Barry Saunders

Can’t we agree to disagree in a civil manner?

David Lanphere can take the heat, and not just because he’s been a firefighter for nearly 30 years.

It’s when you start talking about his wife, though, that he gets steamed.

That’s why I’ve got just two words for the people who’ve been inundating Traci Lanphere with despicable comments since she told a kid in a kilt to put on some pants: Chill, homes.

Let me tell you, that was one hot hombre who showed up at my office Wednesday to share some of the Internet nastiness that has been aimed at his wife of 17 years over the past two weeks. The vituperation from around the globe – she has been interviewed or talked about by ABC News in New York, Time magazine, an atheist website and a newspaper in the United Kingdom, among others – has become so intense that Lanphere has shut down comments on the Praise Prom website.

That’s a shame, because many of the comments were sweet and kind and complimentary.

Name calling

As one who has been called some of the worst names imaginable – for instance: a Kenny G fan – I can attest to the long-lasting pain anonymous insults cause us sensitive souls. As a firefighter, Lanphere said he, too, is used to receiving insults. He can give them, too.

“Firefighters’ favorite pastime is bustin’ chops,” he said, noting that several of his colleagues on the Wendell Fire Department call him “the kilt-hater.”

He’s not, of course, and neither is his wife. Since Traci Lanphere requested that David Leix put on some pants in lieu of a kilt before entering the prom – “We want to keep things about Jesus,” she said, in explaining the dress code – she has been lampooned and attacked as judgmental and an example of Christian intolerance.

Irony is perhaps lost on many of her detractors, so they won’t get that it is they who are being judgmental.

“The thing that hurt her the most is people talking about her being a bigot,” he said. “My wife is one of the most accepting people in the world. She made the dress code because it could be all kinds of things to come up.”

Amen. Anyone who has seen what passes for acceptable attire these days can imagine what kids – and some adults – would wear if guidelines weren’t imposed. I think the kilt is cool and give Leix props for having the chutzpah to pull it off.

I mean to put it on. Dave Lanphere insisted – and his wife has said in subsequent interviews – that she meant no offense to people for whom the pleated garment is replete with cultural significance.

Where is the civility?

Lanphere said his wife bought Leix a pair of pants so he could come into the prom, then refunded the price of his ticket to make up for the two hours he missed.

“People need to be a little bit more grateful, a little bit more thankful,” Lanphere said. “A lot of those kids wouldn’t have had a night if not for my wife.”

Since when, Lanphere and I wondered, did every argument, every disagreement, have to become a blood sport or go to DEFCON 4? Have we lost the ability to disagree civilly – or at least without carpet bombing people whose views differ from our own?

Take, for instance, those who wrote and called Lanphere a hypocrite who “need(s) to be strung up.”

Here’s an idea: all those people lambasting Lanphere for her prom and its dress code? Y’all start your own danged prom next year for homeschooled kids who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Or take her husband up on his offer to volunteer and help his wife. As he said, “Any time you mention Jesus and Christianity, some people are going to be upset.”

That’s too bad.

Most of the people horridly and floridly criticizing Lanphere do so from the safety behind their keyboards. Wise move, because after spending time with that ticked-off firefighter, I’m guessing most of those people would rather run through a four-alarm blaze in gasoline drawers than say something unkind about his wife to his face.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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