The Florida professor who offended millions by allegedly making students “stomp” on a piece of paper with the word Jesus on it has broken his silence.
No doubt he’s got plenty of time for interviews now that, after a deluge of death threats, his university has decided to place him on leave.
The mid-March kerfuffle at Florida Atlantic University happened when the instructor, Dr. Deandre Poole, who taught an intercultural communications class, asked his students to write the word Jesus on a sheet of paper and then step on it. One Mormon student refused and was suspended by the university. Soon, outside protests came pouring in, including a scathing letter from Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott. The school then apologized for both the disciplinary action and the professor’s exercise.
And what do we learn?
• Far from being a Jesus-mocking heathen, Poole is a lifelong church-going Christian and former Sunday-school teacher who describes himself as “very religious.”
• The exercise was meant to demonstrate that some students would feel inhibited about stepping on something that 15 seconds earlier had been a random, insignificant piece of paper. This would give everyone an opening to discuss symbols and their meaning.
• Poole says it made no difference to him whether the students stepped on the paper or not. Most didn’t, and that was fine, he explains, as their discomfort was intended precisely to jumpstart the discussion.
• The suspension of the angry student was the result of the student’s aggressive behavior after class, claims Poole. The young man allegedly slammed his fist into his palm and told the instructor he wanted to hit him (although the student’s attorney denies this ever happened). Alarmed, Poole notified campus security and filed a report on the student.
In revisiting this Christian tempest in a teapot, we can see that at the very least, things are a little less clear-cut than the Christian-right outrage machine made them seem.
Now let’s look at what America’s very own Taliban had to say when they contacted Poole.
He said he has received hate mail and death threats, some of them coming in forms particularly hurtful to an African American. “One of the threats said that I might find myself hanging from a tree,” he said. [H]e has had some days that he did not feel safe at his home and so stayed elsewhere.
On Friday, Florida Atlantic University announced that the threats against the professor had become so numerous that
Poole has been placed on paid leave because his safety could not be assured on campus.
Yet again, the love of Jesus’ followers shines through bright and clear.
[photo via Inside Higher Ed]