The Secular Coalition for America’s damage control over the announcement of Edwina Rogers as their new Executive Director continued yesterday. Yes, I’m calling it damage control at this point.
There are things to be done to manage expectations when an organization makes an unusual choice. There’s nothing dishonest in that, simply an effort to make sure that interested parties understand as fully as possible the perspective of the people who made the choice because that perspective won’t be obvious. If it were, the choice wouldn’t be considered unusual.
In Greta’s interview with Roy Speckhardt of the SCA board (and a huge thank you to Greta for her work to get information on this to the secular community quicky), we can see that getting a very clear message to the SCA’s constituency wasn’t a big consideration.
GC: Well, OK, so, if you were expecting controversy within the movement and within the community, what did you do to prepare for that?
RS: The organization, [garbled] itself, had come up with some planning for that, and some talking points and things like that that they had prepared to reach out to the media with. And that through the media, we’d be getting that attention of folks in the movement as well. So that – some of that had been planned in advance, and I know that in the coming months, Edwina is planning to do calls and other types of outreach to get people access to her in a way that they might not normally have for somebody in her position, but it’ll also get a chance for her to connect with people and get over any problems or questions or skepticism that might exist out there.
Going through an intermediary, and particularly the disinterested intermediary of non-specialized media, is not a clear way to get your message across. Neither is not having a plan to specifically address the concerns of your specialized media (i.e., atheist bloggers, podcasters, etc.). If you want a look at how the appointment should have been announced, see Matt Dillahunty. If you want a look at what Rogers should have been prepared to face, see Crommunist. If you want a look at what she should have been prepared to say in response, see Ashley Miller.
As it was, things worked very differently than that. So yesterday, Rogers did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, Speckhardt talked to Greta, and Lauren Youngblood posted “Why the Secular Movement Needs Bi-Partisanship” on the SCA blog.
It isn’t a bad post. It says some things that would have been well said on the day the press release about Rogers came out. It provides background on the pragmatics of the SCA’s decision, much as Speckhardt did when he refered to lobbying the SCA had previously done with Republicans using a wedge of states’ rights. It says some of the same things Rogers has been saying about the lack of uniformity among Republicans on religous issues.
And this is where the problems with the piece are. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t addressing the concerns that most of us who are writing and talking about this actually have. Here is the comment I left on the post yesterday.
I don’t think any of us left-leaning secularists need to be told that separation of church and state is an issue that should be of importance to the deeply religious as well as to people like atheists. After all, we have a history of supporting institutions like the ACLU, which champions religious freedom no matter the religion. We have also claimed this as one of our own talking points for quite some time.
I think instead that many of us have a concern that any efforts to “reach across the aisle” will be met with the same reception the ACLU has received. Do many Republicans feel that the party is too beholden to religious interests? Well, that’s probably because the party has made explicit efforts to court that base for the last several decades. They have also made explicit efforts to maintain strong adherence to party positions in individual Republican lawmakers in DC, whatever those lawmakers’ personal beliefs.
Now, none of that means an effort to court Republicans is doomed. It does, however, mean that doubt on the matter is reasonable. It means it’s widespread and should be respected. Not given into–the SCA has made it’s choice and has, as an organization, earned consideration of its choices–but treated seriously. Yes, there may be opportunities. There are also large obstacles that anyone who is politically inclined can see. Please don’t try to set any of us up to think this may be easy.
Personally, I would much rather hear what success for this strategy is supposed to mean. There is a little of that here, but it is vague. What will Republican consideration of secular interests look like? On what specific issues can they be motivated to act in our interests? How many of them? How will the SCA measure whether this has succeeded or failed?
(Note: The SCA was kind enough to let me know they’re not currently releasing any comments on that post. I’m not entirely sure I blame them. While they’ve accepted comments in the past and that is a blog in the technical sense, they’ve never received very many. They also don’t seem to have had anyone who is an active presence in the comments. Now is not a good time for anyone there to be learning how to do that and making n00b mistakes.)
At this point, a plan for going forward is the only thing that’s going to be satisfying. Rogers and the SCA are answering our questions but in such a nonspecific way that we feel like we’re chewing on cotton candy. What we’re seeing now is reactive, not the leadership that can win us over. They’re filling in the picture in such a way that we can all tell there are still big gaps in what’s supposed to happen next.
It’s time to stop. It’s time to say, ”Look. We were excited. We made an announcement without everything in place. We’re going to take some time to fix that and get back to you.” Then they need to go develop a strategy, something detailed and realistic that tells us how Rogers plans to exploit the opportunities she’s told us are there.
We don’t have to agree with it. We just have to be convinced that there’s thought and planning behind it. We have to know, too, where this is expected to go, what results will tell us whether this strategy is working. That we need to get Republicans on our side (assuming we can’t get them out of office) doesn’t guarantee that anyone can make this happen. We want to know the SCA’s support for their new director doesn’t override the need to make sure her Republican-centric strategy is working and to know that if it doesn’t–if it turns out to be much easier to persuade a legislator of something they already generally agree with–there are mechanisms in place to determine this and to change course.
Convincing us this will work is a monumental task. Frankly, it’s more than anyone can reasonably promise us. That we’ll just have to be shown. So now it’s time for the SCA to let up on the convincing and tell us how they’re going to do that.