An Open Letter to Allen West

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Mr. West,

On September 1st, 2015, you posted a short phrase on your official Facebook page. The phrase was, “It’s come to this…”

What followed was a link to a news story about a seventeen-year-old youth in Missouri who created some local waves when, during a process of searching for sexual identity, requested to use the girl’s locker room.

I do know you well from FOX News. I have listened carefully to many of your opinions. Your clear stances on most social and political issues certainly clash with my own but stating this is not my purpose in writing. Despite any of our ideological differences, we should agree on one very basic thing. No one’s child should be used for political gain, to illustrate a “wrong” in the world, or to prove a point. Yet this is exactly what you did. You are a man of incredible influence and power. You have a strong voice in the public sphere. This influence, power, and voice were used, ignorantly, to degrade a vulnerable seventeen-year-old child.

I have worked with hundreds of youth of all ages, first as a public school crisis counselor and now as an American Baptist minister. I am the first to admit that I have made my fair share of misjudgments and mistakes. But neither any of my dedicated colleagues nor myself ever stripped a child of their dignity.

One might say that this seventeen-year-old youth sought attention, reached out to the news, and created for themselves a public identity. This public identity, one might say, comes with the consequences of public judgment.

Let us reflect on that judgment. Your original Facebook post received over five thousand likes and over four thousand shares. Four thousand people propagated this thoughtlessness. One commenter posted that this youth clearly has deep psychological issues, is living in a fantasy world, and cannot accept reality. Over two thousand of your followers liked this. Someone suggested that the youth should be removed from the school. Thirteen hundred likes. Someone suggested that if this seventeen-year-old youth really wants to use the other locker room, then they should take the route of self-mutilation. Over a thousand likes. This is in no way advocacy. This is in no way a defense of American morals or human morality. This is shaming a child. And this is inviting all of us to do the same.

I looked further into your background. You were a high school teacher for one year. If this youth sat in one of your classes, how would you have fostered a relationship with them? If this youth were confronted with hostility in the hallways of your school, would you have similarly encouraged it? At what point could you recognize that the health of this individual is far more important than cheap shots for votes or sound bites for compelling and likely nauseating television? At what point could you recognize that a political agenda of any stripe must be rooted in the good of our children?

You are quick to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. in your website biography. How do you think a man that preached on the inherent value of all life would see the sowing of seeds of intolerance? How would you answer the theologians who rightfully insist that the morality of our society is based first and foremost on how we treat our children? How would you answer Jesus Christ who demanded that nothing stand between children and love? How convincing a defense could you make based on the statistics of “likes” on a social media website? It would be a quick conversation that would not end well.

I do recognize that you have over two million “followers” and I have just over one thousand “friends”. I am under no illusion that you will see this, much less read it, much less respond. However, I will send this to the headquarters of your Foundation which, you claim, is created to raise up the “leaders of tomorrow”. I will be sending this to FOX News, to the London Center for Policy Research, to the school in Missouri, and the school board of that district. I will be sending this to innumerable newspapers in the areas where you have served as Congressman.   I will do none of this for the purpose of our political differences. But the voice that degrades, shames, and hurts the youth of our nation cannot at the same time be the voice that claims to represent the American ideal.

It’s come to this.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jonah K. Smith-Bartlett

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