Interrogatives Without Answers: Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke
By Chris M. Barkley:
“Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps, though sure, are slow and solemn, and she has neither viguor nor activity enough to pursue and overtake her enemy…” — Thomas Francklin, 1787
The past two weekends have seen two separate upheavals in our sf community.
Both incidents involve well known and well liked members of our family and both incidents have left them shaken, dispirited and their reputations seemingly in tatters.
So, before I start, I would like to clarify my relationships with the focus of this introspective discourse: Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke.
Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
I have never met either Ms. Lackey or Ms. Burke. Nor have I exchanged emails, texts, phone calls or even pleasantries in passing at a convention.
As a reader, I am totally unfamiliar with either of their works, although as a professional bookseller for many years, I have witnessed many sales of Ms. Lackey’s works and the testimonials of many readers and fans who have praised and loved her works. I am totally unfamiliar with Ms. Burke’s work.
But let’s remember this important fact; Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke are real people.
They are as human as you and I.
They have feelings, wants and desires just like you and me.
They are not abstract concepts. And yet, what I have seen and read over the past thirteen days have alarmed and angered me to no end. Because I guarantee what has been said and written about them would never be repeated in person to their faces. Because the things being said against them are so terrible that the perpetrators must view them at non-entities, lest they be consumed by their own shame.
Our mutual communities, in fandom and on the professional writer’s side, have had a big problem that has been simmering for the past few years and now boiled over in a way that we cannot ignore any longer.
From the earliest days of sf fandom, there have been people who have merited being either sanctioned or banned from community activities. In those days, people who were disruptive or misbehaved were either exposed through fanzine reports, informal gossip or “whisper campaigns”.
But, as technology advanced, so did the activities of bullies and malcontents spread and became prolific as well.
To our credit, fandom and the professional communities have become more diverse and welcoming to those who were previously either marginalized or openly discriminated against in the past.
To openly confront and combat abusive behavior this past decade, groups and conventions have implemented a standard “Code of Conduct” for activities, which specifies what is acceptable behavior and outlines the penalties for violations.
This innovative move was universally welcomed, especially in the wake of the Sad/Angry/Rabid Hugo Awards debacle of 2013-2016.
The typical Code of Conduct used by conventions today are not legally enforceable pieces of law. They do however, allow any public or private group to take action against an attending individual (or a group) that violates these rules.
On May 22, the 2022 Nebula Awards Conference and sf fandom were rocked when Mercedes Lackey was removed from any remaining sessions of the programming she had been scheduled for by administrators.
A day earlier, Ms. Lackey, while discussing the works of African American fantasy and sf author Samuel R. Delany during a panel titled “Romancing Sci-Fi & Fantasy”, uttered the word “colored” as a racial description of Mr. Delany.
SWFA addressed the posted the following statement that same day:
We learned yesterday that while participating in the “Romancing Sci-Fi & Fantasy” panel, Mercedes Lackey used a racial slur. First, we apologize to our attendees and the other panelists who were subjected to that slur. We’ve disabled access to the panel to avoid any additional harm being caused.
Second, we are immediately removing Mercedes Lackey from the conference and the additional panels she was scheduled for, in accordance with SFWA’s Moderation Policy. The use of a racial slur violates the instruction to “Respect all cultures and communities. Do not make derogatory or offensive statements even as a joke.” That applies to everyone in a SFWA space, at all levels of their career.
Third, we will be discussing with the other panelists for “Romancing Sci-Fi & Fantasy” how they would prefer we proceed when they are able and comfortable in doing so. We will be offering to edit out the offensive portion of the panel or hold the panel again at a later date, inviting back the other three panelists and moderator to again take part. We will respect their wishes on how to handle this issue while also sharing the invaluable expertise they offered during the discussion.
SWFA’s Moderation Policies, linked here clearly state that the “Moderator” is the person in charge of any panel and additionally:
Moderator decisions are final and non-negotiable. If you feel someone is being censured unfairly and have new information to add, please navigate to the Nebula Conference Online website, and on the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen, please select the “Request Help” button. (https://events.sfwa.org/moderation-policies/)
You will note that there is no explicit promise of a formal investigation in case something happens. Everything seems all cut and dried as far as the Nebula Conference administrators were concerned.
Except that it wasn’t, not by a long shot.
Ms. Lackey’s friends and colleagues came to her defense. Her detractors said that she broke the rules and actually got off easy because she was promptly and quickly sanctioned and did not have to forfeit her Grand Master designation.
Author Jen Brown, who was on the panel in question and was among the first to report her dismayed and deeply offended reaction to Ms. Lackey’s utterance on her Twitter feed, has been viciously and repeatedly harassed and attacked online by both Lackey supporters and trolls.
Other parties involved have been heard from; Samuel Delany (who is a friend of Ms. Lackey) has stated on his Facebook page that he felt no ill will and that she meant no deliberate offense,
Prominent Black sf author Steven Barnes felt that her use of the term was a mild offense at best and said that SFWA owed Ms. Lackey an apology.
Writer and critic K. Tempest Bradford, who opined that while Mr. Delany is entitled to his point of view, but even in this day and age, the casual usage, whether it was intentional or not, is totally unacceptable in any context.
Mercedes Lackey issued a formal apology on May 24th, in which she said:
On a panel at the 2022 Nebulas, I had the chance to celebrate authors who wrote positive gay characters long before me.
Chip Delany is obviously a major player in that game. Because there are two Samuel Delanys–there’s one from Texas–I wanted to make sure people got hold of the right one. So, in my excitement, I got caught in a mental/verbal stumble between “black” and “person of color,” and as best I can remember, what came stuttering out was something like “spcolored.”
I’m not an amazing speaker. I stammer, I freeze up, & I get things wrong. I am sorry that I bungled a modern term while bringing attention to an amazing black creator.
When all of this was going down, I could have easily unsheathed my verbal saber and heedlessly joined in like everyone else about who was right, who was wrong and provided some additional commentary about the situation.
But I did not. I was hoping, in vain as it turns out, that SFWA would conduct a thorough investigation and release the results to all of the parties involved and to the public at large, to tamp down on the hate and disinformation spreading about this incident.
And then, last weekend at Balticon 56, it happened again.
On Sunday, May 29th, Stephanie Burke, a well known local author and a regular Balticon panelist for many years, was accused of making racist and transphobic remarks and was summarily relieved of her remaining panels.
The panel in question, “Diversity Readers and Why You Need Them”, was moderated by Sarah Avery and featured Ms. Burke, Shahid Mahmud, Craig Laurance Gidney, Brandon Ketchum and Christine Sandquist.
Ms. Avery said in a May 31 File 770 comment that also appeared on her Twitter account that she was stuck in traffic that morning and was ten minutes late for the panel. She wrote:
I’ve been playing back my recollections of the panel from the moment I did arrive, trying to match things Stephanie said with the adjectives in her account of the accusations against her. As a white cishet woman, I know I am not optimally attuned to what is hurtful to all the kinds of people whose lives are unlike mine. (The reason I volunteered to moderate a panel on why writers need diversity readers is that I knew I specifically was a writer who needed them.) Until I can find out more about the contents of the complaint, I’m not able to make any kind of declaration on either the complainant’s assertions or Stephanie’s about the diversity readers panel.
In other words, the origin of the complaint against Ms. Burke was not witnessed by the moderator of the panel. We can only guess who the complainant is and what the offense was.
Ms. Burke was, in a statement by the Con Chair, Yakira Heistand said the following:
An incident was reported to us regarding Ms. Burke. The plan was to quietly ask her to step down from her panels for the weekend while we had a chance to investigate. However, an overzealous volunteer decided to remove her from an ongoing panel in a way that caused her embarrassment. This is inexcusable and we deeply apologize.
Ms. Burke alleges that when she was notified of her suspension, she was verbally abused by Programming Division head, Lisa Adler-Golden. When she asked for the source of the allegations against her this is the answer she states that she received:
I asked to hear the recordings and wanted proof to defend myself against hearsay. The program director (possibly referencing Lisa Alden-Golden here) explained that she would have to listen to the recorded panel and explained that sometimes people took statements out of context and that she would check. She went to another room to listen to the recording because she needed a device bigger than a cell phone and later came back to tell me that the panel she listened to was wonderful but the panel on Friday was not recorded. The decision to strip me of the remaining panels and book reading was to stand and that I was being convicted on hearsay alone.
So wait, what? The panel where the alleged offense took place on Friday? Or was it actually the Saturday panel? Exactly what the hell is going on here? It was also subsequently reported this week that the email from Balticon 56 that was supposed to have been sent to Ms. Burke relieving her remaining panels was actually never sent in the first place.
On the evening of June 2nd, Lisa Adler-Golden issued the following statement on the Balticon Facebook Page:
So, those are the facts as best as I can ascertain as of June 3rd, 2022.
There are those among you who may think that these are just two isolated incidents that are totally unrelated to one another and that on the whole, the Codes of Conduct being employed by conventions and meetings are doing just fine.
But, I beg to differ.
Because while I have my own opinions about what happened in these two cases, it is totally irrelevant in light of a disturbing trend that I have noticed recently.
I’m here to ask a few questions. Pertinent questions. Important questions.
It’s a call for introspection, for all of us.
Exactly why did the Nebula Conference managers and the “rogue” Balticon staffer go for the nuclear option and unceremoniously dismiss Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke without the benefit of a formal hearing?
My question to all of the SWFA panelists involved is this; while I know some (or all) of you may/had been shocked and hurt by Ms. Lackey’s comment, do you believe what she said was a casual slip of the tongue or was it deliberate and malicious? After reading her apology, do you have it in your heart to forgive what she said?
And to the person (or persons) who reported Stephanie Burke to Balticon’s Program Ops; what exactly did she allegedly say? Could you have misinterpreted or misunderstood what she said?
For those of you piling on endlessly to condemn and relentlessly excoriate Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke; is all of this vitriol and denunciations directed at them actually necessary at this point?
When is enough, actually enough? Today? Tomorrow? Next Week?
In acting in such an arbitrary manner, did the SFWA managers and the Balticon staff members violate their own Codes of Conduct?
What responsibilities do they have to be more transparent in how they handle these cases? Shouldn’t these established guidelines be under review and possibly changed in light of what’s happened?
All of which leads me to ask this: Are we all going to be subjected to such a rigid and unyielding standard every single time we make a ghastly faux pas when we appear in public or publish something?
Can you imagine what would happen to you if any of you were in a similar position? Would your partner, friends and acquaintances dare to stand with you?
Or, would they denounce you?
Can you, the reader, imagine what Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke are feeling right now? Accused, ridiculed and rejected without an opportunity to defend themselves?
In the case of an actual verifiable code of conduct offense, does the constant replay of events continue to mentally harm the person who had the courage to make the initial complaint?
Are people thinking about making a CoC complaint given pause when they witness the feeding frenzies like these occurring in the wake of these allegations?
Have there been other abuses of the Code of Conduct at other conventions that we are unaware of?
How would any of you react if you were in their position?
As the days have passed in this ongoing nightmare, I have seen comments on Facebook and Twitter that have absolutely mortified me.
I have seen comments by people who suggest that in most cases they are more likely to believe an accuser than the person who has been accused. Or that if someone is actually accused of something, it’s probably true.
In our system of justice, hearsay, which for legal purposes is defined as: “information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor”, is NOT evidence of wrongdoing.
And as maligned and flawed as the legal system is, at its very core is one of the best innovations ever invented; the presumption of innocence BEFORE being proven guilty. Because everyone is entitled to a defense, no matter who they are or how they are perceived by the public. It is a fine standard and it should be ours as well.
I propose that we, as a community, fall back on this particular tradition in our reformation of our Codes of Conduct. In this day and age of social media, innuendo, gossip and falsehoods can lead to instant outrage, anger and a trial by internet in which none of us can possibly explain ourselves adequately enough to satisfy anyone.
It is quite evident, at least to me, that in some cases, our Codes of Conduct have been misapplied, zealously pursued or weaponized.
It has been done either by well meaning people who may have overreacted to what may or may not have happened, or by others, maliciously using it to destroy a person’s reputation and self worth.
Establishing a Code of Conduct is one of the more innovative things we have done in the last decade. In a best case scenario, a Code of Conduct violation led to the expulsion of a well known (and multiple Hugo Award nominated) fan, David Truesdale, for his well documented abusive behavior at MidAmericon II in 2016.
But it has backfired spectacularly at Worldcon 76 (which was held San Jose, CA in 2018), who rightfully barred Jon Del Arroz from the convention for his questionable statements and actions before the convention. But the convention made a mistake when they published their reasons for banning and Del Arroz took offense and sued the convention for defamation. He and the convention eventually settled in June 2021 with a public apology and a $4000 payment.
I have one anecdote to offer. I was at Balticon 56 last weekend, mainly in support of the Orlando and Buffalo NASFiC bids (in 2023 and 2024, respectively). On my way out of the convention Monday morning, I was stopped by a longtime friend (whom I am not identifying out of respect for their privacy) who told me the following story:
My friend was working and was overheard saying something under their breath while attending to their duties at Discon III, which was held in Washington D.C. this past November. Sometime later, they were approached by an incident response team staff member, who told them that the office had a complaint lodged against them about a racist remark being directed towards an Asian Pacific person and that they were considering asking them to leave the convention.
The friend explained that they recalled making the remark but it had not been directed at the API person, it was made in frustration at a machine that they were working on which malfunctioned and was not working properly.
Eventually, this person, who is both well known, well liked and very hospitable in the fannish community for decades, persuaded the staffer that no offense was meant towards anyone and the matter was dropped.
But, as the events of the past two weeks have vividly shown us, this could have gone quite differently had the incident been officially reported and publicized widely.
It seems quite evident to me that we urgently need to establish new standards for a Code of Conduct. I recommend that they include the following measures:
- When a convention or meeting announces a possible violation of the Code of Conduct, they must stress that the charge is an allegation, not a certain matter of fact. The accused party must be given the presumption of innocence until the conclusion of the investigation and the adjudication of the results by an impartial group, empaneled by the convention to handle these matters.
- Either an electronic or physical copy of the Code of Conduct must be checked off by all staff and attendees, which will show and acknowledge they have read and understand CoC (with the option that the document they sign be officially and legally notarized by the convention or event for their legal protection).
- NO ONE should be charged under a Code of Conduct violation on a single report of hearsay from an individual, unless there is a recording of the incident or multiple witnesses or verifiable circumstantial evidence of the event.
- If it is determined a Code of Conduct violation may have occurred, an investigation should be launched immediately. The investigation must include statements from the accuser, the accused and the impartial person (or persons) conducting the inquiry.
- Any Code of Conduct violation must generate a written report, which will be made public after an official investigation is completed.
- Investigations should not name the accuser in a public report without consent, but their name should be kept on file and confidential in the official investigation file in case of any legal actions beyond its publication
- Any convention that finds the accused party innocent, guilty or finds an inconclusive result of the accusation, will publicize the report as widely and vociferously as possible to demonstrate the transparency of the investigative process.
- EVERY convention and conference should strive to record every panel or meeting being held at the event. This should be done not only to check the veracity of any complaints and has the benefit of preserving a record for the sake of prosperity. (Since recording everything would be quite expensive, I would recommend that panelists or designated volunteers use their own cell phones or personal recording equipment to record these sessions).
These are the actions I strongly recommend we take.
These are the questions we should all be asking ourselves.
Because Mercedes Lackey and Stephanie Burke are real people. And mark my words, what happened to them will happen again.
And the most important question we should be asking ourselves is how can we prevent this from happening over and over again?
Because the next victim may be me.
That doesn’t sound harmonious to me. Most people would want to know if their choice of words is hurtful, even if the people who feel hurt are coming at the situation from a much different perspective.
When people suggest to take less offense by rolling with the punches, it sounds to me like a reinforcement of the status quo that led to codes of conduct being necessary in the first place. Being a little less comfortable in what you say because you are more aware of the possibility of causing offense isn’t a bad thing.
Could I personally tell myself to roll with the punches and not make an issue out of things that offend me? Sure, but I wouldn’t put that expectation on other people. I think it’s easier for me as part of the almost-never-excluded majority to ignore things that offend. I am not facing frequent microaggressions or other messages that I’m not fully welcome in spaces I inhabit.
Perhaps conventions could pick a volunteer who is known to be cool headed and assign them as the point person for investigating all CoC complaints? And give them little to no other duties at the Con so they are not overstressed and are always free to prioritize a CoC complaint over getting more soda for the Consuite? If a memo of Best Practices for dealing with CoC complaints existed, then the con could be sure their CoCop was well briefed on how to handle such situations while keeping everyone’s needs in mind and reducing odds of lawsuits to a minimum. A lot of the mess and bad feeling in these situations could be avoided if the con volunteers dealing with them were appropriately chosen and prepared for the job, and everyone at the Con was informed what the procedure would be in case of reported CoC infractions.
My view is that any necessary correction (i.e. making up for lax standards of conduct at prior conventions and enforcement of same) is going to involve some amount of overcorrection as we adjust and find the right balance. Instances where overcorrection occurs are regrettable, but do not prove that the overall effort is not needed and worthwhile. So I agree with much of the spirit of Chris’ essay while I also endorse most of ‘Nchanter’s objections to his specific prescriptions.
I do think there is room for cons to take greater notice of context, proportionality, and the reputational risks that can be occasioned by artless communication into account than may have been done in these instances, without fatal elevation of concern for the accused over the needs of people who are harmed. But we can’t lose sight of the importance of this work, or its difficulty. None of this is helped I fear by turning these events into footballs to kick around on social media.
Yes, people (for the most part) would want to know if their words were hurtful to someone. And if they were, most people would want to be given the chance to speak with whoever they hurt, and apologize directly. But the systems as they now exist, really aren’t set up that way. Say something, in all innocence, that disturbs even one person, who then lodges a complaint, and it becomes a issue to be dealt with by a committee, a committee whose first response apparently must be to deny the “offender” any further public platform. lest they offend again. To me, all that accomplishes is to punish someone who may not be guilty of anything, since the system is so vulnerable to abuse, and to stifle free exchange of ideas. Here is a “for instance”–suppose someone on the Balticon panel in question spoke against the notion of having diversity readers? I can well imagine that there might have been members of the audience who would not have liked that much.. If they then complained, the Con would have had to pull that person from their panels–simply because they expressed an unpopular opinion…
Perhaps conventions could pick a volunteer who is known to be cool headed and assign them as the point person for investigating all CoC complaints?
I am of the opinion that such issues should be handled by someone with little or no connection to the Con at all – that way we won’t have issues where someone making decisions is friends with someone who is being accused of misconduct, for example (or the reverse, where they are friends with the complainant).
The practicalities of getting someone unconnected with the convention to come and attend for the sole purpose of being available to adjudicate code of conduct complaints are probably going to be tricky, but I think doing so would improve the process immensely.
That is not factual.
A well-written Code of Conduct gives guidelines and outlines types of behaviors that may be viewed as violations of the Code of Conduct, as well as possible outcomes of indicated violations. It doesn’t say “X will always result in Y in all cases, no exceptions regardless of context” which is what zero tolerance policies are.
A well-written Code of Conduct reporting and review process, as well as well-trained staff members taking the reports definitely take context into account. The staff are generally aware people are fallible and honest mistakes can and do occur. In my experience despite what certain fans may believe, Code of Conduct/Incident Report Teams don’t roll around conventions like Judge Dredd acting as judge, jury, and executioner, dispensing lifetime bans for the tiniest of rules infractions.
Do errors occur? Yes. Can incorrect calls get made? Yes. That’s going to be the case as long as you’re relying on humans to do a job, any job. If a mistake occurs, in the near term the best option is be upfront about it, apologize, and reduce/eliminate further harm to the harmed parties (if possible). In the long-term a team and/or con comm goes back and sees where an error occurred and why and looks for ways to reduce the chances of it happening again and improve the process overall.
I confess I’m slightly mystified by the characterization of the Lackey situation as one requiring a lengthy investigation. The Nebula convention was online, the panels were recorded, and the question of “did Person X say Y?” could be answered by reviewing said recording. You don’t get much more cut and dried than that.
The subsequent targeting of Brown is unsurprising, but not specifically a Code of Conduct issue relating to Lackey’s panel. (But hopefully it will be considered by other conventions when issuing invitations.)
If you object to “come-to-Jesus” (I don’t, as a Christian who’s often heard it used), perhaps raise something other than “Cain” in doing so.
Finding level-headed, considerate, and above all trustworthy people to receive and investigate code of conduct violations is indeed something that most cons do. Standard practice at at least European Worldcons is to have a team of listeners who receive complaints and support the aggrieved party if that is needed, and a team leader who does the actual investigation and reporting.
When it works, it works reasonably well. The cases where there have been obvious mistakes or miscarriages that I know of (a limited amount, I admit) have all been when that system has failed or been shortcircuited in some manner.
The difference is that the former is an example of taking the Lord’s name in vain (see: 3rd Commandment). Cain is just a guy’s name.
If it doesn’t offend you, that’s your business. “Colored” didn’t offend Chip Delany.
bill–your attempt at weaponizing the dialogue is noted.
(And before you try to mansplain it to me, I have had extensive connections with fundamentalist Christianity of both Protestant and Catholic variations. I understand the degrees to which different flavors of Christian get upset about taking the Lord’s name in vain and just which branches would pitch a fit like you have. If you’re not weaponizing, then you’ve outed yourself as to your particular branch of Protestant fundamentalist affiliation).
I probably should have deleted Bill’s comment, which I seriously considered, because it really made me mad. This is not going to turn into another place where passive aggressive white guys flaunt offensive language in the guise of a discussion of what offends somebody besides themselves.
Personally I would not call “come-to-Jesus” taking the Lord’s name in vain. It’s about undergoing a difficult positive, powerful realization. The people I’ve heard most often use the expression were devout Christians. But I’m not religious so I accept that you see it differently.
There are uses of the phrase that would be extremely irreverent, but here I was talking about the hypothetical of friends convincing me that I’m wrong and I need to seek amends. There’s nothing glib there.
Mike–yeah. I spent enough time under that influence when I was younger to get really ticked off by that comment. I had a boss of that ilk as well as spending two years in an at-the-time relatively liberal Christian college in the process of being taken over by fundamentalist ideologues who would argue such points in all seriousness. Pharisaical to the max.
I did have a scathing response half-prepared in reaction to any further comment from him…but will refrain.
Actually it was his use of the racial term I reacted to.
I regard myself as some kind of evangelical Christian. So those who can’t be in community with such a person should fly from me. Not that I’m anything but a highly flawed individual, but I don’t have a problem with the phrase Bill objects to when it’s used in the context of having a decisive awakening.
My understanding (and how I’ve heard it used) is similar to yours. I generally don’t have issues with evangelical folks as long as they hold to mutual respect for different opinions.
FWIW, the only instances where I have heard the phrase C2J Moment used in the wild are in a business/legal cliche context, meaning your client is being imprudent or the parties are waffling over negotiations and they must be convinced to have a decisive awakening as to the gravity of their situation.
Then my apologies. Given how often it was mentioned in the 5/23 scroll, I was not aware that mentioning it here would be a problem (and to me, the distinction between “use” and “mentioning” is important — I don’t think it’s a big deal to refer to the word as a word; it would be reprehensible to call someone by that term.) Regardless, though, I’m sorry for irritating you (and anyone else) by my what I said.
If you honestly think that what I’ve done is to “pitch a fit”, I’d ask you to read my comments in this thread again. My whole point was that the best thing to do in the face of offensive language may well be not to pitch a fit.
Here, that means that I engage with rcade and others about the phrase, and I don’t ask for rcade’s comment to be deleted, or for rcade to be removed from the discussion; at a convention, it would mean that rather than ask for a panelist to be removed, to simply say “What you just said was offensive” might be preferable, along with an explanation explain why. I understand (as has been mentioned here) that some people would depend on Con Ops and CoC investigators to advocate for them, and they certainly aren’t wrong to take advantage of such procedures.
Happy to out myself as Protestant, but I sincerely doubt you know anything more than that about my religious background, or which “branch” I come from.
bill–your comments overall give me a pretty darn good idea of just where you’re coming from. If you’re truly offended by the CTJ language, welp, that identifies one flavor. If you’re using it as an argumentation ploy, that identifies another. Haven’t quite pinned it down as to whether it’s premillenial dispensationalism or postmillenial Reconstruction a la Rushdoony yet. Since the latter is more common these days, I’m leaning in that direction.
And please don’t waste our time being disingenuous. You are talking to someone who’s had a wee bit of training in apologetics, including profs who studied under C. Peter Wagner, plus a heavy dose of Francis Schaeffer. Oh, and exposure to Campus Crusade, and Youth with a Mission, with a side dose of Bill Gothard.
Let’s just say that I recognize certain argumentation styles because of past exposure and training, and leave it at that.
Can we please not play pin the tail on the denomination. Please. I do not think it adds anything to this topic or thread, or life in general, really.
I kind of like the term “come-to-Jesus” as an awakening for someone to do better. It feels like exactly what religion should be about. Not sure where the negative connotations are coming from. Bill, can you explain to me so I understand why I should avoid it or at least in what groups? Is it that it shouldn’t be used if you aren’t christian yourself?
As I said earlier, it represents a taking of the Lord’s name in vain. Different people have different standards of exactly what that means. A strict definition would be “any use of the words that refer to God (the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) in a non-reverent manner”. Profanity would be an obvious example — the “G-D-n” swear word used to be the queen mother of all cuss words, then the F-word took its place as societal mores changed (read up on why David Milch used so many F-words in “Deadwood” as an example of this — he wanted to give a flavor of how raw language would have been in the 1800s, but if he had been literal and had everyone using religious-based profanities, the shock value would have been lost because those terms don’t carry the same taboo status as they did 150 years ago. So he substituted obscenities (sex-based swear words).) Personally, I react more strongly to G-D- than the F-word in a movie, but the MPAA disagrees, and you’ll see G-D- in PG films while F-bombs can move a movie into an R rating.
Back to the main point — G-D- is an obvious example, but any figurative or casual use of the names can qualify. (My son goes to a religious sponsored private school, and it’s a continual struggle for the faculty to get kids to stop saying “OMG” [the words, not the initialism], as it has become so ubiquitous in the speech of teens.) Historically, avoidance of these terms has lead to many euphemisms: gosh darn it, golly, Judas H. Priest, Jiminy Cricket, odd’s bodkins, gadzooks, jeepers, geez, criminy, cripes, crikey, etc.
A theological issue that comes up is the fact that the 3rd Commandment is part of Jewish law, which was superseded for Christians by the Covenant when Jesus came; therefore, to what extent should it apply to nominally Christian peoples? All I can say is that it is disrespectful to use “God”, “Jesus,” “Lord,” etc. casually in speech, and that it’s always been frowned on in any religious instruction I’ve been exposed to. (I think I recall a joke from an old Bill Cosby record, in which he says that God is too busy to have to look up from whatever He is doing every time someone hollers out His name.)
So, to the phrase under discussion. “Come to Jesus” carries weight as a phrase because of the image of one realizing that one is spiritually lost, and literally
“coming to Jesus” for salvation. It has come to have figurative meaning, as expressed elsewhere in the thread, for a moment when one realizes (or is told by others) that one’s behavior is lacking and that one needs to shape up. But since Jesus Himself is not typically involved in this realization or change of attitude, the phrase is using His name in vain (even though the moment in question may represent a personal moral improvement.)
Now I, Mike Glyer, and others who aspire to live like Christians find ourselves in a world which is secular, and which in general doesn’t try follow the 3rd Commandment. And speaking for myself, I don’t generally feel the need to police other’s speech on the matter — I try and watch what I say, and I try and teach my son likewise, but my obligations end there. So normally I wouldn’t have commented on rcade’s use of the phrase. But in the context of discussing words which others find offensive and how the SF community reacts to them (i.e., the reaction to Lackey’s and Burke’s speech on con panels), I was attempting to make the point that Filers/SF fans tolerate (and even embrace) speech that offends some identity groups (Christians), but condemn other speech that offends other identity groups (Blacks, trans/allies) and are willing to ostracize those who use such speech. And further, I’m saying that I don’t think it would be productive to ostracize rcade because he said “come to Jesus” casually; and I’m suggesting that ostracization of Lackey or Burke or others who will find themselves in similar circumstances may also not be productive.
So, should you avoid saying “come to Jesus” or similar phrases? That’s up to you. Are you worried about offending God? Then I wouldn’t use the phrase (except literally). Are you worried about offending people? My perception is that doing so is not offensive to most people, but that there are some folks for whom it matters. My own internal reaction to hearing it or similar examples of casual use of the Deity’s names is “here is someone who doesn’t care if he offends, or at least hasn’t stopped to consider that he might be offending someone”; in other words, it’s about like saying “shit” out loud in a context where most prudent people would not do so. I would certainly avoid it if I were in any kind of a faith-centered community, or if I was sensitive to how those in such a community might perceive me.
(And I agree with you that the idea of a phrase that represents a moment when someone decides to improve is highly useful; it’s just that unless the improvement is spiritual, there are other reasons why it wouldn’t be appropriate to use this particular phrase.)
@Joyce Reynolds Ward — nope, and it’s condescending for you continue to speculate like this. My own personal journey is much more complicated than you indicate (and I’d bet that the journey of anyone whose faith is important to them is likewise not subject to being reduced to “Rushdoony” or similar insults).
I probably should have addressed this in my comment to Hampus. The line as to whether a particular use of “Jesus” is “in vain” or not isn’t brightly drawn. I lean towards the descriptions above; that using it should be literal and reverent (or at least respectful). But I accept what rcade is saying in that even though a particular use might be figurative, he didn’t mean it irreverently and that many others do not as well, and for them it is acceptable to use it this way. We are told not to take the Lord’s name in vain, but we are also told not to judge (which is often a more difficult commandment to live up to.)
bill–looks like I nailed it.
(No, I’m not going into further detail about my own complex religious history and what I do and don’t know about religious and faith journeys.)
Meanwhile, now do you understand why someone might have a visceral reaction to the use of a particular word that harms them? You have words that bother you and cause distress. Perhaps you should turn around and apply that understanding to others.
(For the record, while I tend to use OMG and that sort, the CTJ phrasing has never been one I use. When I hear it, I tend to associate it with being taken to the woodshed–i.e., a punishment session. Not a conversion or baptismal session.)
The very disagreement you mention as harder to have with the potential chilling effect of a code of conduct did actually happen at the diversity readers panel.
One of the panelists, a small press publisher, felt that having to budget for diversity readers at a professional rate for every project that could arguably benefit from one was an unreasonable burden. They argued that, while it was a fine thing to aspire to and approve of, it would be unfair to regard someone who did not or could not pay for that service as being unforgivably reckless or harmful was. Hiring a diversity reader should not, they said, be considered a moral obligation.
As you might imagine, a couple of the diversity readers took exception to that view.
The example Stephanie Burke related from the field of sensitivity readers was, I thought, one that could not be written off, at least for certain kinds of representation. Writers who include BDSM elements in their fiction who are not well versed in the safety lore and practices of the BDSM community have portrayed dangerous behaviors that curious newcomers to BDSM imitated from the book, sometimes with medically disastrous results. When a reader lost both of her hands to being consensually restrained using an unsafe restraint method that she and her partner imitated from a novel (a real case, apparently), the author and publisher may not have legal liability. But do they share moral responsibility if they made no effort to check on what would really happen if the fictional behavior were imitated by real people?
The discussion got heated enough that it nearly derailed everything we had planned over email to tackle during our hour. Eventually I had to urge those panelists to table their disagreement, which was not anywhere near resolution, and probably still isn’t. People who had come to the panel trying to find out how to work with diversity readers still hadn’t had a chance to hear the panelists’ opinions about what makes a diversity reader qualified to charge a professional rate, or what a professional rate was, or how to initiate contact with a diversity reader. We all agreed that this was the more immediately pressing way to use the time we had left in our hour.
The people on both sides of that argument got together at the end of the panel, thanked each other for being willing to engage and take risks in a public conversation, and expressed a hope that they could talk more later. That, I think, is what most of us want to see happen when disagreements come up, even when the stakes of those disagreements feel high to all concerned. It’s what I hope for, anyway. The small press publisher who disagreed so emphatically with Stephanie Burke during the panel has spoken out in her defense since the convention.
Could the anonymous complaint have been resolved in dialogue with the help of designated listeners, as might have been the procedure at some European conventions? Maybe. I still haven’t been contacted by the Balticon investigators, so I still have no idea what the content of the complaint was. This incident has gone badly enough, I’m thinking it couldn’t make things worse to try the European approach in the future.
Bill, I think you will have to qualify the use of “christians” in your comment as it quite obviously does not include all christians (as an example Swedish protestants). That is why I was interested in mote exactly what groups to be careful around. It might just be US christians.
Anyhow, thank you for the explanation. I do not think I will be able to follow it fully as there are many common Swedish expressions using the names, but I can at least try to limit the usage in church settings where I agree it could be disrespectful..
Persons of the majority faith are not really seen as an identity group here in Sweden so that way of arguing falls kind of flat for me.
I avoid the term “come-to-Jesus talk” because I don’t think persuading people to “come to Jesus” is universally understood as a good thing. It hadn’t occurred to me that it could be considered taking the Lord’s name in vain, but I guess that makes sense in a particular context.
The Balticon Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits “Stalking, intimidation, and/or coercion of a person or persons.” Based on what I’ve read, Lisa Adler-Golden clearly violated that clause. Has any action been taken based on that violation?
I’m inclined to doubt it, because Balticon has a long history of ignoring Code of Conduct violations committed by special snowflakes like committee members and friends of the chair.
To Sarah Avery–thank you. You’ve provided badly needed clarification as to what happened at the panel.
@Ginjer It’s taken up a lot of time and care these past few weeks, so I’m glad it’s helping.
If the disagreement was between the moral responsibility of having diversity readers versus the practical difficulties of getting them, then Stephanie Burke had the right of it. Practical difficulties are not to be ignored, but moral responsibility comes first. Those concerned about the practical difficulties should have let the panel go on, and maybe they could have gotten some helpful information.
How this stacks up to a code of conduct violation is a mystery.
It’s not clear whether the complaint was actually about the diversity readers panel, as initially reported, or another one the next day. After the story broke, contradictory possibilities started going around. I wasn’t at the other panel, so I can only speak to the one I moderated.
The little that had been shared about the gist of the complaint seems to indicate that someone was triggered by Ms. Burke sharing a personal story about having been beaten by her grandmother. If that happened during the diversity readers panel, then it is the source of the complaint. (The add-on concerning Ms. Burke’s supposed slurs directed at the Romany were apparently related to something that Lisa Adler -Golden claimed was said years ago.)
” but moral responsibility comes first.”
I’m having trouble accepting that anything comes before an artist’s responsibility to his/her vision of their art, or that modifying the art to accommodate anyone else is to be desired.
So many of the great works of art are triggering or offensive or insensitive to someone, and we would all be poorer if that were not so.
We would all be poorer if those works did not exist. I’m not sure that, in all cases, we would be poorer if they had been written slightly differently.
We would all be poorer if Mark Twain had never given us the scene in which Huckleberry Finn, informed that he will go to Hell if he does not betray Jim to the slave-catchers, tells himself, “All right, I’ll go to Hell, then.” Would we all be poorer if Twain had used the n-word less frequently, say, only in dialogue? I don’t think we’d miss it.
My own book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, would not have been less worthy of its Mythopoeic Fantasy Award if I had engaged a sensitivity reader and taken greater care with certain things I am sure one would not have missed. I did not realize how much I needed one at the time. I assumed I could not afford to hire one, and it never occurred to me to ask the small press that published it to help me afford one. My errors mar the work. They are not manifestations of my creative vision, and I don’t think anyone’s life is truly improved by their presence. If I ever have the opportunity to bring that book back into print, it will be in an author’s preferred edition, and I will run it by an indigenous diversity reader.
I’m sure I’m not the only author with regrets like that.
@bill: By your reasoning, writers and artists should never employ editors or fact-checkers, and never do research. No modifying art just to accommodate someone else’s ideas of spelling or so-called facts.
@Tom Becker —
When I compare what I see sensitivity and diversity readers reporting about what they do, and line edits to correct spelling or grammatical errors, I see a qualitative difference. Maybe you do not.
@Sarah Avery — if your own vision of your work includes input from sensitivity readers, then using them isn’t in any way in conflict with what I posited. Compare that will Mel Brooks and his collaborators in Blazing Saddles, who vigorously pushed back against studio demands about language and content.