Dear Rabbi and Susan,
I am a Conservative evangelical Christian. I’m 52, unmarried, no children, and I live with my mother and father. And sometimes, my grandmother is here too. I have a moral dilemma that is NOT the end of the world. It’s nothing major, but it’s something that’s been bothering me. My question, simply put, is when/at what point/how do you decide to draw the line?
I am a writer. I am a member of a professional writers organization. I used to be a member of more than one group, but as each organization had a woke meltdown, literally labeling members like me as “white supremacists” etc. ad nauseum, I finally had enough and walked away. After all, why should I pay to be treated so? That line was easy to see.
My question is about the group where I am still a member and have been for 15+ years. Every year, this group presents awards for outstanding new works as voted on by members. When I became eligible to vote, I was very excited. I expected to read really outstanding works in the genre. Unfortunately, instead, I often read very well-written stories that were mediocre but where members were nominated by their fellow members and thus the same people got nominated over and over again. BUT there are excellent works that I have really enjoyed, and I take the reading of all the works very seriously [approximately 32 written works ranging from short stories to novels].
People have asked why I take this job of reading and voting so seriously… which to me is a strange question. I am a member and members read the works and vote. The fact that friends nominate friends has nothing to do with me. I have an obligation and a responsibility. Furthermore, if I am ever so lucky to be nominated [not gonna happen but IF], I would hope people would take reading my work as seriously I take reading these works.
In general, I have no problem reading a work and judging it on its quality. The film Platoon is an excellent example of what I mean; I did NOT like the movie, but it was very well-done and deserved the Oscar. This idea applies to the works I read; even if I don’t like a work, I consider how well-done it is and judge it on its merits.
Unfortunately, recently, the common themes running through the vast number of nominees is Wokeness. Particularly [but not limited to] LGBTQ and Trans issues. There are even stories where an individual character will use the pronouns “they/them/their”, which makes for incredibly difficult reading. On one hand, I wouldn’t care and just read through, but it’s the overwhelming nature of it all. It’s not just one or two stories but every single one. These are not my values. But I read through and judge as best as I can, endeavoring NOT to dismiss any work for these themes. Always for the quality.
Now, the problem. About the time President Biden took office, members of the publishing industry put out an open letter stating, essentially, that they would blacklist anyone from the Trump Administration who tried to work in the publishing industry or tried to publish a work. While the letter specifically referred to people who worked in the Trump Administration, it concluded that the signers would do everything in their power to root out the “monsters” in their midst in the publishing industry. I took this to mean not merely former employees in the Trump Administration, but anyone who was a conservative or espoused traditional values, like myself. Approximately 600 people signed this letter. Among them, to my disappointment, I found several writers I had read for awards in the past, as well as the head of a major publishing company in my area of interest.
Now, award season has returned, and I find some of these same writers who signed this letter are among the nominees. These are people who have openly said they wish to drive me from my chosen profession. Granted, maybe I am reading more into their words than they intended, but I suspect, if my traditional Christian faith and Conservative politics were known, I would not be welcome in this organization.
Now I am questioning why I am even bothering with reading and voting. On one hand, I’d like to read through without taking the authors’ statement into account, but that is difficult to do; I can’t unsee the authors’ names. I’ve also considered just not reading the works by those authors. But that seems unfair.
At what point, do I say “Enough” and just stop? I am putting in all this time and effort for people who would rather I wasn’t a part of this organization. Thus the question– should I even bother?
I’m sorry this is so long. As I said, this is not the end of the world. I’m just unsure how to proceed and need some moral guidance. And maybe you and Susan can see something in all of this that I am missing.
Thank you so much for your time!!
We hesitate to start our response by arguing with you, but we are going to brashly do so. Twice you stated that your dilemma isn’t “the end of the world,” and we disagree with that. It isn’t a natural catastrophe or a World War, but it is the end of a specific world as we have known it, where individuals are allowed to have freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom of association. Instead, societal pressure (and sometimes the law) is pushing us to follow a specific way of thinking and acting or to be condemned as “unfit” and made into pariahs.
Your specific example of what is happening in your industry is exactly that—a specific example. But similar things are happening in businesses, organizations and groups around the world. As we see it, the real question is whether you draw the line and withdraw from judging these works and/or from the organization at large or you wait for the organization to kick you out when you refuse to sign a statement or pledge fealty to certain ideas.
Recently a father wrote a long explanation detailing why he was withdrawing his children from a very expensive private school. Basically, it was because he saw the school implementing racist policies in the name of anti-racism, and he didn’t agree for his children to be indoctrinated in hatred. His dilemma is another facet of yours. These challenges are facing so many of us each day. That is why we say that yours is not a minor problem but a major one.
Our best advice to you is to seek like-minded individuals and associate with them, even if the few of you will not have the prestige of your large, well-established group. Read each other’s works, share motivational tips, and feel comfortable standing for freedom of expression. The more relationships you develop with those closer in age to you, and even much younger than you, the richer your life will be. You are blessed to have your parents and grandmother, but peers and friends are valuable as well.
From your letter it is evident to us that your affiliation with these writer groups has been very important to you and that taking care of what you saw as your obligation to these organizations and their programs has been very fulfilling. What we read in your letter is that you have already decided that you cannot separate your values and your professional persona. You simply haven’t yet activated that withdrawal. If you see severing these relationships as better than waiting for them to be severed for you for being honest to your convictions, we can foresee a bit of a vacuum in your life. Here’s our suggestion: Start doing far more writing and far less judging. We think that over the years you may have started investing increasing time and energy into your organizational work at the cost of time and energy invested into your own skills and creativity.
Use this time as a blessing to walk away from the world of choosing awards recipients and into the wonderful world of developing your own writing regardless of whether or not it wins awards. We promise you that in the long run, readers are far more valuable than awards. This could really open up a thrilling new time in your life.
We are sorry that this important area of your life has been self-destructing. So many people today are needing to adjust to new realities. You are not alone.
Wishing you joy as new doors open,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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