Pagliarella and Schwartz: For preaching, protests, proverbs, and proselytizing

One week ago, many of us attended a much-publicized lecture by evangelical minister Christopher Yuan. Based on emails we had received encouraging us to protest the event, Yalies expected Mr. Yuan to claim that homosexuality was an illness in need of a cure.

Instead, those of us at the talk heard a man give a straightforward account of finding Christ in prison after a faithless life. He explained that he chooses to practice celibacy, rather than violate what he sees as God’s prohibition on non-heterosexual intercourse. He encouraged other lesbian and gay people to consider this option. Not once did he claim he had been cured of his sexuality by God’s grace.

First, we wish to express admiration for the LGBT and ally community, which held a truly respectful and powerful protest. During the lecture, they sat silently wearing symbols of solidarity. Instead of attempting to silence the speech of others, they held an open forum after the event. We strongly agree with their condemnation of Mr. Yuan’s prior appearances for Exodus International, an organization that has promoted unconscionable reparative therapy for lesbians and gays. Mr. Yuan himself admitted at the event that gay sexuality cannot be “prayed away.” Though Exodus has recently acknowledged the culpability of many religious organizations in the harassment of gay students — bullying that has driven many to take their own lives — their influence on the national discourse has been toxic.

Yet, in the opinion pages of the News and elsewhere, the speech was described as inherently hateful — a misguided attack. The President of the Yale Democrats, Marina Keegan ’12, was quoted in the News saying, “He is encouraging people to fight something innate to them — that to me is incredibly hateful.” But what if you feel both your religion and your sexuality are central parts of your identity?

If someone’s belief asks her to choose between her sexuality and her religious practice, why should we automatically expect such a person to put aside her perceived obligations to God? Queer members of conservative Christian traditions who choose to practice celibacy, as Mr. Yuan does, should not be labeled as self-hating. Rather, they should be respected for following a particular Christian tradition of denying almost all that is “innate to you” — giving up the whole of your being to Christ.

The Monday column by liberal Christian campus leaders stated their theological belief that opposition to non-heterosexual sexual activity is sinful. As they noted, there is honest diversity of opinion on this point; Catholicism teaches that sex’s central purpose is procreation within a marriage, and that all sexual activity outside this — gay or straight — is prohibited. Traditional Judaism prohibits sex during menstruation.

Liberal Christians and those of all denominations are free to convert those who disagree with them. Absent that, they should ask those with whom they disagree to practice and preach in ways that are humane and loving. In the context of his theology, Mr. Yuan attempted to find a humane balance — or at least share the one that had worked for him.

We are also concerned that, because of prevailing political winds, traditionalist religions are less capable of seeking campus institutional support. Dwight Hall told Mr. Yuan to move his second talk. Alexandra Brodsky ’12, co-coordinator of its Executive Committee, labeled his theology one of “bigotry and hatred.” As a space for social justice advocacy, Dwight Hall has a responsibility to support religious freedom in addition to sexual freedom. In this case, Dwight Hall failed to live up to its own calling.

We don’t want to confine this argument to the issue of homosexuality. In order to receive institutional support from Yale, religious groups are prohibited from proselytizing. The official policy of Yale Religious Ministries states that member organizations should not “undermine another faith community.” The University therefore prohibits some communities from practicing central tenets of their faith: Mormons are called to convert others of all religious beliefs. Here, they cannot do so as members of the YRM. Of course, harassing advocacy of any kind should be prohibited, but a gentle call to religious truth should offend no one.

Those Christian organizations with a proselytizing mission are forced to choose between following their faith’s call to convert others to Christ and having access to Yale resources that allow them to serve their own community. Though Yale officially seeks religious neutrality, in practice, we see a clear partiality for less prescriptive religions.

To achieve a “more open religious community,” as a Monday column called for, we should adopt a policy that allows for open dialogue on campus, for preaching and protest, proverbs and proselytizing — no matter how foreign the message may seem to our liberal ears. Yale should welcome and affirm everyone’s individual identity — including sexual orientation, religious observance and the sometimes-complicated combination of the two.

Christopher Pagliarella is a junior in Berkeley College and the president of the Yale Political Union. Yishai Schwartz is a sophomore in Branford College and the vice president of Yale Friends of Israel.

Comments

  • grumpyalum

    Crush the Church! Yale should not be giving any money to faith-based groups.

  • coldy

    Thank you for injecting some much needed reason into this argument.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “following their faith’s call to convert others to Christ’

    This “call” employs a tactic of bullying and blackmail which is antithetical to the philosophy of the Palestinian Carpenter whose non-historical but biblically vivid life inspired it:

    “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    This is the worst kind of snobbish elitism and emotional blackmail. I’m ashamed to be associated with a religion which trots out this anti-semitic, anti-muslim propaganda tool.
    And our Jewish and Muslim colleagues are too polite to call it what it is: theological one-ups-manship. They are more “christian” in their polite tolerance, their turn-the-other-cheek attitude. toward this power-play theological checkmate than the gloating christians themselves.

    Paul. D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80

  • RiverC

    I’m sympathetic to most of what you guys are saying, particularly about the unique difficulty that queer members of certain faiths must have when it comes to living with their own identities, and deciding which aspects of it to adhere to more closely. I also appreciate your nuanced defense of Christopher Yuan’s speech. (At least the speech he gave here.)

    But for you to suggest that Yale allow proselytizing seems wrongheaded to me. You say “gentle call to religious truth” in a way that makes it almost seem not scary. But what would the limits on this “gentle call” be? How many pamphlets would I have to politely refuse each time I walk into Commons? Would the number be regulated? If not, how long would it take for people’s refusals to stop being so polite? Would this atmosphere really engender a “more open dialogue on campus”? Or would it lead to increased resentment and hostility among Yale’s different faiths, whose hands are now free to go after (and perhaps compete for) the unconverted? Would it create similar friction between Yale’s secular students and religious ones?

    I think the basic problem is that you underestimate just how uncomfortable it is for many people to be asked to believe in something they don’t, especially if it’s by organized groups on a daily basis, and not from a friend in a naturally occurring conversation.

  • silliwin01

    Yale liberals suck, who knew; great column.

  • penny_lane

    You’re presenting a false dichotomy when you suggest that it comes down to people choosing between their queer identity and their religious one. Plenty of branches of Christianity welcome the queer community without requiring them to practice celibacy–as another recent column (Gass et al) in these pages pointed out. If a group of conservative Muslims wanted to defend the practice of honor killings (an extreme example, but deliberately so), would you question Dwight Hall’s decision not to host them?

  • Inigo_Montoya

    *You’re presenting a false dichotomy when you suggest that it comes down to people choosing between their queer identity and their religious one. Plenty of branches of Christianity welcome the queer community without requiring them to practice celibacy*

    p_l, I think you’re missing their point. They write: “Liberal Christians and those of all denominations are free to convert those who disagree with them. Absent that, they should ask those with whom they disagree to practice and preach in ways that are humane and loving.” They welcome Gass, Crosby, et al. to try to bring Yuan to their more LGBTQ-friendly branch of Christianity (or atheists trying to show Yuan that the God he thinks forbids him to have sex with men does not, in fact, exist). They just argue that when these attempts at conversion fail, the proper stance remains civil dialogue, not rejection as of the viewpoint as necessarily “bigoted” or “hateful.”

    I didn’t want you to knock down a strawman, but I should be clear that I do think it’s reasonable to argue against Mr. Pagliarella and Mr. Schwartz’s thesis. New Atheists, for instance, might reject giving any respect to religious beliefs, even those of the unconvertable. Some might argue that in the movement for racial minority rights, calling those whites whose views could not be changed “bigoted” was an important and useful tool of politically marginalizing a group that deserved to be marginalized. This is, I think, a good argument against Mr. Pagliarella and Mr. Schwartz (for a pro-LGBTQ rights atheist or liberal theist), provided you think we’ve reached the point at which cutting off the moderate opposition does more good than harm to the longterm cause of LGBTQ rights.

  • penny_lane

    Inigo, your second paragraph has it right. My view on the subject is that any view, religious or otherwise, that treats the queer community as less valid/valuable than the rest of society is too harmful to be tolerated. As Dan Savage has rather bluntly pointed out, the very real root cause of gay related bullying and suicide is children hearing their parents say at the dinner table that “gay sex makes their magic-sky-friend Jesus cry” (paraphrase). In the face of the serious emotional pain that gay people all over the world often find themselves in, and the discrimination they often face, you can’t call a call for celibacy a “humane balance.”

    These people can whine all they want about religious intolerance at Yale, but they’ve likely never in their lives experienced real intolerance, which is what makes their assertions ironic. What they’re really upset about is the relatively unprecedented challenge to a position that’s been widely accepted in the US until only very recently.

  • River Tam

    Great column, but this line stuck out to me:

    > Not once did he claim he had been cured of his sexuality by God’s grace.

    So what? It’s beside the point, in my mind, and by the logic of your own column.

  • River Tam

    > If a group of conservative Muslims wanted to defend the practice of honor killings (an extreme example, but deliberately so), would you question Dwight Hall’s decision not to host them?

    penny_lane apparently has a hard time distinguishing between violent (illegal) actions and personal beliefs.

  • The Anti-Yale

    God is love?

  • Goldie08

    “but they’ve likely never in their lives experienced real intolerance”

    That seems kind of intolerant, or at least ignorant.

  • River Tam

    > These people can whine all they want about religious intolerance at Yale, but they’ve likely never in their lives experienced real intolerance, which is what makes their assertions ironic.

    What does this even mean?

  • ChrisPag

    Hey all, thanks for a thoughtful comments section. Thought I’d address a couple questions (from my perspective, not Yishai’s). If you’d like to chat further, Facebook me.

    To RiverC—that’s a really good point. To clarify my perspective, I want basically the same expectations and restrictions across Yale undergraduate groups. In the same way it would be totally cool for Yale Debate to have an event where the group talks to freshmen about why they think they’re a better organization than the YPU and convince them to join, I think it should be totally acceptable for a Jewish group to talk about why they think their faith is more intellectually coherent than Christianity and try to convince people to join.

    If I kept bugging you to join my magazine even after you already said no once, and was bothering you outside Commons every other day, not only would that be bad strategy, I think that rises to the level of harassment. You’re right that there’s a big gray area (I don’t expect the YSC people in Commons to remember that I’ve refused their books before) and some potential drawbacks, but so long as we’re careful to respect not bothering people once they say no, I’m okay with the trade-off.

    To Inigo—I think that’s all basically right, including your identification of groups that would probably disagree with our thesis. We are coming from the perspective of respecting individual religious identity even if the social consequences are really difficult.

    To Penny—I certainly agree that I’ve never faced meaningful discrimination at Yale, though I wouldn’t agree that no religious group does. (Lots of people face “intolerance,” but no one who has told me “I hate Catholics/Catholicism” has ever caused me any real harm–my religious group has it pretty easy most places in the US.) I think the relevant part here is how we respond to people’s internal hurt, rather than protecting people from outside harassment (which I think we’d mostly agree on).

    If you’re gay in a religion that tells you not to act on your sexuality, you may feel better ignoring that part of your religion and being sexually active. But many people don’t feel better with that solution (I can only go off my experience with friends in the Catholic Church) and end up feeling somewhat happier, if still conflicted, living a celibate life. Eve Tushnet is an example of a public figure (and a Yale alum to boot) who made that choice and advocates it for others–NY Times profile here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/05/us/05beliefs.html

  • ChrisPag

    And a quick additional response for the YDN regulars:

    To River Tam—I felt the line you highlighted was relevant in clarifying the discussion, just because ex-gay groups’ “therapy” solutions in the past have sometimes involved not just adults signing up, but younger people sent against their will. I don’t always extend religious freedom as far as others in terms of what you can make your children do (for example, I don’t believe you should be able to refuse blood transfusions on behalf of your children based on your own religion), and I would be more sympathetic to concerns surrounding that.

    To Paul—I have met plenty of people (mostly Evangelical) who think I’m going to Hell because I disagree with them on a matter of religion. If they try to convert me, I don’t feel like they’re playing “one-ups-manship,” I think they’re honestly trying to help. If you’re an atheist or universalist, you probably lead a less stressful life in some ways than those worried about the afterlife of their friends.

    Thanks again for responding, all!

  • SY10

    “If you’re an atheist or universalist, you probably lead a less stressful life in some ways than those worried about the afterlife of their friends.”

    On the other hand, according to many of you religious folk (at least the Christians and Muslims – other religions don’t have quite such terrible punishment imposed by their exceptionally kind and just God for those who fail to believe in them), we atheists and universalists are going to Hell, so that would still make us the real losers in the whole deal.