Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. In our political discourse, that’s one commandment which is frequently broken. Unfortunately, political actors often find it easier to demagogue an issue or demonize an opponent than to argue a position on its merits.
Just ask Bradlee Dean, founder of the unconventional Christian ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International. After nearly two decades of preaching at high schools, on street corners, and through television, film, and radio, Dean has spent the past year embroiled in sensational controversy. He was the central figure in the MN Forward-Target hubbub which plagued the gubernatorial campaign of Tom Emmer. That episode is now the subject of a lawsuit.
According to a complaint filed Wednesday on behalf of Dean and his ministry, writer Andy Birkey and The Minnesota Independent imputed to Dean a vile opinion which he never expressed. The complaint cites an article entitled “GOP-linked ministry says executing gays is ‘moral’,” and alleges that Birkey selectively excerpted comments to affect a false impression.
Prior to publishing these statements, Defendants the Minnesota Independent and Birkey were advised by Plaintiffs, and these Defendants knew, that Plaintiffs did not advocate the execution of gays and lesbians.
Nevertheless, the story went viral. It was picked up by MSNBC and Rachel Maddow, who excerpted and combined three different quotes which conveyed Birkey’s narrative. Though Maddow tacked a statement from Dean’s website onto the end of her report which clarified that he never called for the execution of homosexuals, the complaint alleges malicious harm was wrought upon Dean’s reputation and ministry.
That’s only where the story begins. Dean made news more recently when invited by Minnesota State Representative Ernie Leidiger to offer an invocation in the closing days of this year’s regular session. In the prayer, Dean audaciously referenced Jesus Christ and pointed out that every president prior to 2008 has regarded America as a Christian nation. In spite of the fact his prayer neither mentioned nor could be remotely construed to reference homosexuals, the press was quick to evoke the MN Forward controversy and echo its debunked accusations.
The fallout from the prayer was phenomenal. Some feared, and others hoped, that it would torpedo the effort to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Indeed, DFL Senator John Marty told the Pioneer Press, “I’m hopeful people see there’s a lot of hate behind this and decide not to bring up the amendment.”
Former friends and allies joined the Left in denouncing Dean. Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers assured his colleagues, “That type of person will never ever be allowed on this House floor again.” Leidiger, who had invited Dean to that floor, was quick to distance himself. “That kind of thing, I think back to Nazi Germany,” he told a television reporter.
The entire saga, from the MN Forward scandal through May’s controversial prayer in the House, is now the subject of a documentary film produced by Dean’s ministry. The Prayer That Rocked the Capitol premiered Monday night at a theater in Zeller’s own Maple Grove. The film is Dean’s attempt to set the record straight, and raises several compelling points.
It’s quite clear in watching The Prayer That Rocked the Capitol that Dean’s greatest concern is not the defamation of his character per se, but the credibility which conservatives like Zellers and Leidiger lent to a suspect media, and the ease with which they rode out with the tide without pausing to verify claims. It is indicative, Dean told the audience on Monday, of a political environment where truth is not welcome.
Dean says that 2000 media outlets reported on the prayer, none of which contacted him for comment. They didn’t need to, Dean claims, because they had already put words in his mouth.
A report in the St. Cloud Times was subtitled “Minister: Obama is a Muslim.” Dean’s invocation contained no such statement.
The Star Tribune attributed to Dean “comments which appear to support [homosexuals'] execution.” They did not investigate the source of that “appearance” or reveal to their readers Dean’s explicit statements to the contrary.
KSTP Channel 5 Eyewitness News claimed that Dean had once said “among other things, that homosexuals were responsible for the holocaust.” No source was cited, and Dean claims to have never made such a comment.
The Pioneer Press said of Dean’s prayer that he “took a verbal shot at President Obama” when stating every president before 2008 regarded America as a Christian nation. Not mentioned was Obama’s record of overt statements to that effect. Dean excerpts them in his film.
Although, as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation(…)
Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation.
All the above is chronicled to say this. If Dean is misrepresenting the truth, if the accusations made against him in the media are true, proof should be a simple matter of citation. Where has Dean said homosexuals should be executed? Where has Dean said homosexuals are responsible for the holocaust? How was Dean’s prayer either slanderous or an abuse worth banning “that type of person” from the House floor?
In the absence of compelling answers to these questions, the subsequent concern is why conservative leaders would lend credence to such defamation. The repercussions are larger than a single preacher. Dean explains in his film.
I’ve been subjected to an extraordinarily vicious outpouring of hate and incitement to violence [examples of which are replete in the film], though emails, the internet, and the mainstream media(…)
Indeed, [there is a] total inability of those who subjected me to such abuse to realize that they are in fact spewing out the very hatred, intolerance, and incitement to violence of which they are accusing others of… The mentality they’re trying to [promote] is to turn upstanding people into the law-breakers. This is all an attempt… to silence dissent.
The root concern here transcends any particular issue. It matters not whether Dean’s views on homosexuality are agreeable, challenging, or outright offensive. Before that discussion can be had, we must first establish what we are discussing. Disagreeing with someone is only substantive if you know what you disagree with.
Are not these, the reporters that have reported about [Dean], the same ones that have been calling you ‘Nazis, radical right wing extremists, racist, hater, bigot, intolerant, teabagger, and even terrorist? And now, all of a sudden, they’re right [about Dean]?… [Those] that believed these slanderous reports should have taken the time to look into the integrity of them that are reporting…
That’s the bottom line. It’s bad enough that conservatives so frequently allow the Left to dictate the terms of debate, to establish the boundaries of discourse, and to set the narrative tone. When we go beyond that to letting them concoct their own facts, what hope have we of engaging our neighbors in honest debate? Regardless of where you come down on homosexuality, marriage, or any other issue, debating the issue honestly ought to be an ideal both espoused and enforced.