An Open Letter to Those Who Bring Intolerance to the TU Campus

lbhAs you may or may not know, my day job is being Programs Coordinator for United Campus Ministry at the University of Tulsa. UCM, also known as the Little Blue House, is a ecumenical progressive campus ministry focused on peace and justice issues; we are also the only open and affirming ministry at TU. My main duty is that I get to support and work with our amazing students as they try to make TU a better, more just, fully inclusive and safe place.

We found out recently that several other campus ministries are bringing Rosaria Champagne Butterfield to speak at TU on Nov. 17th. I’m not going to provide Dr. Butterfield free publicity by linking to her website; you can Google her is you want more info. Dr. Butterfield speaks on the issue of homosexuality and Christianity. She used to be a college professor of literature at Syracuse, where she focused on queer and feminist literature. She claims to have formerly been gay before undergoing a “conversion experience.” She is now married to a Presbyterian minister, identifies herself as a “homemaker” and travels around telling her story. While she says she does not advocate “conversion therapy”, her message conveys that message, as well as presenting views hostile to the LGBT community. She explicitly claims that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible.

Our amazing students at UCM have crafted an open letter, to run in the campus newspaper next week in advance of her appearance. Below is  the full text of this letter. If you would like to sign your name in support of the letter, please click here. Thank you in advance for your support, and please share this with your friends, families and congregations.
To the Hosts of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield:

The students of United Campus Ministry, the Society for Gender Equality, HeadStrong, Earth Matters, and Pride at TU want to state publicly that we are outraged that several ministries from the university will be hosting Rosaria Champagne Butterfield on November 17th. Mrs. Butterfield speaks openly not only about her conversion to Christianity, but also her conversion from lesbianism to straightness. Mrs. Butterfield believes that being gay or transgender is fundamentally opposed to being Christian. Inviting someone to speak about orientation as a spiritual or psychological weakness actively creates a hostile environment for all LGBTQ+ students. Many of the students who are concerned about this speaker’s presence on our campus identify as both Christian and LGBTQ+, and we believe that by hosting Mrs. Butterfield, these campus ministries are trying to silence our voices and invalidate our identities.

Just because Butterfield does not openly condemn LGBTQ+ people, does not mean that the things she says are loving. The absence of explicit condemnation is not love, and in this case serves to hide the subtle message that there is something wrong with being LGBTQ+.

While we celebrate our country’s right to religious freedom, major medical, scientific, and governmental bodies have identified conversion therapy as an unethical, and potentially harmful practice that may increase risk for depression and suicide. Any discussion or promotion of such practices, or suggestion that sexual orientation is not immutable is discrimination and a threat.

As students gathered to begin crafting this letter, certain themes arose again and again – anger, fear, and shame. The students who felt outraged enough to attend the letter writing session represented lots of different groups; there were students from a number of racial and ethnic backgrounds, of varying sexual orientations and gender identities, and consisted of both religious and secular students. We were all able to gather around the table at the Little Blue House in solidarity. Regardless of our backgrounds, when one student is oppressed we are all oppressed. We are a community that fights for each other and we will not sit back in silence while discrimination and prejudice run rampant on our campus.

We will not allow our community to be harassed without responding. We will not accept hate speech on our campus without condemnation. We will not allow our loving community to be hurt by this woman’s supposed wisdom. We will not be broken by your hate.

As a community, we do not understand why campus ministries would choose to focus on the conversion of LGBTQ+ students.

It is certainly acceptable for a campus ministry to choose to focus on whatever they think is important; however, we believe it is an egregious misuse of Jesus’ name to choose to be complicit in oppression, rather than working to address tangible human suffering.

We believe that the role of ministry should be to use our power, energy, drive, and resources to promote love, equality, and safety for all students and our surrounding community.

Let this be an open invitation to all campus ministries to talk about the systematic murder of people of color; to create dialogue to discuss the more than 20 transgender people murdered since January of this year; to show concern for the fact that Oklahoma leads the world in incarcerating women, and that an immense number of Oklahoma children go hungry.

As long as students on TU’s campus feel unsafe, United Campus Ministry will be here to support them. We will be here, fighting for equity and justice, fostering student growth, and creating safety until we have a truly inclusive and kind campus. We invite every other ministry on this campus to join in our mission, and to help make TU a safe place for all students – regardless of racial or ethnic background, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, or religion.

We want to be certain that every student on this campus knows that we will still be here, whether or not other ministries choose to join us, fighting for our kind and loving community.

We will not be broken. Our community is stronger than your hate.

Peace and Grace,
The Students of United Campus Ministry, Pride at TU, the Society for Gender Equality, HeadStrong, Earth Matters,

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15 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Those Who Bring Intolerance to the TU Campus

      1. Ian Thompson

        That is sad that you can talk to a fellow human being for 90 mins and don’t think that what you said was in any way inaccurate. Then either I don’t think you were trying to listen or you don’t understand how unbalanced your comments really were.

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      2. So, what, just by virtue of having a 90 minute conversation with her, I should automatically be convinced of her argument? By your logic, why isn’t she convinced of mine? Her and I had a good, open conversation, we agreed on some things, we disagreed on others. In the end, we agreed that we fundamentally disagreed theologically on many many issues, including the role of the Bible and homosexuality. No matter what you think did or didn’t happen, both Dr. Butterfield and myself went into that conversation with open minds, but also with the intention to make our own viewpoints known.

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      3. Ian Thompson

        “I’m sorry, but you really have no idea what I and the students have UCM have striven to do for the last month since we first learned of Dr. Butterfield’s visit. Above all else, we wanted to insure that everything we did and said was done in a way that promotes inclusivity and openness, and in no way promotes violence or hate.” – you failed. I can’t see how you can even think that you achieved these ideals above by the words you used. There is a way of airing views that seeks to achieve something – that points people toward peace. You do not appear to have that skill, perception or intuition. I’m sorry Justin but you are not working in a way that brings honor to your calling.

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      4. Besides reading this letter, and noting the things I’ve mentioned here in my comments, can you even name anything UCM has or hasn’t accomplished or achieved in the last few weeks, or even the last 41 years for that matter? Unless you can, then you are speaking from a place of complete ignorance when you charge us with failure to live up to our own ideals. Even if you disagree with our theological conclusions, the success or failure of our tactics and our overarching goals is not something you can speak to with any authority.

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      5. Ian Thompson

        I think that I am speaking to your methodology and tone. I see that you are a person of conviction – you want to follow Christ. I just think you need to reexamine your words in terms of whether you are making things better or worse. People need to have purpose in their lives. If we don’t follow Christ we will follow some other purpose. In a secular sphere that can mean workers rights, the environment, equality, sport, politics. In a sense, some of these are substitutes for following Christ. Alternate ways of fulfilling purpose if Christ is not included at the centre. Following Christ, of course, mandates including many of them as well in our lives—but as outworkings of that relationship. So I would ask you which is first in your life? Following Christ and these things being an exegesis of that logos, or are the campaigns first in your thoughts—Christ becoming an eisegesis of them? Reestablishing that balance may alter your perspective.

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  1. Stalwart Sam

    Justin,

    This letter terrifies me. I’m going to skip the theological arguments about homosexuality and focus on one element of this letter: hypocrisy.

    Both you and this letter state that one of the highest goals is to promote inclusivity and love in your community. Yet, when a speaker is invited who holds beliefs that do not match your own, you attack her. The students accuse her of hate even as they admit that she does not bad-mouth any particular individual, only arguing against abstracts. She even goes out of her way to say she will not speak about the controversial subject of conversion therapy. And still she is rejected.

    Since when did discussing from an opposing viewpoint become tantamount to hate?

    This subject has come up in articles I’ve read. Warnings that college universities are becoming bastions of thought control and totalitarianism. Students unwilling to engage the other side, their ‘enemies’. I had hoped that it was conservatives over-blowing an issue. This is a very real example that they’re not.

    Jesus had a specific saying about love and our enemies. Does this behavior represent that?

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    1. As part of promoting love and exclusivity on our campus, we felt it our duty to stand up and present a different Christian worldview to TU students, one not being represented by Dr. Butterfield and these ministries who hosted her. We never once asked for her to be prevented from speaking, or did we try to disrupt her talk. In fact, in meetings with the campus ministries involved, with university administration, and with Dr. Butterfield herself, I explicitly made it clear we had no intention or desire to prevent her from appearing, or of infringing anyone’s right to free speech or the spread of divergent ideas. What we did do is present our opinion that her message is a false one, and one that promotes discrimination and hate towards LGBT people. After meeting with her and speaking about her views, and I still feel this way. It’s not personal animosity or hate; in fact, after meeting her, I left have a great personal affinity for Dr. Butterfield; she was kind and thoughtful and open to listening. None of that changes the fact that I still think she is profoundly wrong, and that her views are damaging to the students I work with and represent.

      We have been accused numerous times of stifling speech by the expression of our own views about Dr. Butterfield’s topic and views. It seems to me that the reality is quite the opposite; we have been told numerous times over the last weeks that we were out of line for disagreeing with Dr. Butterfield, that we are promoting hate by our disagreement, that we need to stop making such a big deal out of this. It seems that the very people that who most loudly have been complaining about the silencig of speech on campuses were engaged in just that.

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  2. Ian Thompson

    To quote you “We will not allow our community to be harassed without responding. We will not accept hate speech on our campus without condemnation. We will not allow our loving community to be hurt by this woman’s supposed wisdom. We will not be broken by your hate. . . . As long as students on TU’s campus feel unsafe . . . We will not be broken. Our community is stronger than your hate.”
    These are not the words of someone who seeks dialogue and promote diversity. These are the words of someone who wants to increase the emotional temperature irresponsibly to the point where dialogue is replaced by violence.

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    1. Ian, I’m sorry, but you really have no idea what I and the students have UCM have striven to do for the last month since we first learned of Dr. Butterfield’s visit. Above all else, we wanted to insure that everything we did and said was done in a way that promotes inclusivity and openness, and in no way promotes violence or hate; and second, that we make it clear that our intention was to express our views about Dr. Butterfield’s message, but not to try to get her talk cancelled or stifle the rights of the other ministries to bring her to campus and express their views. We made a sincere effort to honestly and clearly be an opposing voice on the TU campus, to present a different viewpoint on this crucially important issue. As I said in response to Stalwart Sam above, so often during all this, those who claimed we were discriminating or stifling free speech by airing our own views seemed themselves to be working to silence us instead. We have a right and duty to speak, and speak forcefully and pointedly, to make it known that while we respect her right to speak, we feel that speech is hateful, exclusuionary, and damaging, and creates an unsafe space. Even our protest was silent and respectful. We have gotten feedback from those on the other side of this debate that they appreciated our respectfulness and our willingness to engage with them, rather than shout them down or close our ears.

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  3. Stalwart Sam

    Justin,

    Please explain these three passage:

    “Any discussion or promotion of such practices (referring to conversion therapy), or suggestion that sexual orientation is not immutable is discrimination and a threat.”

    Why is discussion off-limits?

    “Regardless of our backgrounds, when one student is oppressed we are all oppressed.”

    How is discussion tantamount to oppression?

    “Our community is stronger than your hate.”

    What hate?

    I’m glad that the encounter went peacefully, but I am still troubled by all of these hostile ideals that attacks anyone who disagrees with a chosen point of view.

    Sincerely,
    David Simic

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    1. Hi David,

      Before I answer your specific claims, let me clear up what I think is a basic misunderstanding of this whole debate. We aren’t ever trying to silence someone or stop people from expressing their opinions. I personally highly value the right of all persons to speak their mind, and when it was broached during the conversation on campus as to whether or not we should take action to prevent RUF from holding this event, I very sharply and firmly came down against that idea. What we are doing is answering views we hold to be wrong and hurtful with our own views. This is especially important at TU because we at UCM are the only progressive, inclusive voice on campus. We must make our voices heard, to let members of the TU community know there is another view on campus, and a place they can come and be who they are.

      Now, let me address your specific concerns. First, we view the discussion as to the nature of homosexuality and gender variability to be engaged at the wrong place. The well-established science of gender norms homosexuality are beyond doubt. There is no doubt in the literature that there is no choice in orientation. We want this conversation moved forward, away from whether the existence of homosexual persons is legitimate, to accepting that they are here, and how do we live in communion with them?

      My second answer is related. We don’t believe a persons very worth as a being should be open to discussion. God made us how God made us. There is no gray area there.

      The third point is related to that as well. When the conversation is whether or not an immutable part of a person is acceptable or not, the conversation is no longer about abstract principles; it is instead about the inherent worth of persons. We believe viewpoints that minimize the identity and worth of LGBT people by questioning their being and the sincerity of their self-understanding and expression to be viewpoints promoting hate and intolerance towards those persons. This means that even well-intentioned or kind people (like Dr. Butterfield) are engaged in promoting an attitude of hate that refuses accept a human being in the way God created them.

      I hope this clears it up a bit.

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  4. Pingback: Year in Review: Top Posts of 2015 | Justin DaMetz

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