Editorial: Move forward from criticism

On Oct. 14 the Lariat published a column by Jeffrey Swindoll titled “Politically correct isn’t always right.” Since the publication, readers have sent the Lariat multiple letters that express disapproval, frustration and even anger about the column and the Lariat’s decision to publish it. The Lariat Editorial Board decided these letters deserve a response because of their emotion and the sensitive nature of Swindoll’s column.

Columns published in the Lariat only reflect the opinions of the individual author, not the entire Lariat staff,  Baylor student body or Baylor University. An editorial, such as this one, is different from a column in that it does represent the Lariat Editorial Board’s collective opinion on a topic.

Lariat editors do not censor people’s individual opinions, even when the viewpoints starkly contrast with the editors’ personal beliefs. However, the opinion could have been expressed in a less provocative way. The Lariat editors want the opinion page to be a forum for a diverse discussion of ideas and opinions, even with which some readers will disagree. But in this case, we regret that we didn’t work more closely with the author on the column’s language and tone.

The core of Swindoll’s column raises a simple question: In modern society, can people discuss their personal view of Islam and say anything negative about it without receiving backlash for not being politically correct?

The editorial board’s biggest concern is that someone may read the column and react with hate or even violence toward Muslims on or off Baylor’s campus. We feel a responsibility to promote religious tolerance and encourage everyone to treat Muslims, or anyone else, with the dignity and respect they deserve. Everyone deserves to have their character and merit represented by their individual actions and nobody deserves to be collectivized and judged based off the actions of others.

Swindoll argued that sometimes people are quick to make a knee-jerk reaction to politically incorrect statements and possibly miss the bigger message because of it. Ironically, this point came true in some of the responses to his column. Several tweets and Facebook posts expressed disdain for the column and for Swindoll himself, even going to the point of using foul language and calling Swindoll names.

Criticism can only get us so far. However, Swindoll’s column, and the reaction to it, has provided an opportunity for the Baylor community to discuss these important issues. The opinion expressed in Swindoll’s column is not exclusively his; people around the world share his view. There are also those who disagree. Perhaps it is time for a broad conversation about religious tolerance and the perception of Islam and individual Muslims.

The Baylor community can’t expect this issue to progress if we don’t discuss it in an intelligent and respectful manner. Swindoll’s column opened the door for a meaningful conversation and an opportunity for the Baylor community to show love, tolerance and understanding for all people, even if they have different beliefs.

Linda Wilkins, the Lariat’s editor-in-chief, published a letter online on Oct. 19 and also on this page today. Wilkins asks the readers to express their beliefs about their own religion, and not the column itself. Some claim Swindoll expressed misconceptions about Islam. If that’s the case, then what is the truth?

Everyone encounters different stereotypes or misconceptions about their beliefs. Take this opportunity to break down those walls of misunderstandings. If we only criticize and never converse, we’ll always remain in a world filled with misconceptions.

Islam is not the only faith that suffers the affects of stereotypes and misconceptions. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, Buddhists – any faith you can think of – deal with persecution. The conversation can and should be broad to include every aspect of religion, and this includes talking about these various faiths.

The Lariat desires to move forward and make something positive out of this situation. Writing the Lariat or filling social media with hateful speech about Swindoll and our decision to publish his column is not productive.

However, we want to be a vehicle to promote constructive and well-thought dialogues. If anyone feels passionate about this avenue of discussion, please, let us know.