On the Petition regarding SBL association with Olivet Nazarene University

So, I’ve gotten a fair bit of feedback regarding the petition I circulated urging the SBL to take a stand on issues of academic freedom and tolerance and inclusiveness of LGBT persons.  Most of it has been enthusiastically positive.  But some of it has been quite negative.  A number of people reported being completely baffled that I should see a problem with Olivet Nazarene hosting the SBL Midwest Region Meeting.  Some said the petition was wrong-headed. The SBL Executive Director and the current VP of the Midwest region went to great lengths to tell me my position was born of ignorance. So I thought I’d just respond briefly to those who oppose the very idea of the petition.

Let’s be clear. This is not about trying to control what individual people think.

It’s about policies that institutions enact, policies founded upon and that further bigotry against LGBT persons. It’s about whether the SBL or its Regions should publicly ally themselves with such institutions.

Olivet Nazarene is known to deny LGBT students the housing they were assigned as well as to deny LGBT students the counseling resources that are offered to all other students.

Now, the argument of some is that this is not bigotry because it is founded upon religious teaching. And in order to be truly “inclusive,” the SBL must include adherents (and apparently institutions) of religious groups that enact such institutionalized discrimination.

However, let’s play a little game.  Let’s replace “LGBT” with “Jewish” or “black.”

A college denies black students access to counseling resources; it denies them the freedom of living in whatever housing they are assigned to, once it is discovered they are black.

Or:

A college denies Jewish students access to counseling resources. It denies them the freedom of living in whatever housing they are assigned to once it is discovered they are Jewish.

I rather suspect that most people who dismiss the petition would be outraged if black or Jewish students were treated this way.

For those who oppose the petition: Would you continue to oppose the petition if it were about black students? About Jews? There are three ways to respond.

  • “Yes, I’d oppose that petition. It’s fine for schools to deny resources to blacks and Jews (so long as their religion commanded it).” If this is your answer then in all probability you’re a liar. A dirty filthy liar. I don’t believe you for a second. That or you should have the decency to wear your Klan hood at the next Annual Meeting.
  • “Oh no, I’d withdraw my opposition! There’s no excuse for an institution doing that.” Good. Then you agree that the protection of an individual’s dignity and rights is paramount; clothing bigotry in religiosity does not make it palatable or acceptable.
  • “Well, that’s not a fair comparison, because Christianity doesn’t say anything about blacks and Jews and how they should be treated.”

Response 3 is of course, absolutely laughable and logically unsustainable. The persecution and slaughter of Jews in the name of Christianity is so tragically prevalent in European history as to be a running joke.  Have we forgotten the biblically based defense of segregation so soon? And by no means is this a relic of the past: white supremacists routinely clothe their racist ideals in terms of Christian identity and rhetoric.

So can we accept institutional persecution and exclusion of LGBT persons while rejecting institutional persecution and rejection of racial or religious groups? No. Anti-Jewish and anti-black groups likewise claim biblical authority and theological foundation for their positions. That does not make their actions acceptable.

If  the SBL rejects the hyper-racist Christian Identity movement but accepts Olivet Nazarene’s treatment of LGBT students, then the SBL has taken an active position as adjudicators of Christian theological stances, labeling some “truly Christian” and others “falsely Christian.”

Do we really want the SBL to officially pronounce which theological stances are legitimate and which are not? The SBL deems it legitimate to associate with institutions that deny services to LGBT persons for what the institution claims are religious reasons, but illegitimate to associate with those that deny services to blacks or Jews for what the institution claims are religious reasons?  Or is the SBL all-knowing such that it can tell that Christian Identity groups don’t really believe the religious grounds for discrimination they tout, but Olivet Nazarene does? And therefore it’s ok?

No.  This is ludicrous.  But opposing the petition, opposing urging the SBL to dissociate from institutions like Olivet Nazarene amounts to exactly such a position.

Well, that or you’re ok with discriminating against any and all minority groups.

So what to do going forward? The SBL must adopt a policy that it (and affiliated Regions) will not host meetings at or otherwise officially associate with institutions that enact overtly discriminatory policies against any class of person, OR that have been conclusively shown to actively restrict academic freedom. The SBL should continue to robustly support the right of any individual regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or political belief to attend academic conferences at the national and regional level free of hostility and restriction of speech.

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6 thoughts on “On the Petition regarding SBL association with Olivet Nazarene University

  1. I think the issue is broader than this. Olivet Nazarene and many other Christian colleges only hire people who can sign their statement of faith, which automatically excludes Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians, as well as atheists. See here – http://www.olivet.edu/lifestyle-covenant/ for their complete statement of how they want all their employees to believe and act (not just faculty).

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  2. I’m black and I was discriminated against in the worst way at ONU, so that “little game” that you decided to play with replacing “LGBT” with “black” ain’t gonna fly.

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    • Sherwonna: First, I’m sorry that you, too, suffered discrimination from ONU. My post was in no way meant to suggest that ONU was innocent of racial discrimination. Rather: there is well publicized evidence of their discrimination against LGBTQ persons. I have not seen news stories, blog posts, etc., about anti-black discrimination by them, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening!

      2) I DO believe my “little game,” as you call it, is still correct: if the leadership of SBL were AWARE of this discrimination, they would move quickly and definitively to sever all ties with ONU. So…

      3) Do you know if this anti-black discrimination by ONU is publicized some place? Are there online articles or the like? Because it is disgraceful that the SBL would turn a blind eye to this. I want to know more about it, and I want the SBL leadership to confront it, and re-evaluate whether they want to keep doing business with ONU and schools like it, knowing not only that the institution actively discriminates against LGBTQ persons, but against persons of color as well.

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  3. Matt, thank you for responding. The point that I am trying to make is that ONU are racist in general and in my opinion, they don’t care about anyone and they will discriminate against anyone that is “different.” Please contact my attorney, Terri Blanchard at 312-553-0123, please leave your contact information with her and I will reach out to you and explain in detail my experience with ONU. Thanks again.

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  4. The Austin Weekly news paper wrote an article: When failure is the only option. Olivet Nazarene Unversity has some explaining to do, published Wednesday, June 8, 2016. This article tells a little of my experience with ONU. I would like to point out one “typo” in the article. The journalist stated that I “barely passed an exam” that was not true, I didn’t pass any of the exams administered to me. Again, reach out to attorney Blanchard for more information.

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    • Thank you so much for this, Sherwonna. I will look into it. In the meantime, I hope you get justice, and my thoughts are with you.

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