Touchstone

In the past week, due to class conversations and recent events, I've been hovering around the two memories that most defined my time in college.

The first was a few weeks after the start of my freshman year. Just after Bishop Gene Robinson had been ordained as the bishop of New Hampshire (Side note: what does it say about the Church that Bishop Robinson is retiring early because he's tired of death threats?). The speaker was someone working with a ministry to distribute Bibles throughout sub Saharan Africa. In his presentation, this man displayed a photo of some leaders of the Anglican Church in Rwanda accepting copies of the Bible. He turned away from the photo and said "See, the Anglican church in the rest of the world isn't like this lily-white fagot Episcopal church in the US." As my mouth dropped open in shock, applause resonated through the auditorium for several minutes.
A few weeks later, an ECUSA bumper sticker turned up on my truck.

The second? My junior year, in a religious studies class. I have to give the instructor credit for talking about race at all. He made some comment about the failure of Conservative Christians when it came to minorities. And he asked "Martin Luther King Jr was a Communist. Why was he a Communist?" My response "Because he saw that the system we have in the US wasn't working for everybody, and there were problems with it." He shouted me down, in the most undignified way I've ever seen in a classroom. "No! It's because he could only get accepted to a liberal seminary, and that's what they taught!" In an instant, he tossed aside both my comment about inequality in the United States (which seems to have been what MLK dedicated his life to fighting!) and the idea that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could think for himself. No...of course, he just absorbed whatever ideology he was taught in that evil liberal seminary.

Chastised, by the instructor, I shrunk into my seat and tried to disappear. I...assumed he was right, because he was the authority figure, and the institution was on his side. It was years before I saw...beyond the attack on what I assumed was my stupidity to the disrespect expressed for the perspective of a man who changed the world.

Even, writing this now, I'm trying to excuse that instructor. "He was young. He got carried away by a flight of rhetoric." But regardless, I'll never forget.

Neither will I ever forget that a Christian institution affirmed the use of a gay slur in chapel.

I wasn't able to confront the powers that be at the time. I'm ashamed of that- even at eighteen, twenty, it should have been clear that this behavior was unacceptable, and it was my job, as a tuition-paying student, to speak up. But never again will I let incidents like these go unchallenged.

Comments

paul bowman said…
Don't know what to say about these being the most defining moments — since it seems like there's more to the school than this hatred-induced, propagandistic tendency, from my limited (mostly 2nd-hand) exposure. But these really are pathetically uncivil, subacademic scenes you've described. No surprise that they made such a deep impression.
Emily said…
Yeah. Wow. This is good critique, Charis, and I think needs to be voiced. I love our alma mater, but I don't pretend that there are no problems there. I would like to see an open discussion of these sorts of things take place at that school. As alumni, we have much more of a voice than we did as students.

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