How an “Obama-Biden 2012” shirt uncovered political intolerance on campus

When Chimes reporter Shaefer Bagwell wore an “Obama-Biden 2012” shirt around campus, he received surprising reactions from the community.

Shaefer Bagwell and Shaefer Bagwell

A few weeks ago, my mother sent me a package. On the outside, she had written in black Sharpie, “Wear it on campus … I dare you.” Inside the package was a navy blue T-shirt with “Obama-Biden 2012” emblazoned across the front in bright white letters. What my mother, who is the definition of moderate, knew is that this was sure to cause a stir on Biola’s campus.

The next day I put it on and walked out my door. I’ve never been one to hide my views, and, truth be told, I’ve wanted an Obama campaign T-shirt since 2007. I was excited. I thought that I would get a few funny looks, maybe a rueful laugh from my political science professor, and a lot of double takes.

Angry reactions to “Obama-Biden 2012” shirt

The reaction that I did get was a little different. Sure, I got funny looks. Sure, my professor laughed at me, and double takes abounded. But the more common reaction was troubling. One person said, “They spelled ‘idiot’ on your shirt wrong.” Instead of just amusement from the people who know me and disbelief from the people who don’t, the looks that my shirt drew that day contained anger and derision.

I was puzzled. I’ve been politically active for a long time. This is what I do for fun. I’m a political science major, a political opinions writer and a news junkie. I want to work in professional politics as a career. Despite all these things, I have never once gotten angry when I’ve seen someone wearing a McCain-Palin shirt, a Fiorina shirt, or, God forbid, a Tea Party shirt. I take that kind of public support as a celebration of our First Amendment rights. With that mindset, I decided to ask a few people why they looked so angry when they saw my shirt.

Accepting other viewpoints without condemnation

One person responded by asking me why I was wearing it. When I told her that no, it wasn’t a joke, and yes, I really do plan on voting for the president, she looked furious. I explained to her why I support Obama, and I asked her why she didn’t. To my disbelief, she responded with two arguments that I thought had gone by the wayside. She told me that Obama’s presidency was illegitimate because he was born in Kenya. When I explained to her that he had published both a live birth announcement and a birth certificate that proved he had been born in Hawaii, she came back with an argument that has much more traction among the Christian community. By virtue of Obama’s father’s cultural Islamic beliefs, Obama is actually a Muslim. This line of reasoning would have just struck me as an anomaly if three other people hadn’t responded the same way.

To these four people, I asked why they thought that we were qualified to judge another man’s faith. I reminded them that the president is the only one of the top three contenders for the White House to be a professing Protestant, and that his main competition is a wildly faithful Mormon. The president has said he’s a Christian. We, as believers, have a responsibility to love him and hold him accountable for his actions. We are not to accuse him of lying about his faith and perpetuate baseless lies about his cultural background.

Biola is a wonderful Christian community. I have found love, acceptance, and forgiveness here, and I thank God for this place every day. That being said, we need to work on being more accepting of other people’s viewpoints, and explore the merits of their arguments before condemning them for what they believe.

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