Two gay seniors who said they felt alienated by the Newman Center’s controversial priest will launch a campaign this week to force him off campus.
At least a dozen students, including seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen, say they have left the Newman Center in the last several years because Father Greg Shaffer’s strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views are too polarizing. Shaffer, a Roman Catholic priest, has spent five years preaching to GW students.
The former Newman Center members are creating a video with testimony from 10 other Catholic students, who cite Shaffer as the reason they left the chapel, hoping to inflame a largely liberal campus and force University administrators to act. Legacy and Bergen also plan to file a formal complaint with the University and hold prayer vigils outside the Newman Center until Shaffer is removed.
Whether or not you agree with Father Greg Shaffer, he’s preaching what the Catholic Church teaches, and always has. If there is no place for Fr. Shaffer on campus, there is no place for believing Catholics and other small-o orthodox Christians on campus. It’s an outrage that these guys are such intolerant bigots that they cannot abide having a priest on campus who actually preaches what his religion teaches. But who knows? In this environment, they might succeed. More from the story:
Legacy and Bergen will deliver a letter this week to top administrators including University President Steven Knapp, citing academic studies that link harmful psychological effects, like the inability to sleep and loss of appetite, with being around homophobic behavior.
GW’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion is already reviewing the case, after Legacy submitted a report last semester that outlined how other schools vet religious leaders before bringing them to campus.
New York University approves all religious affiliates by reviewing backgrounds, credentials and letters of recommendation from the faith community, as well as qualifications that indicate they can work with college-aged students. Legacy said GW would benefit from a similar system.
If Fr. Shaffer gave homilies in defense of racism, do you think he would have a chance at staying on campus? Of course not — but race and homosexuality are not the same thing. The gay writer Jonathan Rauch said as far back as 1995:
Indeed, “eradicating prejudice” is so vague a proposition as to be meaningless. Distinguishing prejudice reliably and nonpolitically from non-prejudice, or even defining it crisply, is quite hopeless. We all feel we know prejudice when we see it. But do we? At the University of Michigan, a student said in a classroom discussion that he considered homosexuality a disease treatable with therapy. He was summoned to a formal disciplinary hearing for violating the school’s policy against speech that “victimizes” people based on “sexual orientation.” Now, the evidence is abundant that this particular hypothesis is wrong, and any American homosexual can attest to the harm that the student’s hypothesis has inflicted on many real people. But was it a statement of prejudice or of misguided belief? Hate speech or hypothesis? Many Americans who do not regard themselves as bigots or haters believe that homosexuality is a treatable disease. They may be wrong, but are they all bigots? I am unwilling to say so, and if you are willing, beware. The line between a prejudiced belief and a merely controversial one is elusive, and the harder you look the more elusive it becomes. “God hates homosexuals” is a statement of fact, not of bias, to those who believe it; “American criminals are disproportionately black” is a statement of bias, not of fact, to those who disbelieve it.
Who is right? You may decide, and so may others, and there is no need to agree. That is the great innovation of intellectual pluralism (which is to say, of post-Enlightenment science, broadly defined). We cannot know in advance or for sure which belief is prejudice and which is truth, but to advance knowledge we don’t need to know. The genius of intellectual pluralism lies not in doing away with prejudices and dogmas but in channeling them–making them socially productive by pitting prejudice against prejudice and dogma against dogma, exposing all to withering public criticism. What survives at the end of the day is our base of knowledge.
Those GW fanatics ought to read Brandon Ambrosino’s extraordinary Atlantic Online piece about coming out as gay at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and how the reactions of his professors there shook his own prejudices. Excerpts:
“Homosexuality!” I blurted. “I’ve been struggling with homosex…” and I broke down. Here I was in the English chair’s office at the world’s most homophobic university, and I’d just admitted to her I was gay.
She got up from her chair, and rushed over to me. I braced myself for the lecture I was going to receive, for the insults she would hurl, for the ridicule I would endure. I knew how Christians were, and how they clung to their beliefs about homosexuals and Sodom and Gomorrah, and how disgusted they were by gay people. The tears fell more freely now because I really liked this teacher, and now I ruined our relationship.
“I love you,” she said. I stopped crying for a second and looked up at her. Here was this conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage woman who taught lectures like “The Biblical Basis for Studying Literature,” and here she was kneeling down on the floor next me, rubbing my back, and going against every stereotype I’d held about Bible-believing, right-leaning, gun-slinging Christians.
When I heard her sniffle, I looked up at her. “It’s going to be ok,” she said. “You’re ok.” She nodded her head, squeezed my shoulder, and repeated, “I love you.”
I never told Dr. Falwell that I was gay; but I wouldn’t have been afraid of his response. Would he have thought homosexuality was an abomination? Yes. Would he have thought it was God’s intention for me to be straight? Yes. But would he have wanted to stone me? No. And if there were some that would’ve wanted to stone me, I can imagine Jerry Falwell, with his fat smile, telling all of my accusers to go home and pray because they were wicked people.
Many of us view the world as an ugly place with a few beautiful redeeming characteristics. Unfortunately, that’s also how we view humans. But what I learned at Liberty was that this idea is the exact opposite of reality: The world and the people in it are really wonderful with just a smidge of ugliness about them. I think the really vocal anti-gay Christians display this smidge, but I also think the really vocal anti-Christian gays display it as well. Not tolerating someone for his narrow-mindedness is perhaps the epitome of intolerance. I learned from my time at Liberty that this bigotry happens on both sides: not only were there some Christians who wanted to stone some gays, but there were even some gays who wanted to stone a few Christians. Just the other day, I saw a man driving a car with two bumper stickers. One was a rainbow. The other showed a picture of a lion, and contained the caption “The Romans had it right.” Just another open-minded gay man, I suppose.
When I told Dr. Borland that I had to leave, he got up from his rocking chair and came over to me. We were both standing face to face, and I was now scared shitless. His brow furrowed a little bit, and I assumed he was going to tell me he was disappointed with my decision to drop out and come out.
“Well,” he said, and then he thought some more. He took one step closer to me, and cleared his throat before continuing. “I got your email, Brandon.”
He paused again, as he searched my face for who knows what.
He spoke again, this time quieter than before. “I just wanted to let you know that you’re my friend and I love you.” And with that, he nodded his head and then gave me a bear hug, before walking me to the driveway and telling me to make it home safely.
I climbed into my car almost in slow-motion. I was shocked. I was expecting Dr. Borland to act differently towards me. I was expecting him to be… well, a homophobe. But as I put on my seatbelt, I realized that all that time, I was the one who was afraid. Not him. I’d been warned my whole life about homophobia, but no one ever said anything about homophobiaphobia.
The way those Liberty University Christians think and act? That’s how the Christians I know and admire think and act. That’s how I act, or try to act, and how I want to act.
People are a lot more complicated than ideologues think.