you want to embrace a righteous cause? Are you ready to lead a new reformation? Then ponder that second question carefully, because there’s a thin line between a righteous champion and a bonehead.

In September, a Cranston, R.I., public school was slapped with a complaint by a single mother, identified only as Melissa. She hired the American Civil Liberties Union to address her grievance against the Cranston school district for hosting a father-daughter dance sponsored by one of the local elementary schools.

Melissa, who is raising a daughter, was offended by this (as well as an organized mother-son baseball game in the same district) because it was a gender-specific activity which violates “federal Title IX rules that prohibit sex-specific events in educational settings unless ‘reasonably comparable’ events are held.”

At first glance, it seems like another example of a too-thin-skinned victim hiring a lawyer to bully another into forcing her inclusion into an event from which she felt excluded. But let’s examine this more closely.

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, etc. certainly poses a problem that would be unethical to ignore. I was alive (though of tender age) when the Civil Rights Act was passed, striking down the Jim Crow laws that forced segregation between blacks and whites.

Those laws legalized racism, allowing whites to establish “separate but equal” facilities — restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, for instance — separating people on the basis of their race.

In that case, laws that forced inclusion were necessary in the face of malicious racism. History shows that the civil rights movement was a just and necessary cause.

Could it be said that the principle for which Melissa fought has the same moral quality as the civil rights concerns championed by Martin Luther King? Was her grievance genuinely a case against a community that was hostile toward her?

Anyone with the least amount of compassion sympathizes with the task of single parents. Raising children right is difficult enough with two strong parents. How much more difficult for the single mother? Still, was this really a case on par with the civil rights movement?

If it were, why weren’t more single mothers with daughters marching in the streets against the Cranston schools? In reading the comments to the online story, I saw that other single mothers acknowledged the burden of raising a child alone. Still, some said, they would not want to rob someone else of that special relationship that a daughter has with her father.

Further, things like single-mothers-with-daughters-only water fountains, restrooms and restaurants are non-existent. There are no laws on the books that specifically segregate single parents from public school events.

In the end, the event went on as scheduled and Melissa and her daughter attended anyway.

This raises a host of questions. Was this a case of genuine discrimination or just social small-mindedness? Was this a case of true injustice or mere hurt feelings? What is the distinction between waging a just war against true intolerance and using legal means to crash someone else’s private party? After all, non-inclusion in social events does not always equal hostile prejudice, does it?

(By the way, I write this with the understanding that government entities like schools are not afforded the same freedoms as the private sector. Ironic, isn’t it?)

In taking up a cause to change our culture in a positive direction, we have to be able to tell the difference between true injustice and petty self-indulgence. Just causes should never be undertaken by the self-absorbed, who will crusade for what is good for them alone, regardless of whether or not it’s good for the larger community.

I wouldn’t fault Melissa or anyone for taking up a righteous cause, but her campaign against the Cranston School District comes across as neither righteous nor noble. It comes across as more petulant and bigoted against any outside of her familial existence. Martin Luther King’s dream aimed at a society that would not judge by the color of one’s skin, but by the content of one’s character. Melissa’s aim was apparently much lower.

Those of small character will take up small causes. We live in a day when we need people who will take up the gauntlet for righteous causes. Is our character big enough to do that successfully?

Timothy King is a former Baptist minister who lives and works in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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