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What has happened to civil discourse? Why do the ultra-liberal, left-leaning, progressive-minded under-30 folks who supposedly believe in tolerance insist upon preventing those who disagree with them from having a public voice, much less a public appearance? They should take a lesson from Vinny, Ruth and me.
If you’ve been downtown between 9 and noon on weekdays, or at the train station on most Wednesday afternoons, you’ve likely seen Vinny or his wife Ruth. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses and they very peacefully stand next to a display of Watchtower literature ready to carry on a conversation with whomever stops by. I got to know Vinny a year or so ago when I was at the train station taking pictures. He recognized my Leica camera and asked me about it. He approached me first not to discuss religion, but cameras. We both have an appreciation for old German cameras and photography and that common interest took a backseat to religion.
I’m a Christian, specifically a confessional Presbyterian; I am the theological polar opposite of Vinny and Ruth. They think I am 100% in error and I think the same about them. Over the next year or more I would often stop and ask pointed questions of his wife at the courthouse and him at the train station. I still do. On some occasions, though, religion never came up. I even invited them to a photo exhibit I had, to which they both came. We’ve seen each other out shopping and stopped and spoken.
Make no mistake, my intentions are not to learn more about the Watchtower Society — I’ve studied them for nearly 50 years — but to point out and discuss what I believe are fundamental doctrinal errors, and they know this. Although I’d rather people not read their literature, I would never consider preventing folks from doing so and I certainly wouldn’t knock down their stand or scream and holler at them. The Constitution affords him the same rights and protection as it does me.
The three of us understand that tolerance isn’t about people, it’s about ideas. We don’t have to accept each other’s religious position, but we do have to treat each other with respect and dignity.