Op-Ed

Poison pen pal makes me wonder if hate is now the norm

Shirley Baechtold
Shirley Baechtold

What has happened to Kentucky, the state where I was born and have lived for more than 80 years? What kind of Kentuckian sends death threats to a basketball official?

What kind of Kentuckian sends an anonymous handwritten three-page letter accusing me of having no morals and “destroying all that America stands for?” The writer says I should get the hate out of my heart, support President Donald Trump; and if I can’t do that, I should leave the country.

Her letter includes diatribes against former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Muslims, African-Americans, LGBT and all “ignorant, biased, and utterly misguided” anti-Trump Democrats.

Has hate become the new norm?

The hate climate that surfaced when our first African-American president was greeted with effigies and slander about his birthplace continues, with unsupported allegations about wiretapping and other false charges.

The Obamas left the White House without a hint of scandal and with profound respect throughout the world. How much longer must they be vilified, even by those who, because of Barack Obama, have health care for the first time?

Ms. Anonymous was reacting to my March 3 letter entitled “Teach civics, not Bible.” Curiously, she has no response to my assertion that a Bible literacy class violates the establishment clause of the Constitution. Instead, she berates me for my lack of knowledge about the Bible and directs me to passages that, in her view, prove that homosexuality is sinful.

Ms. Anonymous assumes that I am “highly educated.” I’m not — not in the traditional sense of degrees and academic recognition. I experienced an educational epiphany in 1957, the first year that schools in Madison County were integrated. Restaurants and other Richmond businesses were displaying signs declaring their right to deny service to anyone not welcome in their establishments.

But at Madison High School, African-American students and white students, showing wisdom beyond their years and with profound dignity, accepted their roles on that historic day and walked quietly into school without incident or protest. It was my first day as a teacher and the first day of my real education.

I taught English and history, but failed to realize that asking teachers to read the Bible in home rooms discriminated against non-Christian students, so I did what I was told. Perhaps, if I had been better educated, I might have refused.

Teaching World Literature courses at Eastern Kentucky University in the ’60s broadened my view and enriched my life. Later, in a quest for knowledge and understanding, I collaborated with students and colleagues whose ethnicities, cultures and beliefs were often different from mine.

Three colleagues — one African-American, two Jewish — have remained close friends for 35 years. With 917 active hate groups in our country targeting African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics and LGBT, how can I not speak out against bigotry?

I need to refute two of the writer’s accusations.

I don’t hate Trump. In my view, he has no moral compass. He can read an emotional statement about beautiful babies being gassed, but where is his humanity when it comes to Syrian refugees? As a billionaire who has received superior health care his entire life, how could he threaten and bully Republican legislators to pass a health care bill the poor could not afford? I fear he is capable of starting a war without pausing to consider that he is sending somebody’s son, daughter or loved one into harm’s way.

I don’t hate evangelicals. My sister was an evangelical. She read one of her Bibles every day. Yet, as a teacher of the deaf, she knew that children do not choose to be homosexual anymore than her students and my niece Mindy chose to be born deaf.

Shirley Baechtold of Richmond is a former community columnist.

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