Wrong answer, Edwina.

So I wrote an open letter to the SCA about their association with Justin Vacula.  SCA Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, came by and left a comment.

Correction – the Secular Coalition for America has not “hired” anyone in any state. We have a staff of seven in DC. We are staffing state coalitions in 49 states, DC and PR. The state coalitions are made up of interested groups and individuals in the states and particupation [sic] is voluntary. We are willing to work with as many affiliated and allied groups and individuals as possible. We are seeking volunteers in the states and are thankful to those that are willing to assist. We have much work to do at the National and State level…

What?

What???

He was appointed co-chair of PA, but wasn’t hired, per se?  Whoops, my bad.  Was that really the one point you wanted to get cleared up?  Nothing about the SCA’s association with the guy who celebrated the mental anguish of a board member of one of the SCA’s affiliate organizations?  What about his writing an article for a designated hate group (via the Southern Poverty Law Center)?  Does the distinction of appointment carry less of your endorsement than “hiring”?

You didn’t even acknowledge what the actual fuss was about!  Take that one tweet I posted (and for those griping that I posted nothing else condemning of Vacula, don’t confuse mercy with lack of ammunition).  Where Justin had the opportunity to say “I still think you are wrong, but I hope that you are ok,” he instead threw out a taunt.  The atheist movement should, of course, strive for reason, but it must also strive for compassion.  Sometimes we try and fail.  However, in terms of compassion, Justin is clearly not even trying.  It was more important to him to indulge his self-interest by appealing to similarly malicious people than it was to even think about if Jen was all right.  That is the person upon whom you just bestowed a position of responsibility, and so far we’ve not even seen a hint that this matters to you.  But that I said “hired” rather than “approved” or “appointed,” that apparently matters enough for you to speak up.

Don’t you get it?  What pisses us off is not whether Justin was hired or appointed, it’s that you either approve of the, frankly, vile things he has done, or that you don’t care who you vest with authority under the banner of the SCA.  In either case, your association with Vacula undermines our remaining confidence in you as a leader and in the SCA as an organization.

Edwina, when you were first announced to this movement there were a whole host of gripes, such as your financial support of Rick Perry.  Ordinarily donations to men who would love little more than to see the end of secularism in America would be viewed as a betrayal, but you actually tried to spin your financial support of secularism’s enemies as a reason to trust that you’ll be able to effectively work toward ends opposite of where your dollars went.  Another one of the big gripes on you was that you dodged questions.  Greta Christina put it perfectly.

[Edwina] was talking to her own community here. She was talking to the people she was hired to represent. And she treated us with contempt. She treated us like children, or fools. She treated us like gullible, easily manipulated sheep, who would swallow whatever she told us without question. She treated us, not like members of a community who she was hired to represent, but like targets of a PR campaign who she was hired to dupe.

And your comment on my blog establishes that our optimism that you would eventually learn your lesson was misplaced.  You are still dodging the issues.

And the terrible irony here is that in your first interviews and conference calls (I know because I asked the question of how you intended to get ahead of the Rick Perry donations) you played the political game of answering the question you wish had been asked, rather than the question that was asked.  And back then, you always turned it back to the 50 states program and how it was your baby, and how you were “overseeing it.”  That was your selling point.  Those were your words.  And now, are we to believe that you’ll just take any volunteer?  Is this how seriously you take the charge of personally overseeing something?

Now listen to me, Edwina.  If you take nothing else away from this post, take this.  You will make mistakes.  You will make them as an activist, as head of the Secular Coalition for America, and as a human being.  I make them too; as an activist, as a blogger, and as a person.  We are all fallible.  What makes an admirable leader is not perfection with regard to never making mistakes, but that they make their mistakes with dignity.

Your comment, nitpicking over one irrelevant detail while conspicuously ignoring the entirety of the point, is the game of politics.  In terms of integrity, it is the worst decision you could have made.  Had you admitted a mistake, that would’ve shown humility.  Had you defended Justin, it would’ve betrayed a myriad of negative qualities, but it would at least shown that you can identify the most important issue in the room and stand up for what you believe.  It would’ve allowed you to disagree with dignity.  Instead, you opted for the only option vacant any principle, save for that of self-interest.  This is why you have yet to earn a place in the hearts of atheists; not because you make mistakes, but because you fail to make them with dignity.

I reiterate, I love the idea of the SCA.  Read that again and believe every word of it.  I love the idea of the SCA!  I want it to succeed and I want you to succeed.  But not at the expense of compassion.  Not at the expense of integrity.  If your success means removing either of those as a standard, then you must fail.  And the fact that you are failing, and that the SCA is bound to your fate, could not make me more sad.

Do not try and shift blame to me for trying to tear you down, but instead try to indulge in some self-reflection here.  I’m practically begging you.  I promise, I don’t go out looking to do damage to organizations that are part of this cause that I love to get my jollies.  I want you to be better, which is why I sent you that letter in the first place.  I want you to embrace accountability in a way that our politicians seldom dream of.  And I’m disappointed that you’ve still not done it.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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