1. My family and I attend a Lutheran Church. Please do not direct hate mail to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
2. I would like to extend my apologies to Tom Cruise and his family. Oh, and to Governor Ed Rendell.
3. Don’t worry; it will make sense in a minute.
As much as I campaign for animal welfare, I have also increasingly campaigned for a civil dialogue among those who represent the efforts to promote the welfare of animals in our society. I have repeatedly made the case that one of the biggest obstacles facing us in our efforts to pass good animal welfare laws are the rude, self-righteous, and hyper-emotional on our side of the aisle. These people, using their depth of belief as a shield to excuse themselves and their behavior, indulge in viciousness and vulgarities against those they see as opposing them.
And their vitriol is not reserved solely for the opposition. Sometimes their greatest abuse is directed at those on their own side who choose different methods, have different beliefs or agendas, or are not as extreme in their demands. But I recently saw an escalation of personal attack which I found stunning, despite my years of seeing what those who “love animals so much” are capable of.
I recently received an e-newsletter from an animal welfare group who shares my profound disgust for the pigeon shoots which blight my organization’s home county, Berks, and Pennsylvania, the sole state in the Union still allowing them. This group’s rhetoric has always been pretty strong, pointed and sarcastic. But it has generally been reserved for those committing the horrible acts they (and I) oppose. I may promote civil discourse, but skewering a local pigeon shooting attorney who was caught on tape calling a female protester a name so indecent it seems impolite to make so much as an oblique description of it here will generally get a pass, even from me.
But this email caught my attention because it referred to Governor Ed Rendell as “sleaze”. And that made me cringe. Governor Rendell has done more in Pennsylvania to promote improvements for animals, and dogs in commercial kennels specifically, than any we’ve had. True, you can argue with many, many things in the legislation he signed, the way his Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement has acted and enforced our laws, the lack of forceful leadership he has shown on issues such as the pigeon shoot ban, and others. But overall, he’s done a great deal and politics is about more than what I want so my job is help convince him to do more. “Sleaze” seemed harsh to me, even directed at a thick skinned politician.
However, when I read on to the next article about rodeos, another issue this group feels strongly about but is not a practical issue for me or my organization since we have no rodeos, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
The article was about Tom Cruise being linked to a movie about a rodeo star. This group is appalled he or anyone would make a film glorifying a rodeo star. No problem, I get that; it is one of their issues. They went on to mention he had been filmed at a rodeo with his children and made a mocking comment about his parenting. As a father of three young daughters, I found that offensive. There was no need to even bring his kids into the discussion, especially for a cheap shot. The group then encouraged readers to write Cruise and express their displeasure. Fine, they don’t like rodeos, he’s making a movie about them, I get it.
What I found so stunning, so horrible, so profoundly un-American, was the next request. They wanted readers to write to Tom Cruise’s church, the Church of Scientology International, to tell them that “he and his church will carry the stain of it for the rest of his career and beyond”.
This injection of Cruise’s faith into their perfectly valid attack on the treatment of rodeo animals is not only insensitive, it comes at a time when our entire nation appears to be grappling with whether an entire faith can be painted with the “stain” of the actions of some of its supposed adherents. Even President Bush, faced with the height of our Nation’s 9/11 convulsions, made a strong and clear statement that the actions of Muslim terrorists who killed 3,000 of our citizens could not be assigned to Islam.
Yet this animal group will fault an entire congregation with the choice of motion picture jobs made by an actor who belongs to it?
Interestingly, they do not ask us to write the churches or synagogues of others they mention in their piece. Does Cruise’s choice of church merit some special exception?
This type of attack must be called what it is: intolerance and bigotry. It is wrong, it has nothing to do with animal welfare and it is fascistic. It flies in the face of the very tenets that founded the United States and no justification can be made based on their strength of conviction or love of animals.
One of the cases I make for ending pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania is that they invite the participation of individuals and groups from out of our communities, out of our state, who have agendas and axes to grind at our expense. Do you remember who arrived to defend the pigeon shoots in Hegins, Pennsylvania, years ago? The Ku Klux Klan. Now we have an out-of-state group who rightly opposes the shoots but brings their hate speech with them as a consequence. I want neither and I hope that we can send them all packing by passing a pigeon shoot ban now.
But until we do, I feel the need to apologize to Governor Rendell for the comments made by those who claim to share my views. I feel the need to abjectly apologize for the slurs directed at Tom Cruise, his family and his church.
And to those who have a problem with that, do me a favor and send the hate mail to me. I’m not sure my church will know what you are talking about.