Monday, May 10, 2010

Response to Hope College Commencement Address

I'm reading the commencement address from Hope and considering the main themes of the Compound Interest stewardship ideals, and the Four Promises.  Of course, I'm reading this in the context of how Hope's administration has decided to maintain the policy statement that forbids support for homosexual student groups and activities.  From my point of view, it's another element in the larger entrenched hypocrisy.  Of course, from their perspective, it would be hypocritical to allow for sanctioned support of LGBT student groups when their elements of faith decry their existence as abhorrent in the Eyes of God.

And that's where I continue to run into philosophical trouble.  At what point do you offer support and assistance to a group of people even when you disagree with them?  Hope is, by definition, both an institution of higher learning, and at the same time an institution affiliated with the Christian Church, particularly the RCA

The RCA has modified their position on homosexuality in a way that begins to acknowledge the science behind human sexuality.  That has not filtered down into the local churches, nor to Hope. 

Holland is a very "conservative" place.  That's fine.  And Hope is always going to be a "conservative" school.  That's fine.  There has to be a point, though, where the idea of Human Rights aren't reserved solely for those who meet a certain standard of behavior.

That's the tip of the iceberg for a much larger discussion about how Americans are starting to fall into the subtle racism and xenophobia that says "Rights belong only to the Righteous."  That's not how the idea of The New World and America grew out of the Enlightenment. 

It is part of our social contract that Rights belong to everyone, that Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are God Given and Inalienable.  That phrase and that idea did not come out of an intellectual void.  Locke made it very clear that Life, Liberty, and Property were the province of the Citizen.  Further analysis developed it into the idea that Pursuit of Happiness was a more apt description of that Right, and that these Rights were not only for Citizens, but were indeed for all people.

Hope is a private institution.  It does not have to answer to anyone, really, other than itself.  Its behavior as an institution is degrading its reputation, alienating a specific segment of the population, and neglecting its responsibility to adhere to the governing Church's policies.  But, most importantly, it is ignoring its essence of purpose by allowing hatred, fear, and prejudice to guide its path.

Homosexual students are on the Hope campus.  The question is frequently asked why would they come there if they know they are not welcome?  Frankly, I don't know, except to say that the benefits outweigh the detriments.  Also, and maybe this is the key to the answer, those students don't see their sexuality as anything that could, would, or should exclude them from their own Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.  To them, it's just not a big deal.  There's no need to segregate themselves into some other educational system because, wait for it, they are no different from anyone else.  Being "gay" doesn't preclude one from being able to participate in a vibrant academic society.  In short, it's only the "straights" who are making a fuss about this, and that fuss is rooted in a collection of words that were written down some five thousand years ago to codify an oral history that had persisted for close to two thousand years prior to that, then translated and re-translated into and out of several dead languages, and without the context of the original history.  But for a few examples of misguided translation, the Biblical injunction against homosexuality could have just as easily be interpreted today as instructions on how to prepare your bed for sleep.

The historical context has been lost in the Bible itself, although not in other contemporaneous sources.  And the science of human sexuality has advanced its knowledge beyond the pervasive and historical prejudices.  Fear is not an option.  Denying the investment in student life while on campus is perpetuation of a myth abhorrent to Man and God.


John Riccardi said...

"Rights belong only to the Righteous." it's what our country unfortunately was founded upon. Washington himself put his life on the line in the great pursuit of liberty while the slaves back home sheared his crops and attended to his family. The more things change, the more they stay the same. At the end of the day, what matters is what the individual does to attain their own greater good. There really is nothing else.

annajcook said...

"Homosexual students are on the Hope campus. The question is frequently asked why would they come there if they know they are not welcome?"

I'd also add that while lots of folks attest to knowing from the time they were very young that they were interested in same-sex relationships, there are many of us who come to that realization later in life . . . particularly if we're coming out of a culture (for example, conservative Christianity) that believes same-sex desire is sinful. But even if we don't (my parents never taught me homosexuality was sick or sinful), it's not necessarily clear to every eighteen-year-old that they're not straight.

I knew I wasn't straight, on some level, by the time I started college at Hope -- but I wasn't exactly sure what I understood myself to be. I knew plenty of fellow students who didn't start college knowing they were gay. And a few who started college knowing they had same-sex desires but hating that part of themselves and seeking a way to be straight.

I've had a lot of folks in my current life ask me lately (when I talk about this stuff with the Board of Trustees) why anyone who wasn't straight would go to Hope since it's so clear queer folks aren't welcome. But it's so much more complicated than that.