Setbacks and strides in Springs’ diversity appreciation

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Obviously our Republican Representative Doug Lamborn missed the sensitivity class when he was in college.

He recently called President Barack Obama a “tar baby.” Whether or not you should still like President Obama after the latest debacle remains open for discussion, but the office of the President should be respected. And the use of an inflammatory slur in 2011 is really out of line, no matter your party affiliation.

When I travel out of the city, strangers gasp at the mention of Colorado Springs. I’ve been asked about the intolerance of Focus on the Family in regards to gays and Jews, as well as about the tone of conservative evangelical zeal. I recall the outcry against the late Ted Eastburn when he dared suggest that city employees who are gay deserved to have their partners covered by health insurance. He lost the election when Focus mobilized against his heresy and chose a religiously appropriate candidate.

But I thought we had left all of this behind us.

Business-like thinking isn’t ideological, but economical: Your dollar is just as good as anyone else’s, no matter who you privately worship (if at all). But for some, like Lamborn, the only way to define themselves and their ideas is through a negative portrayal of others. Like characters in Old West films, they need cowboys with white hats to win against those with black hats.

One way to overcome this kind of intolerance, especially when multiculturalism has given way to religious pluralism, is through education. And UCCS, now a towering force in the city’s economy with more than 9,000 students and a growing staff to meet their needs, has risen to the occasion.

A newcomer to UCCS, Dr. Jeffrey Scholes, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology, has spearheaded an interfaith initiative on campus that has been awarded “The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.”

Yes, it’s an initiative undertaken by the same president Lamborn mocks. Yes, it’s the same president accused of not being Christian or American-born. And yes, it’s an initiative that is supposed to bring students together so as to overcome misguided conceptions of fear and hatred.

The initiative includes this part:

Many municipalities are reducing services in a response to tighter city budgets. In Colorado Springs this has had a huge impact on public parks with funding reduced from $20 million to $3 million dollars since 2008. As such, minimal park maintenance is being carried out and new park development (including enhanced planting) has almost ceased. To help with this pressing environmental need, a key activity of the UCCS Interfaith Service Initiative is to establish the UCCS Park Corps of interested interfaith students.

After an initial training period with the assistance of local landscaping experts, the UCCS Park Corps will be involved in organizing park care days consisting of trash removal, basic tree care (pruning and mulching), turf maintenance and bed care. A tree will be planted at the end of each park care day as a further contributory gesture.

The UCCS Park Corps will work in close collaboration with the City of Colorado Spring’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Service to identify priority neighborhood and community parks requiring care.

Not only will interfaith activity be integrated into the city’s needs, performing tasks the city is unable to perform because of budgetary cuts, this public service will be undertaken by all the groups represented on campus: Hillel Student Group, Campus Crusade for Christ, Latter Day Saints Students Association, Secular Student Alliance, Habitat for Humanity, Navigators, Catholic Student Community, Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability and Student Military Outreach.

Instead of fanning the fires of discontent and rivalry, we can bring together diverse groups. Under the auspices of educational or religious institutions, we can teach tolerance and acceptance, respect for others and ourselves. When an economic crisis strikes, it doesn’t discriminate according to religious affiliations, race, or gender. Nor does a natural disaster, like Katrina, make such discriminations. On some fundamental level, we are all in it together.

Interfaith efforts, more common in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Chicago’s Rainbow Coalition comes to mind), should be revived. UCCS’ recognition by the President of the United States is a clear indication that Colorado Springs is finally on board, changing its image of religious intolerance to a city where diversity is celebrated and harnessed for public good.

If politicians paid just a little attention to such efforts, they, too, could usher inter-political initiatives, where conservatives and liberals, anarchists and libertarians, socialists and capitalist could all join forces to benefit the job market and stimulate the economy. Just as interfaith students will take care of the parks, inter-political citizens can take care of sharrows, libraries and trails.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS and breaks bread with people of all faiths, including atheists. He can be reached at Previous articles can be found at