Watching the controversy unfold at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, over Vice President Mike Pence’s invitation to speak at the school’s graduation has reminded me of when my alma mater, Liberty University, invited Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to speak during convocation.
While a handful of students are up in arms over the vice president’s planned appearance in mid-May, it’s worth remembering one of the largest evangelical universities in the world, in the heat of the 2016 presidential election, gave a self-avowed socialist hostile toward the Christian faith the opportunity to speak to roughly 12,000 impressionable undergrad students.
At the time of the senator’s speech at Liberty, not long after I had graduated, I told Yahoo that while Sanders didn’t gain my vote, “he gained my respect.”
But in this age where offense is a sin and tolerance is a relic, it shouldn’t be surprising more and more people — even Christians — are buying into our dangerous “safe space” culture. Sadly, so many western Christians are taking their cues from the gospel of convenience rather than the Gospel of the Bible.
The students at Taylor University didn’t start this trend; they are just the latest offenders. After learning Pence was speaking at the commencement ceremony, several thousand students and graduates launched a petition against Pence’s appearance, and in a separate Facebook post, another alumna said she is “so physically ill” over the news about the vice president.
But the truth is it’s not that weird for Taylor to host Pence. He is the vice president, the former governor of the Hoosier State, and was a longtime congressman from Indiana. In fact, it’s quite a feat for the small private university to get Pence, who has long championed his Christian faith, to speak there.
Rather than celebrate the achievement, though, students are unwilling to accept the possibility of hearing from a fellow believer — Pence often describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican … in that order” — who might offend their sensibilities.
We are nuancing ourselves to death, and the students at Taylor are proof positive that’s the case. Christians, without question, need to be better listeners than we have in the past, but we also need to stand firm on absolute truth and stand by our allies, even when we disagree with them.
If we don’t, Christians will be like the frog in a progressively heated pot: the water will begin to boil before we even know it. And ironically, right now, it’s Christians more often than not who are turning up the heat.
Let’s not forget other places are just as guilty as the students at Taylor. For example, Azusa Pacific University in Southern California has flip-flopped on same-sex romances, ultimately choosing recently to remove its campus ban on gay relationships after facing intense pressure from inside and outside the 120-year-old institution.
And students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, sought earlier this month to can an event with conservative firebrand Matt Walsh, whom some described as “homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and racist.” I don’t agree with Walsh on everything, but it’s absurd to keep him from speaking at an evening event that’s entirely optional and sponsored by a student-led club on campus.
Then in the U.K., a teacher was fired recently for voicing her concerns about her Christian school’s curriculum on LGBTQ relationships.
“Which means, for example, that children will be taught that all relationships are equally valid and ‘normal,’ so that same-sex marriage is exactly the same as traditional marriage, and that gender is a matter of choice, not biology, so that it’s up to them what sex they are,” she said.
We are martyring ourselves at the altar of the “safe space.”
As for Taylor, thankfully, the school is standing firm in its decision to invite Pence. College spokesman James Garringer said in a statement Taylor “is an intentional Christian community that strives to encourage positive, respectful and meaningful dialogue.”
“We look forward to hosting the vice president next month,” he added.