Don't Be a Boneless WonderbyCaptain Midnight©
This editorial originally appeared under my real name in the newspapers I edit.
The late historian William Manchester wasn't in the same class as David McCullough or others, but once in a while he would come up with some particularly good information. One example came in his never-finished biography of Winston Churchill, some years before he was thrust into the spotlight as the voice of action against Nevile Chamberlain's voice of appeasement. It was on the same topic, though.
James Ramsay MacDonald, who had served as Prime Minister in 1924 and again in 1929-1931, had cut a deal in the later year to keep his title in return for passing his power to the leader of the Conservative Party, that of Stanley Baldwin and later of Chamberlain. Churchill, who had broken with his own party leaders earlier in the year over independence for India and the growing threat of radicalism on the Continent, held MacDonald in low regard for sacrificing ideals for office and for his (and other leaders') willingness to bow to public opinion.
Addressing MacDonald from the microphone opposite his "independent" seat, Churchill remarked: "When I was a little boy, I desired to go to the Queen's Jubilee for an exhibition featuring 'The Boneless Wonder.' My parents felt the sight should be too shocking for me, and forbade it. So it came to pass, and half a century has gone by before I have had the opportunity to see The Boneless Wonder opposite on the Treasury Bench."
There have been coarser things said in political debate or in a newspaper, but seldom anything that would hurt someone more. Churchill was still a prominent enough figure that party leaders would talk to him, and even agree with him in private, but he stayed in the political wilderness until it was almost too late to save the United Kingdom. Perhaps he said it out of sheer frustration, perhaps out of all-too-obvious ambition to take the reins himself, perhaps as a warning to the British public. But he said it, and he paid for it.
By Churchill's definition, a Boneless Wonder isn't hard to find. And not necessarily in politics. The man typing these words has often thought of himself as a Boneless Wonder.
I hear a lot of things from political and business viewpoints which can be downright offensive. Sometimes I just listen to them without a word of comment. Sometimes I even think, "What ... are ... you ... smoking?" (In today's climate, even tobacco is offensive to me.)
You don't hear me giving much out-and-out political commentary on this page. That's my choice. I once published an editorial called "10 Opinions I Don't Want to Share," things I felt strongly about personally – too strongly. I'm quite sure a lot of people rant and rave and say things they don't plan to follow up on, and I'm one of those people. I may aspire to be a lot of things, but dangerous isn't one of them.
Still, there are times when you can no longer afford to be a Boneless Wonder, when you have to call someone out on an issue. The closest I've ever gotten to a fistfight (in my mind, at least) was one evening nine years ago at a small Baptist church. I'd been a bit out of sorts with my huge church home, a little put off by the fancy redecorations and the media-centric services, and wanted a smaller environment to have fellowship with the people.
That lasted all of two months. At the time, the hot-button topic was the "coming-out" episode on "Ellen," a TV comedy series with Ellen DeGeneres, where the lead character announced she was gay. The episode drew huge audiences and got the show renewed for another season (I'm convinced that's the major reason they did the episode in the first place, to have enough episodes to sell at a profit). The conservative Christian community didn't take it very well, and the pastor at my new church prayed for Ellen DeGeneres in what I thought was a very insincere way.
But the kicker came that summer. It was a Sunday night church dinner where the brother-in-law of the college student who had gotten me to come to the church was being ordained as a deacon. He told a moving story about how he was born with a seriously deformed right hand and other grave health problems, and how the doctors had advised his parents to just let him die. Thank heaven they had ignored that advice. But by the end of that hour, I wished they had given him up for adoption instead.
The man's father was himself a deacon. I can no longer remember if "Ellen" still preyed on his mind or if he had read more about homosexuality, maybe about gay activism. But he got up and launched a tirade against gays which made that preacher from Topeka look mild in comparison. The capper was when he quoted Christ as saying" "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Dramatic pause ... "GOD has cast the first stone!"
That's what would have started the fistfight. I would have called him a blasphemer right to his face and taken a beating (he was a big and very strong man) – not for the sake of gays, but because I was convinced he had twisted Scripture. It is true that the book of Leviticus specifically condemns homosexuality. It's also true that Genesis relates the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Christ came two millennia or more after Leviticus, longer than that after Sodom became part of the Dead Sea. Christ's teachings, in my mind, were intended to start a new belief system of mercy and justice.
To my way of thinking, the old deacon was rallying the church members (most of whom said "Amen") to cast the second stone. God had struck down the sinners once, so anybody could go after them in vigilante style doing God's work. At the time, I didn't know the word "al-Qaida," but it seems now that that preacher was falling right in line with them.
I didn't say anything at all. Not "Amen," not "Blasphemer," not "Put up your dukes right here," not a word. I hung around and partook of the after-church supper (feeling like a sneak thief), walked out and never set foot on the church grounds again.
Nine years later, the preacher from Topeka leads protests at military funerals, I guess as a condemnation of the entire American Government for allowing homosexuality to happen. He's created a sad and lonely world for himself, in my opinion. If he repudiates America, where would he live? The countries that don't tolerate homosexuality probably won't tolerate Christianity either. Think about it.
I can admire people who take stands on issues, even those I disagree on. On the other hand, these people have to know I disagree with either their stands or their methods of presenting them. I never said, for example, that I wanted to live a gay lifestyle or even experiment with same. My politics, though generally very conservative, tend to fluctuate whenever someone attacks a belief I cherish. Slamming me as a Boneless Wonder doesn't do anything good for me, or for the person who slams me.
Churchill was a political outcast much of his life. He always said what he believed, but he often changed his beliefs as he got clearer visions of what went on in the world. He was deeply conscious of, and wounded by, charges that he was out of step with his country. In standing up for his beliefs, he was often insulting or worse.
That's not my way, and it's generally not the West Texas way. We may change our ideals over time, but I hope we don't become confrontational too often. But, on the other hand, if challenged, we should NOT become Boneless Wonders just trying to agree to survive.
Because, as you may have noticed, Boneless Wonders are also Helpless Wonders.