Port: When did we become so terrified of different points of view?

If you aren't exposing your kids to criticism for your ideas, then you're the one doing the indoctrinating.

A sign for Park River Bible Camp, installed in 2021, at the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 32 reads, "All Are Welcome." Executive Director Rebecca Kjelland says if people do not feel welcome at camp, like a transgender pastor invited to speak at an event, the sign should be changed.
Contributed photo / Rebecca Kjelland

MINOT, N.D. — One of our responsibilities as citizens of this country is to understand that living in a free society means we're going to run into some things — be it speech or art or ideas — we don't like.

Our duty is to support an expansive right to free speech anyway.

And, boy, are we failing at that right now. Ideological puritanism is on the rise, left and right. Americans, increasingly, are unwilling to listen to one another, or even live and let live.

The U.S. Supreme Court just had to step in and rule that it's OK for a football coach to hold voluntary prayer meetings in a public circle. Artists and authors like J.K. Rowling have been ostracized, and seen their works destroyed , over their political statements.

We live in an intolerant time.


A recent and local example comes from Park River Bible Camp, a Lutheran institution that invited a number of speakers to address campers this year, including Pastor Drew Stever, a transgender pastor from Hope Lutheran Church in Hollywood, California.

The occasion is YouthFest, a camp organized for seventh to 12th graders which runs from July 10 to 15.

Stever and some of the other speakers — including "an Indigenous speaker, Black speaker and disabled speaker along with Stever," our Ingrid Harbo reports — drew local backlash, and now Stever has pulled out.

“Camp is supposed to be a place where you can go and just be, and we didn’t feel like we could be at camp and be in the town fully present, fully comfortable and fully feeling like our safety was a priority,” he told Harbo.

Part of the backlash came from Father Jeff Eppler of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Grafton. Without bothering to speak to camp organizers, he ran a notice in his church's bulletin warning parents away. “Unfortunately, this camp can no longer be trusted to promote genuine Christian morality,” he wrote.

In the June 26 bulletin of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Grafton, a message was posted warning parents not to send their children to the event because the event would have left leaning speakers promoting “things contrary to the Catholic Faith,” specifically a transgender speaker.
Contributed / St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church

The social media backlash was predictably ugly as well.

"People also took to Facebook, posting comments on Park River Bible Camp’s posts, speculating the political views of the speakers at Youth Fest, accusing the camp of indoctrinating children and calling for (Park River Bible Camp Executive Director Rebecca) Kjelland to be fired," Harbo reports.

I have no idea if I would like what Pastor Stever has to say or not. Other than the fact that he's a Lutheran pastor from Hollywood and trans, I don't know anything about him, and before I condemn what someone has to say, I like to actually hear what they have to say.


Call me old-fashioned, I guess.

I am ashamed that the reaction to him speaking at a bible camp in North Dakota was so intense he didn't feel safe coming to our wonderful state.

That's not how North Dakotans should react.

That's not how Americans should react.

I wish he would have felt safe to come and speak.

When did we become so afraid to be exposed to ideas and viewpoints and lifestyles that diverge from our own?

"A Sanford employee on a committee chaired by a Sanford-funded politician moved to reconsider a bill so that another Sanford-funded politician could make an amendment a Sanford lobbyist asked for."
"Even if Trump is convicted in the criminal justice system, it's not going to matter in the political system until Trump's supporters care about the honesty and integrity of their candidate."
"The way things are trending, the tax policy that emerges from this Legislature may tilt more toward failed property tax buydowns than income tax relief."

What did the critics think was going to happen at this camp? That Stever was going to turn some of the kids transgender? That's not how that works, for one thing, and to the extent that Stever was going to expose the campers to some ideas that might be controversial, so what?

Kids should be exposed to a lot of ideas. That's part of the process of making them independent thinkers. Many who complain about exposing kids to speakers like Stever argue that the kids might become "indoctrinated," but that term means teaching a group of people to "accept a set of beliefs uncritically."


If you aren't exposing your kids to criticism for your ideas, then you're the one doing the indoctrinating.

What rankles me, in particular, is that this situation could have become an opportunity for the adults involved to show the camp kids how to disagree without being disagreeable. Perhaps, instead of condemnation, Father Eppler could have opted for cooperation. The sign out in front of the bible camp says "all are welcome," and the organizers of the camp talk a great deal about their desire for diversity, and presumably, that means Catholics with traditional Catholic views on LGBTQ issues.

Why not engage? Why not ask to participate as well, and offer a counterpoint to the other speakers? Why not try to teach the kids, who are watching all of this unfold, that it's possible to have contrasting, and even incompatible points of view while still respecting one another?

Instead, what we got was more hostility, more division, and more rancor at a time when our society needs far less of those things.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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