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Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams in defense of British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre.

I thank Rep. Russ Diamond for his response to my recent letter.

I am grateful that my letter has provoked some serious consideration of matters that I feel are important to consider for the common good. I write now not as rebuttal but to ask for considered clarification in our dialog on these matters.

Let me be clear about my own motives and intentions. I did not write to criticize the “maskless” among us. I am sorry that some in our community may feel discrimination because they cannot wear masks for medical reasons. Even those who refuse to wear masks for other reasons should not be publicly shamed. However, in that case, a reasoned conversation in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17 might well be in order.

I did write originally to point out how the misappropriation of “history, words, and images” only serve to “inflame and sharpen divisions.” My letter was not an attempt to “imagine things to be offended by” or to express “contrived outrage (a/k/a cancel culture).” Rather, it was intended to point out how such a misappropriation causes real, not imagined, offense. Before writing, I checked with members of the Jewish, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities to see if I was being overly sensitive. I was assured that was not the case. (By the way, I had to look up what constituted “cancel culture.” Upon doing so, I can affirm that I do not wish to “cancel” or discount Rep. Diamond’s views but quite the opposite.)

No. I did not write as an attempt to cloak “nothing more than a political statement” as a “statement of faith.” As affirmed at least twice, my thoughts emerged from convictions about my responsibility to live out sacred vows that have been part of my spiritual life in a religious community for as long as I can remember. It may be true that I am not always faithful to these vows, and whenever I come up short, I am not afraid to confess the same both privately and publicly as necessary. Perhaps the confusion arose because, as I understand it, Church and State have their respective arenas of action. And yet, it has long been held that one’s religious convictions should inform their social interactions, of which political policy is one aspect. This, I believe, is what the founders of our republic held when providing for the religious freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution.

Here is how I see Rep. Diamond’s response:

  • Fully 38% of his letter focused on his well-known views about the handling of the COVID-19 health crisis by Commonwealth officials. My only reference to those policies was to help understand the absurdity of comparing the burdens imposed by current health directives to life in concentration camps. Little, if any, of my letter was related to a political defense of those policies.
  • 27% of his letter focused on his view that Dr. Levine should be removed as Health Secretary. My references to Dr. Levine (about 3% of my letter) were not about her handling of the matter but about Rep. Diamond’s insensitive parody of Dr. Levine’s statement about the mocking and disrespect she has received from many quarters because of her gender identity. Rep. Diamond asserts, “I do not care one iota about her gender.” Elsewhere he defends his statements, claiming that using one’s own words against them is an “age-old debate strategy.” Such a claim does not change the fact that his words are by definition parody. (As I understand it, a parody is defined as a humorous or mocking imitation of something by using the same form as the original to hold it up to ridicule.)

    While Rep. Diamond may have used this tactic to his advantage in the past, the use of parody with the opponent as the object is not part of a debate about issues or ideas. This is what is known as an ad hominem argument – a personal attack – which is itself a logical fallacy. Using a statement focused on the substantive issue for use in his parody may have been appropriate. But Rep. Diamond claimed that using other means to get his message across “always fell on deaf ears.” So instead, he resorted to using Dr. Levine’s statement about gender identity to make his point. This was not appropriate, since it has no relationship to the substantive matter under discussion.
  • 26% of the letter, respectively, continues this “strategy” by using another form of ad hominem argument to undercut the validity of my observations. In no uncertain terms, Rep. Diamond characterized my statements as disingenuous (12 %) and aligned with the “underhanded” tactics of the Democratic Party (14%). I neither espoused any positions taken by the Democratic Party, nor did I even obliquely espouse support for a Democratic candidate. (I did mention Rep. Diamond’s opponent in the current House race, but it was unavoidable since I was making a point about Rep. Diamond’s use of a disparaging Latino image to ridicule that individual.) Because I lead a faith community that values diversity, including diversity of thought, I take particular care to separate my own political views from those I publicly espouse. They may sometimes align, but this would be true regardless of my place on the political spectrum. The gospel is not without relevance in today’s world.

Added together, over 90% of Rep. Diamond’s response addressed issues that were not the core message of my letter and sought to undercut my personal integrity. Those who know me, know that I am plain spoken – I mean what I say, and I say what I mean.

On the other hand, 0% of Rep. Diamond’s response addressed his comparison of the Commonwealth’s policies to concentration camps and the impact that such a comparison might have on the Jewish community (40% of my letter). 0% his response focused on use of the disparaging characterization just mentioned and the impact that its use might have on the Latinx community (13% of my letter). 0% responded to a call for an apology to the members of the Jewish and the Latinx communities for any offense, even unintended. 0% responded to my continuing invitation to tour the Holocaust Museum (13% of my letter). Clearly, 100% of Rep. Diamond’s letter refused to acknowledge that any harm may have been done and that we should not expect a retraction or even an acknowledgement that some of his words might have been hurtful or divisive.

Yes, facts are stubborn things regardless of our wishes, inclinations, or the dictates of our passion.

The Rev’d Dr. David A. Zwifka
Rector, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Lebanon, PA

Rev. Dr. David Zwifka has been rector of St. Luke’s in Lebanon since September 2015. In addition to his work for St. Luke’s, Father Zwifka also serves as an instructor and member of the Board of Directors for the Stevenson School for Ministry.

Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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