5.11.2012

Refusing to Compromise: Parting Ways with Houston Belief



(Blogger's Note: The following is the final blog I wrote for The Houston Chronicle's Houston Belief website. It was posted on May 11, 2012. I don't know how long they will keep it posted, but here is the original link.)

I would be fabricating if I told you I have been thinking “long” and “hard” about this decision to step away from blogging for Houston Belief under the umbrella of the Houston Chronicle. It really wasn’t much to consider.

In light of my last phone conversation with Kate Shellnut, by the time you finish reading this it probably will have already been removed because it will be considered “too offensive” and a “violation” of the so-called blogging guidelines of this site.

Let’s see.

I am grateful for this entire experience. April actually marked two years since I first started blogging for this site at the invite of Ms. Shellnut. Honestly, I was surprised when I received the initial email in which she said, 
“One of my goals is to expand the perspectives represented on HoustonBelief so that we may help our readers learn more and better understand the religious traditions here in Houston…I found your impressive blog through one of our contributors, Pastor Rudy. I wanted to ask you if you’d be interested in starting a blog on HoustonBelief.”

My first few entries went right at some of the myths associated with the Nation of Islam and Minister Farrakhan. I was immediately and unsurprisingly attacked as a follower of a "hate teacher" and an "anti-Semite" from people leaving comments. It didn't bother me at all, I just continued to blog.

Then in May 2010 I was invited to have an in person lunch with Ms. Shellnut. The conversation started off casual and I thought she was sincerely trying to get to know me as a new blogger. However, she eventually told me the true purpose of the meeting, which was the fact that several members of the Jewish community were pressing her and the editors of the Houston Chronicle to have me removed immediately from the site because I "hated Jews and should not be allowed to blog among dignified religious people."

In the meeting she also asked me if I would “refrain” from mentioning anything about Jews until she was able to coordinate a dialogue, which she said these particular Jews disagreed with doing anyway. She also warned me to follow the site's guidelines of not attacking people. I had my mind made up that I would continue to be myself and if they decided to remove me that was their decision. The meeting ended and she told me I would not be removed or censured in any way. In a follow up email that day she said, “I’m going to continue to think over some possible ways to draw out discussion about the relationship between Black Americans and Jewish Americans, racism and anti-Semitism, perhaps in the month ahead.  I hope that we’ll be able to turn this controversy into an opportunity for interfaith education.”

Well, that never happened because within weeks Lee Wunsch, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, posted an article on his blog titled “Compromising the Mission of Houston Belief” revealing that he was calling for my removal. Mr. Wunsch even wrote, “when a Nation of Islam member was invited to blog, a line was drawn in the sand."

The original link to that June 6, 2010 blog is now unavailable due to them changing everyone over to a Wordpress platform. However, the proof that he wrote it is found in the response written by fellow blogger Menachem Wecker, who came to my defense. Mr. Wunsch even followed it up with another blog two months later outright attacking me. His words truly didn’t bother me because he was only recycling the same falsehoods that members of the Jewish community have been saying about Minister Farrakhan and the NOI since 1984.

My question was why was Mr. Wunsch allowed to violate Houston Belief’s so-called guidelines? Did Ms. Shellnut come to my defense? Absolutely not. Yet in another email to me regarding his attacks, she only said, “By not addressing Lee’s criticism directly, you’ve allowed the community itself to defend you and rally around your blog.  The entry by Menachem Wecker (the Iconia blogger) did a good job about letting people discuss both sides of the issue and, in the end, side with religious freedom rather than engaging in a debate over specifics that would probably go nowhere. My prediction is that this will blow over soon and in the end, you’ll have grown more fully integrated into the Houston Belief community as a result.”

I chose to come to this site because I believed the readers deserved to hear from someone that’s actually in the NOI. Also to dispel some of the myths and unjust labels attached to Minister Farrakhan and the NOI.  Over these past two years I believe we have been blessed to accomplish that with those who had an open mind. I have learned from many comments, smiled at the onslaught of attacks, and even had many of my posts featured on the Chron.com homepage. One of my posts was once picked up by the Village Voice and this blog was a finalist for the 2011 Black Weblog Awards in the Faith category.

However, the latest actions by Ms. Shellnut let me know clearly it is time to part ways with Houston Belief.
On March 21 we had a phone conversation in which she expressed “certain people” had an issue with my blog, “Clear and present danger? Nation of Islam responds to Glenn Beck”, that I posted on March 14. She said “some people” found it offensive to the Jewish community and then she started reminding me of the site’s so-called guidelines.

During the conversation, I logged into my account and noticed that she had already put that blog post back in “draft mode”, meaning she took it down. Then I noticed that my other blog, “Jewish Rabbi declares Bishop Eddie Long a King?”, that I posted on Feb. 4 was also taken down. All of this was done without discussing it with me first.

Also in the conversation I pointed out to Ms. Shellnut that Mr. Wunsch attacked and lied on Minister Farrakhan and the NOI in the first paragraph of his March 20 post, “Anti-Semitism on the Rise: Or, Am I Just Paranoid?”.  She had nothing to say about that and that post is still on the site.

So it is with great happiness that I am writing this final post because Ms. Shellnut, the online editors of the Houston Chronicle, and those that influence them have made it very clear that this site is not about open dialogue, free speech or sincerely learning about other religions. It’s about trying to suppress certain people to please a specific group.

I want to sincerely thank them for adding further validity to what the NOI has said about certain members of the so-called Jewish community. Now if anyone wants to disagree after reading this blog, help yourself.

As for me, I’m going to continue to do what I was doing before Houston Belief even came into the picture: BLOG!

Peace and blessings!
(You're welcome to follow Brother Jesse Muhammad on Twitter @BrotherJesse)
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