A Discouraging “Day of Encouragement”

National Day of Encouragement doesn’t go down until September 12, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2nd annual event.

What, you ask, is the National Day of Encouragement? Good question!

Officially acknowledged by President Bush last year, the “holiday” hopes to counter negativity with some good old coddling. We need such a day because, according to the Day’s website, “negative images and stories brought to us by the media can lead to sadness and discouragement.”

An explanatory video shares some of these “very negative images” – mostly of September 11 – and concludes, “There is something you can do.”

While some may quite rightly guess “cut yourself off from all media,” the site has another suggestion: “Spend some time encouraging someone. And let’s fight the discouragement that plagues our schools, work places, and homes.” Great! We love encouraging people – you go, girl! – but, upon further examination, we’re finding the entire thing quite discouraging.

It all began in June of 2007, when do-gooder high school students gathered at Harding University for a National Leadership Forum. Upset by growing problems in their high schools, like booze, parties and the dreaded sex, the teenage participants decided our nation needed a day to counteract society’s detrimental influences. And, as you can imagine, those influences are highly subjective. And perhaps highly influenced, especially since the day’s run out of The Institute for Church & Family, headquartered at Harding.

Founded in 1924, Arkansas-based Harding University prides itself on its faith-based education – and all the moral baggage that comes with it. From the student handbook: “Harding University holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage. Sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the University.” This exclusionary attitude shouldn’t surprise, of course. Loads of faith-based institutions routinely rail against homosexuality. Harding’s commitment to the anti-queer cause, however, goes deeper than simply fire and brimstone. Just ask Harding professor Mark Elrod.

In a June 20, 2008, interview with “Christian issues” blog downintheblog, Elrod, a historian, expresses his relatively lukewarm support for gay marriage, saying, “I’m generally not opposed to it and I’m not in favor of it either… I’m generally in favor of allowing same-sex marriages but I’m not going to go to the barricades to fight for it either.” Harding University was not impressed. And they were particularly displeased with Elrod’s takes on Biblical condemnations:

The bible itself defines marriage about 7 different ways, and any of those 7 ways you could make an argument that the bible says it should be legal, like polygamy.

If we use the bible as a document to determine our civil laws, it’s not entirely clear on what marriage is.

Let the righteous backlash begin!

Displeased with Dr. Elrod’s blasphemous opinion, Harding officials reportedly urged him into keeping his private thoughts private, according to Political Cartel, a blog run by Harding alum. The authors described Harding’s reaction to Elrod’s queer comments as “intellectual oppression.” Elrod claims he wasn’t pressured, but did go ahead and restrict access to his personal blog. Before doing so, however, Elrod posted this telling message:

I’ve come to the realization that I have over-estimated the capacity of both my academic [Harding University and my religious [Church of Christ] community to deal with critical thinking or dissent in a public forum. In the last few weeks, I’ve grown tired with dealing with members of both communities who seem to view the world in black and white terms and think of all discussions as zero-sum games.

Now, we don’t know about you lot, but we’re not about to celebrate a “Day of Encouragement” founded in a school that doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word. Harding University had no comment on the matter, of course, which speaks volumes more than anything they ever could have spun.

[Image: “Discouraging Letter” by Brad Phillips.]