As is well understood by the leadership of the Arkansas Times — Lindsey Millar, Alan Leveritt and Max Brantley, all of whom I have spoken to, or written to, about this matter — I strenuously refute the charges that I committed sexual harassment at the Oxford American. So when the Times reports in its "Influential Arkansans" section (Sept. 5) that future State Rep./current OA publisher Warwick Sabin "weathered the storm following the firing of founding editor Marc Smirnoff for sexual harassment," you all are knowingly repeating Sabin's distorted version of events — not the truth. If the Times had any desire to be impartial and fair about highly contested facts, it could have tossed in an honorable word called "alleged."
The truth is that I have not been found guilty of sexual harassment in any court of law; I have only been fired by a board in an "at will" state, which gives bosses and boards the right to fire employees for any reason they wish, however trumped-up. As one lawyer told me, in an "at will" state like Arkansas an employee can be fired for "the color of his shirt."
It's also worth noting that Sabin, a person I stupidly regarded as a close friend for many years, did not even bother to ask for my version of events before railroading me. Nor did he allow me to defend myself in front of the OA board when they decided my fate. Sabin's leadership on this matter is in direct contrast to the U.S. court system where — thank God — everybody charged with a crime is allowed to defend him- or herself before a judgment is meted out. (Interestingly, the Ark. Dept. of Workforce Services, the one governmental agency that has weighed-in on my ouster, rejected the OA's claim with these words: "The employer has not provided sufficient information to establish misconduct.")
But I get it; you love Sabin — an ex-Arkansas Times employee — so his word is gospel.
Worse, though, is that Times does not even bother to mention that managing editor/art editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald, the second-in-command of the OA editorial team, and, for eight years its most valuable and honorable employee, was also fired on the same day as me (July 15). Carol Ann was fired because senior editor Wes Enzinna's outrageous claim that she sexually harassed him nine months earlier was believed. In order to believe Enzinna, you have to believe that there isn't anything at all suspicious in a man waiting nine months to claim he was sexually harassed, even though the OA Employee Handbook, which Sabin and the OA board pretended was the primary influence on its decision, twice emphasizes that all complaints must be filed "immediately." Nine months equals "immediately"? (Enzinna not only waited nine months to say anything, he waited until the very day after I threatened to fire him — July 7, 2012.)
In cropping Carol Ann out of the picture, the Times de-humanizes her stalwart and long-term presence at The OA and allows Sabin's version to sound more believable than it is. Nice editorial shading, guys!
It is also disturbing to see in the space alongside your praise a full-page advertisement by the OA that "congratulates its publisher, Warwick Sabin, for being" honored by the Times — and includes another photograph of the great man. Those two photos reminded me that when Sabin became publisher of the OA, he decided that his portrait be used to illustrate his debut "Publisher's Notes" column. For 20 years, one little thing I prided myself on was that my photo never appeared in the magazine — such crass self-love, I always thought, was transparent. But that's just me.
The deeper problem is why did Sabin allow money to be wasted on a lavish full-page ad for himself when the nonprofit OA still owes so much money to UCA (more than $350,000), and others, and still underpays its writers and artists and photographers?
What it means to be a Christian
The late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill is said to have coined the phrase, "All politics is local." He even wrote a political guidebook by that title. No doubt it is a good reminder for politicians to remember how the political system works, and why true democracy depends on leaders who know what the people whom they are representing are thinking. Woe to the politician who comes into a reputation for not checking in with home.
In recent years it has occurred to me that expressions of Christianity are likewise "all local." In spite of the fact that we speak of Christianity as though everyone knows what that means, there is a good likelihood that for every person who has identified as "Christian," I could produce a dozen other "Christians" who would question the validity of what the first believer thinks Christianity is at its core. Which is to say, there is no monolithic or even consistent agreement about the meaning of the Christian experience except, perhaps in a local sense. All certain Christians might get close to agreeing about what it means to be a Christian.
As a follower of Jesus myself, I am sometimes troubled and frustrated by what gets identified as Christian as though there was general agreement among Christian people that some belief or some action was an outgrowth of what Jesus said and did and so, of course, we all agree. I have come to the realization that there is no Christian position so clear that it can make exclusive claims. It is never permissible to make public claims about the Christian position. I have a position that has been shaped by what I believe about Jesus. Is it the Christian position? I don't think so. Does it mean that I cannot join with others who might think like I do and try to get something accomplished? Certainly not, but we would be wading in our own hubris to claim the position.
In this election year it won't be long before some will produce information about what is and isn't Christian, ostensibly for the guidance of voters. Much of what I believe might not fare well in such publications. I'm prepared for that. Jesus, it seems, speaks many languages. But I'm left wondering about exclusive claims made about a man who excluded no one from his circle of friends.
Larry E. Maze
Retired Episcopal Bishop of Arkansas
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