Although this week is Sex Week at Yale, last week was the much less visible National Values Week. At least, it was less visible, until posters asking professors to use the week as an opportunity to teach about the Ten Commandments in their classes started appearing in classroom buildings around campus. The fliers purported to be from the University Chaplain’s Office and had Rev. Frederick Streets’ name at the bottom. Streets said his office had nothing to do with the posters or postings.
Whether intended to be a prank or the catalyst for dialogue, we find the forged fliers to be absurd and hypocritical. In the bitterest of bitter ironies, they undermine the very values they seek to promote, and, what’s more, undermine the work of Streets and the Chaplain’s office.
The fliers list the Ten Commandments and then urge professors to take advantage of National Values Week by teaching their students ethics and morals. Underneath this short request is Streets’ name, the University crest, and a banner reading “The Yale University Chaplain’s Office: Committed to providing excellence in faith services.” The slogan is not real, and neither is Streets’ involvement in the postings. Streets denounced the fliers, saying they did not reflect his efforts to promote understanding and tolerance of all the faiths on campus. Streets worried the fliers could reflect adversely on his office and alienate students of other faiths; he has offered to have discussion groups about the incident with any interested students.
At first, our reaction was subdued. On one level, we were simply confused. It seemed so senseless. Did the creators of the fliers honestly believe Streets wouldn’t find out about them? It’s absurd to think Streets wouldn’t speak out against it. Beyond its absurdity, the postering is also juvenile. The impersonating administrators pranks got old after last year’s hoax e-mails telling students classes were cancelled because of a raging blizzard.
But this latest incident bothers us more than the snow day hoax. This hoax has a moral dimension. Streets got to the crux of the problem when he pointed out the great hypocrisy of promoting ethics through unethical means. For those of us who do subscribe to the that ethical system, we find the very values the fliers were promoting to be debased by the way they were promoted.
Indeed, the fliers are unsettling precisely because they make so little sense. Were they a prank? The work of some underground campus religious group? We have no idea what the intentions behind them was. We wish the fliers’ creators had had to courage to stand up for the beliefs they’re so intent on disseminating. If the goal were to spark dialogue, it’s hard to have a debate when we don’t know to whom we should address our answer.
It’s unfortunate that the creators of the fliers would have us believe Streets is that person and that the Chaplain’s office was responsible for the postings. Whatever his own personal beliefs, Streets does exactly what a University Chaplain should do in accepting members of all faiths. To use Streets’ own name to suggest otherwise is a shame.