Punditosis On the Beach

September 7, 2007

Punditosis — that nauseating intellectual halitosis produced by a diet of half-baked ideas and ill-digested information — can be seen in one of its most virulent forms this week in the pages of the Home News Tribune.

The sufferer, aka columnist Rick Malwitz, weeps bitter tears for the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist group which holds title to a lovely patch of the Jersey Shore called Ocean Grove, right next to Asbury Park. A sizeable population of gay couples live there, but when two of them had the temerity to ask permission to use the boardwalk pavilion to celebrate their civil unions, the OGCMA (for the sake of brevity, let’s call them the OGs) said no dice. Though the OGs routinely allow the pavilion to be used for all sorts of secular events and even non-Methodist religious ceremonies, they decided it would be against their beliefs to treat gay people like human beings with civil rights. You know, Leviticus and Deuteronomy and all that. Our orders come from the big guy in the sky, so whaddya gonna do?

Since the OGs promised to open Ocean Grove’s facilities to the public in return for a juicy tax break through the state Green Acres Program, this bigoted decision has put them on a collision course with the state, which may decide it will no longer exempt the boardwalk, the pavilion and other public areas from property taxes.    

Malwitz, adopting his most Solomonic tones, takes a look at this squalling baby and applies his hacksaw:

Unless it yields, the association risks the loss of a lot of money — to the detriment of all Ocean Grove property owners, both gay and straight.

The gay community could also yield, and back off its demand to permit civil-union ceremonies on association property, allowing how the Methodists have a right to adhere to their beliefs.

If property values and aesthetics mean anything, Ocean Grove is in debt to the gay community. But this works both ways. The gay community is in debt to the association. If the Methodists had not set up camp in 1870 — and created and then preserved something unique at the Jersey Shore — Ocean Grove would not be Ocean Grove. It would be Seaside Heights.

In other words, the Methodists were there first so they get to decide which laws shall be obeyed and who shall be accorded full citizenship and a claim to the bounties of life. So sayeth Rick, who adds that the gay population “is now protesting policies that were in place long before any one of us was born.” Take that, you heathens. When, long ago, opponents of slavery spoke up and suffragists called for giving women the right to vote, no doubt there was a Malwitz ancestor storming up from his rocking chair to warn against flouting “policies that were in place long before any one of us was born.” When a certain kind of bigotry has been around long enough, there will always be some benighted soul ready to call it a tradition.

To give credit where due, it should be noted that Malwitz acknowledges the role “the gay community” has played in sprucing up Ocean Grove, which in the 1980s was looking more than a tad seedy and even in the early 1990s was still a place where householders might find homeless mental patients sleeping on their porches. In the past, a pundit like Malwitz would have simply thundered against the sins of Sodom in the tones of Cecil B. DeMille narrating The Ten Commandments. So there is progress in the world.

The OGs’ stance is made even more untenable by the fact that they took a quarter million in Caesar’s coin for repairs after a vicious nor’easter tore up the boardwalk and damaged the roof of their Great Auditorium in 1992. One would think such a righteous community would have been spared by the Deity, but maybe the storm was diverted to New Jersey from points south on orders from Pat Robertson. Do Southern Baptists carry more clout than Methodists when the big guy in the sky is brewing up some heavy weather? Should the OGs have sent their favorite preacher to stand on the beach and re-redirect the tempest, like Gandalf trying to fend off Saruman’s snowstorm in The Fellowship of the Ring? (Hey — how about a reality show in which leaders from various denominations compete to deliver the most effective prayers? Call it America’s Next Top Preacher, or Who’s Your Sky Daddy? Pit Christians against other religions and call it My God Can Kick Your God’s Ass.) But I digress.

Being a conservative of the Russell Kirk school, Rick Malwitz looks at the situation and sees the problem as one not of bigotry or prejudice but — yes! — government interference:

This is the problem when anyone accepts government aid. There are always strings attached.

It’s not a problem, Rick, it’s an opportunity — an opportunity for the OGs to let those strings lead them into the 21st century. After all, if God sent the storm, then maybe God was also sending a message to the OGs that it’s time for them to clean up their act.

I think we may be on to something here. The Lord does, after all, move in mysterious ways.   


One Response to “Punditosis On the Beach”

  1. Chucky Says:

    The HNT has always had a soft spot for religion, especially the hardline type. Rick Malwitz is a right-wing crank though not as moralistic a prude as some of their other writers. Two more reasons why the Star-Ledger outsells the HNT in the HNT’s backyard.

    Speaking of the HNT they’re doing a quasi-hostile takeover of the Courier News in Somerset County. E-mail me offline if you want details.

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