Connoisseurs of middlebrow literature love Nicholas Sparks. Most of his books have hit the best seller lists, and several of them have become hit movies. His subgenre is a relatively chaste romantic fantasy where everything turns out all right in the end despite the challenges that lovers face.
His wildly successful chick lit has rarely courted controversy, but outside of his literary output, Sparks is quickly seeing the ire of the left. A lengthy piece in the Daily Beast explains how the author has failed to kowtow to one of the institutions of modern leftism – the LGBT lobby.
You see, in 2006, Sparks founded a Christian academy in North Carolina which he dubbed the Epiphany School of Global Studies. The Daily Beast explains the concept behind the school:
The idea was to start a small, faith-based academy focused on world issues with an emphasis on language-learning, regular visits to other nations, and a shared understanding that “learning about the world” was an integral part of 21st-century life. In its mission statement, the school of roughly 500 students describes itself as “anchored in the Judeo-Christian commandment to Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself.”
The academy was meant to have a basis in Judeo-Christian values. Remember that part.
It seems the trouble started in 2013 when the school hired a new headmaster: Saul Benjamin, a Jewish-born Quaker who, despite the article’s portrayal, comes across as a weird, hippy-go-free educator who seemed to want to push the school in new directions.
For starters, Benjamin told the Daily Beast that “the ways that different cultures and different religions and different communities try to help young people discover their potential” was his “faith” – not Christianity, but some vague believe in the power of universalist education. It doesn’t make him sound like the best choice to lead a Christian school.
Benjamin first tried to emphasize greater diversity at the school (apparently the school mirrored the whiteness of Sparks’ books), and he accused Sparks and members of the school’s board of being racists when Benjamin tried to recruit more African-American kids to the school. But things got weirder into the fall of 2013.
Benjamin started a discussion group for students to talk about their sexuality. Naturally, accusations of bullying ensued, and two girls planned a protest at a chapel, where they would strip down and announce their sexual orientation. Benjamin put a stop to the protest, but Sparks allegedly lashed out at the headmaster in emails.
Sparks told Benjamin he was angry and frustrated about the diversity and tolerance issues. “I told you this would happen… if you didn’t follow our advice, which was simply ‘don’t rock the boat on this particular issue.’” He offered Benjamin a list of recommendations to improve his standing at the school, which ranged from “mak[ing] sure all Christian traditions feel especially Christian, especially as we move into the Christmas season,” to refraining from implying the school has problems of tolerance.
In a message sent the following morning, Sparks echoed the same points, defending his decision to ban the LGBT group (“not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination”), and denying the school had any problem with gay students. “Remember, we’ve had gay students before, many of them,” Sparks wrote. “[The former headmaster] handled it quietly and wonderfully… I expect you to do the same.”
Benjamin filed a suit in 2014, and Sparks countered by asserting that the headmaster violated school policy when he formed the club, and the author even accuses Benjamin of being “aloof, even rude, elitist and dismissive of their beliefs or backgrounds.”
These incidents will most likely be the tip of the iceberg, as more folks on the left will consider Sparks a bad guy and maybe even persona non grata for not allowing his Christian school to have an LGBT club. Who knows? He may even see a sales pushback for not falling in line with the gay agenda. After all, as we say around here a lot, you will be made to care. Nicholas Sparks may find this out the hard way.
UPDATE: A court has ruled that Epiphany didn’t discriminate, and apparently Sparks has issued a statement in response to the Daily Beast story.