What does the word “tolerance” actually mean?
For most of history, it has meant respect for those around us, even or especially those whose beliefs are different from ours.
For many people in today’s society, however, tolerance only extends as far as they agree with someone else.
That was certainly the case for the organizers of the Circles Conference when they barred a Christian speaker from attending.
David Roark is a professional graphic designer and communications specialist, serving as communications director for The Village Church in Texas.
He’s made a name for himself in the industry for his excellent work, so it was no surprise when he was invited to speak at the 2019 Circles Conference in Texas.
This conference is a three-day event for professional graphic designers, offering education and networking opportunities for those who attend. Roark was selected as a speaker for his talent and commitment to the field.
That is, until some radical left attendees issued outrageous demands to the organizers.
The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) stated that they would boycott the Circles Conference if David Roark, a Christian, was allowed to speak at the conference.
The organization claimed that the presence of a Christian would make other attendees feel “unsafe.”
The AIGA’s claim is not based on any statements Roark has publicly made, or on any specific actions he’s taken in the public sphere. They base their accusation solely on where he worships and works.
The Village Church teaches the Bible, and according to AIGA, the Bible’s teaching “does not meet our standards of inclusion because of openly discriminatory policies and practices towards women and the LGBTQ+ community.”
Notably, the Circles Conference has nothing to do with religious or social justice discussions. It’s strictly a professional event for those in the graphic design and communication field.
But the AIGA chose to make it personal, threatening to withdraw from the conference unless Roark was scratched from the list of speakers.
“We feel it would be hypocritical of us to be involved in the conference and tacitly endorse the policies of The Village Church,” the AIGA stated.
“This would be a misallocation of our membership resources and a disservice to all members of our community against whom the organization discriminates.”
Would the members of the AIGA made the same statement if Roark worshiped or worked at a mosque, a Hindu temple, or an atheist assembly?
Probably not. It’s Roark’s Christianity and his church’s Bible teaching that’s under fire.
The AIGA claims to accept members of all beliefs and backgrounds. In fact, the AIGA website states, “We come in all shapes and sizes. No matter who you are, you’re one of us.”
Unless you’re a Christian, apparently. Then you definitely don’t belong.
The organizers of the Circles Conference bowed to pressure from the AIGA, quickly removing Roark from their list of speakers.
“Since the beginning, one goal of Circles Conference has been to bring people of different world views and creative backgrounds together,” stated one of the organizers, when explaining why he and his fellow organizers had decided to ban one world view from the conference.
“While cultivating a collaborative and creative culture is our top priority, we also respect the concerns of our fellow creatives and we will always be open to dialogue and transparency.”
Sadly, David Roark won’t be able to participate in that dialogue and the conference attendees will miss out on his professional insights.
But Roark’s response to this blatant discrimination has been a calm conversation on social media, not the inflammatory statement one might have expected from an “unsafe” speaker.
“I believe that to end division and pursue unity in our world, we must be willing to listen well, enter into dialogue, and understand that we can show love, honor, and dignity to one another while still disagreeing,” Roark stated.
He went on to say, “I want the creative community to be a place where individuals of all backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles can learn from one another, regardless of differences, not a place where we shut each other out.”
His words demonstrate a deep maturity that is lacking in the AIGA’s statements. Roark is ready to listen to the concerns and viewpoints of others, even if they’re different from his own.
In this attitude, he sets a good example for his fellow Christians. It’s hard to listen to ideas that contradict what we believe to be God’s law, but it’s important for us to demonstrate the kind of love and patience that Roark has shown in this situation.
Like Roark says, we need to listen well and enter into dialogue with others. Even if our society doesn’t show true tolerance to Christians, we should imitate Christ and counter intolerance with love.
Keep David Roark in your prayers, and pray also for those who attend the Circles Conference. May God’s presence be felt, even in Roark’s absence.