Saturday, October 11, 2008

"OMW": Christians on Campus: Bah, Humbug!

[MODERATOR'S NOTE: The following post by "Old Man Winter" (OMW) discusses the lack of religious tolerance on SIUC campus, particularly for those who profess Christianity in its many forms.

OMW asks for greater understanding from an academic establishment that is tone deaf to the meaning of religion. The regulators of religious freedom hide their ignorance behind a doctrinaire wall of church-state separation that violates the religious freedom clause of the First amendment. In social work, education, and law, students and staff are harassed for exercising their religious faith on campus. This is unconstitutional. But once again it has taken a major court victory to order SIU to "do the right thing": Christian Legal Society v. Southern Illinois University (2006). The following links show how FIRE and the Alliance Defense Fund (a religious freedom group) won this important precedent--a case now studied by SIU Law students! Click here, here and here. For a case involving the School of Work, see this Daily Egyptian editorial.

The root of this discrimination is ignorance of the law and the vital role religion plays in the public square. For more, see FIRE's guide to religious liberty: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/5061.html As always, if you feel your religious liberty is under assault, educate yourself and contact, FIRE, ADF, or the ACLU.]

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"Old Man Winter" writes:

Anti-"Christian" rhetoric at SIU is little more than unawareness--a polite term--of its historical, theological and cultural complexity. In fact, there is not one "Christianity," but several. As Christians, we share the kergyma or proclamation that we somehow experience "God" in the historical figure of Jesus from Nazareth. After that proclamation, disagreements reign with far more frequency than agreements.

For academics to be unaware--for whatever reason--of these disagreements and the controversies behind them is simply inexcusable. Such unawareness, however, provides a vehicle through which ideological and political agendas that have nothing to do with intellectual discussion or academic freedom can occur. In short, pronouncing that "the Christians" will raise complaints about GLBT issues and that we intellectuals need to anticipate ignorant rantings about "sinful behavior" is simply wrong at best and offensive at worst.

Ignorance is not necessarily harmful in itself. When it is used, however, to label, categorize, shun and even attack colleagues, students and other human beings, such ignorance needs to be renounced as firmly as possible. To those who are so busy defending "rights," perhaps it may be necessary to ask them to become morally consistent. We who are people of Judeo-Christian faith have the right to practice our faith, explore our own issues, meet in peaceable assembly with our fellows and even debate the merits of our own assertions without fear of retribution, castigation, exclusion or stereotype. We as people of faith have something to offer the intellectual dialogue that can take place on a college campus and, in my experience, did until about 30 years ago.

We also have the right to raise questions about the claims of those who express different opinions in the spirit of intellectual give and take without having our inquiries narrowly labeled as "religion and (sexual) morality." For there to be any question of our intellectual part of the "search for truth wherever it may lead" only heightens the problems facing SIUC and, I presume, many campuses across the country.

Surely with the brain power present at a research institution like ours, we can do better. In fact, if we really believe what we say about justice, equality and academic integrity, we must.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Christian organizations at public universities are perfectly well within their rights to form as any other organization on campus. With that said, I do understand the pause or should I say hesitation in total endorsement of any religious group at a state school. Without going into a long history of Western Civilization, there has been a historical pattern in some religious circles towards intolerance, and proselytizing. Moreover in some cases there is hostility or patronization towards other beliefs. lifestyles, and those who do not believe at all. Often, there seems to be a missionary zeal which is a fundamental part of many evangelicals and other Christian groups that make others uncomfortable. This, of course is not to say they do not belong on campus or should be banned. Notwithstanding, it is germane to recognize the inherent concerns about any religious group at a public university whose total goal is to convert the masses.

Proud atheist said...

Have you thought how much hatred Christianity has inspired over the centuries? Wouldn't we be better off without it? So, why not start with universities where young minds won't be polluted with a religion that has caused untold misery, the slaughter of Native Americans and the Holocaust.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered how unusual Jesus's sexual orientation was for his time? Unmarried male about 30 years old? Hmmmmm.

I'm glad that orientations are teaching people to look out for GLBT folks. It's about time. And also to know the likely bigots in our midst -- just as we would secure our classrooms from an armed and dangerous person.

Anonymous said...

To the respondents, I wonder at their "know-nothingism." Your (mostly) ignorant responses indicate you don't get it. Paraphrasing the queer crowd,

"We're here, we're Christian, get used to it."

Now come and worship, and when the time is appropriate discuss and debate these issues. But to say "good riddance" is purely anti-intellectual.

Kudos to OMW for saying what so many keep to themselves.

Old man winter said...

To each of the responders thus far: I agree that any religious organization should not receive "total endorsement" at a state University. I also agree that "Christian history" has been guilty of "intolerance and proselytizing." I thirdly agree that a pattern of hostility or patronization from my tradition to most others has existed for too many years, decades and centuries. My Divinity school explore those issues in quite some detail and most responsible theological reflection from roughly the early 1920s until the present has condemned those attitudes and their human consequences.
At SIU and, I believe many other Universities across the country, that is not the issue. Not all Christians have agreed and participated in these matters and a long part of our theological heritage--going back to the Exodus and prophetic tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures--opposes those attitudes. Jesus himself, from a certain interpretive standpoint (and whatever is said about his life and ministry is interpretation rooted in the contingencies of a given interpreter's time and place. Hopefully through proper scholarship and intellectual inquiry, however, we can discern vague themes that Jesus may have espoused, one of which being--in terms of postmodern New Testament investigation--his connection to the Exodus and prophetic traditions of social justice, human liberation and the fullness of freedom) preached the implications of the Hebrew word MISHPAT, roughly speaking "justice" as referred to by Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah and other prophets. These issues have utterly nothing to do with notions of "who gets to go and who doesn't" that much of the academy conveniently seems to believe as Christianity's primary "doctrine." Anyone who goes to the religion section of a Barnes and Noble or Border's Bookstore can purchase volumes that explore these issues in a myriad of ways.
My experience here, however, is not only do academics lack intellectual awareness, many of them exhibit outright hostility toward those of us who try to explain these differences. In short, these people seem unwilling to explore their own ideas or submit them to critical scrutiny. "Christianity" is monolithic in its emphasis, the "Bible" is nothing more than a reflection of some type of immutable "divine plan" leading to some form of Apocalypse (as defined by savvy marketers who occupy space on the television and radio dials)and those of us who are Christians are deluded by some form of opiate of the people or Institutional State Apparatus or Politically-Unconscious Ideology that keeps us from realizing the root causes of human separation and fragmentation.
In terms of the third response thus far, if Jesus was gay, I could care less. God made GLBT people as GLBT and since God did so, what is the problem? Do all Christians agree with me: of course not. Do a growing tide of Christians who understand the complexity of biblical transmission through 4,500 years of cultural changes and broadening human awareness that sexuality is not a choice, but a divinely-bestowed gift: YES. Is exploration of these--apparently--unknown attitudes available at Barnes and Nobel or Borders or some other secular bookstore: YES. In immediate reference to your inference, howwever, no one knows if Jesus was gay or whether he felt attraction to women. We don't know for certain if he was married or not. There is no specific Gospel reference or extra-biblical mention of his life along these lines. The point becomes tertiary to what actually does matter: namely, how he related to his "neighbors" in his time, place and circumstance and how then we who profess him to be "the Christ" choose to attempt an understanding and following of his kerygma (or proclamation) of God's Good News or Story. If he was straight, I don't care. If he was gay, I don't care. It doesn't matter.
As for the second response, of course I am aware of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the defense of slavery, the subjugation of women and the notion of them as property, the "biblically-based" defense of segregation, the Imperial adventures in the name of "saving" the world for Jesus and Anglo-Saxon civilization. I also am aware that German "Christianity" gave both passive and active credence to the Nazi regime and the Holocaust they sponsored. Are you aware of Paul Tillich's opposition to Naziism on Christian grounds? Or Karl Barth's? Are you aware that a significant Social Gospel movement--however incomplete--in late nineteenth century American tried to ameliorate the horrid degradation of urban immigrants and transplanted workers on Christian grounds of "letting justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24)?
I am not disputing your historical recountings. Power corrupts and as Christian proclamation became enmeshed with European power politics--both Catholic and Protestant--it came to participate in these ungodly, inhuman abuses of its position. There are ways in which, as theologians and biblical scholars have noted quite loudly over the last century especially, but even before hand, Christian proclamation can be used to advance the political interest of those in power. Biblically-speaking as well, however, such enmeshment is idolatry and a violation of God's first commandment (Exodus 20).
All that being said, to understand the nature of Christian history as intertwined with European and world history--or simply the Bible as Literature or as various sorts of theological expression--does not "pollute young minds" or, for that matter, middle aged or older minds either. To the contrary, to suppress, repress or otherwise ignore the ambiguous reality (ies) that comprises the relationship of Judeo-Christian proclamation in its various forms can and has provided a rich intellectual vein of discussion. That does not mean, as I wonder if you might be unintentionally implying, these discussions are predicated on the need to achieve "conversion" and "salvation" for those doing the discussing. It does mean, however, that as you make your claims--correctly as far as they go--we can explore issues together and, as seems apparent, agree to disagree. Nothing should be off the table as far as academic inquiry is concerned. Our only guiding points should be gathering and arguing of evidence in a spirit of vigorous give and take in a search for truth "wherever it may lead."
Thank you both for responding to my entry and thanks to Dr. Bean for managing the blog itself.

Word Bearer said...

My response is directed to "Proud Atheist," and others like said blogger. I am a Christian Minister and I acknowledge the terrible sins that have been committed in God's name. I have no doubt that these and all acts of evil in history will be judged in the end. However, I encourage and pray that you will not evaluate Christianity based on its members or their actions. Because all of humanity is flawed, even Christians sin. Instead, I encourage you to pick up a Bible and read it. I suggest the gospel of John to start with. Judge Christianity by the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. He teaches that we are to love one another. He encouraged charity and the helping of our fellow humans. All social justice movements if you trace back their lineage usually started from a Christian revival movement including racial justice, gender justice, etc. If you do your research, the Holocaust was inspired by a pagan religious movement that perverted Christian imagery and combined it with occult and norse elements, the holocaust was not caused by Christianity. Neither was the unfortunate death of so many Native Americans. The ultimate demize of the Native population in the Americas was caused by the greed of European colonizers. Please, if you are a person that has an open mind, give the teachings of Jesus a look, don't judge Christianity by its worst members, look at its best, Mother Teresa, William Wilburforce, Abraham Lincoln, Pope John Paul II, and Billy Graham to name a few. I pray that this blog does not fall on deaf ears and that you will all have an open mind and heart to Jesus Christ. In close I will quote John 3: 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life."