Creationists’ REAL Long Game

Let me be clear: I’m against pushing religious ideas into public schools. If they were wise, creationists should ALSO be against it. The real long game for American creationists—even radical young-earth creationists—should be to secularize schools, not jam more religion in there.

Here’s what we know: Writing for Americans United recently, Rob Boston warned secular folks like me,

The Creationists Are Playing The Long Game. You Should Too.

From my perspective, it appears Boston is preaching to the wrong choir. Instead of warning secular people about creationist schemes, Boston and his allies should be helping creationists recognize their own long-game interests.

Yes, Boston acknowledged, for the past fifty years radical creationists have experienced a series of crushing courtroom defeats. Nevertheless, creationist activists haven’t given up. As Boston pointed out, creationist and their political allies are trying to water down evolution education or cram creationism-friendly materials into public schools in Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, and two counties (1, 2) in Florida.

As Boston warned,

Mind you, this is just a sampling of stories from within the past few years. If you put words like “evolution” and “creationism” into AU’s web search engine, you’ll pull up many more stories going back years. I guarantee that some of the stuff you read will curl your hair.

It’s great that we win in court (although I worry that even that may start to slip if Brett Kavanaugh ends up on the Supreme Court), but the creationists are obviously not daunted by their legal losses. They aren’t going away, so you should not either.

I’m in full agreement with Boston in terms of public-school policy. There is no legitimate reason to squeeze devotional material into public schools, whether it is in the form of teacher-led prayer or religiously inspired science. However, I have two beefs with this warning:

1.) The recent activities of creationists in public school don’t represent a “long game,” but rather a disconnected set of hail-mary scrambles by local religious radicals. And

2.) The folks who try to jam creationism into public schools are not aware of their own best interests. They don’t seem to be aware of the advice of young-earth creationist leaders such as Ken Ham or Don McLeroy.

Again, I’m no creationist, much less a partisan of radical young-earth thinking. But if I were, I would advise my compadres to follow the thoughtful advice of young-earth leaders.

already-gone

Creationists warn creationists: The kids are not alright.

Ken Ham, for example, has made very clear his position that young-earth creationism is a dwindling, minority viewpoint. As Ham wrote in a 2009 book, for example,

six out of ten 20-somethings who were involved in a church during their teen years are already gone.

Too many creationist churches and Sunday-schools, Ham warns, are not actively teaching children an intellectually and spiritually substantial young-earth doctrine. As a result, when young people get the chance, they abandon young-earth thinking. Far from pushing creationist ideas into public-school science classes, Ham would recommend that ardent creationists focus on building their own churches. As Ham put it elsewhere, his job is to serve as a “Nehemiah,” building walls to protect young-earth creationist churches from moral and theological compromise. As Ham expressed the idea,

We at [young-earth ministry Answers In Genesis] are busy “rebuilding a wall.” We are equipping God’s people to defend the Christian faith, and I believe we are doing a great work for God. We are busy being “watchmen”—warning people of those who undermine the authority of the Word of God.

Far from plotting to take over public-school science classrooms, Ken Ham hopes his young-earth friends will build walls to protect the few remaining churches that still teach unadulterated young-earth beliefs. As Ken Ham eagerly tells anyone who will listen, young-earth creationism is a besieged minority position. Time after time (see here, here, or here for examples), Ham and his organization have protested against unfair discrimination against young-earth creationists.

So what? If any creationist stopped for a minute to think about it, he or she would recognize the obvious implications. If their religious ideas represent a minority position; if they are discriminated against by the wider society; if they are besieged wall-builders; if they are losing adherents . . . then their real long game in public education should be to promote a rigorous and unyielding secularism.

Just as other religious minorities throughout American history have been the most ardent adherents of secular public schools, so too should young-earth creationists adopt the long-game strategy of keeping all religion—including their own—out of public schools.

It just makes sense. If creationism is now a minority position, it stands only to lose if religion is imposed in public schools. In our society, majority decisions about school policy will win the day. Yes, in some places creationists can muster up a temporary, short-term, local majority to cram through their religion. That will fade, however. Over time, establishing the precedent of pushing religion into public schools will hurt creationists more than anyone else.

mcleroy

What is the REAL creationist long game, Dr. McLeroy?

I don’t ask creationists to take my word for it. As former Texas state school board chairman and young-earth creationist Don McLeroy told me recently, no intelligent, strategic creationists want public schools to teach creationism. As Dr. McLeroy put it,

All, and I mean all of my creationist friends welcome the mandated teaching of evolution and always have. . . . The number one misrepresentation of creationists is that we want to teach creationism in the public schools. You can search all my public comments and you will never find a statement advocating the teaching of creationism.

When it comes right down to it, the people who should MOST want religion out of public schools are religious minorities. These days, young-earth creationists are precisely that. If they were playing in their own best interests, creationists would hop on the secularism train.

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What Are Radical Creationists Afraid Of?

What are radical young-earth creationists afraid of? One pastor’s tale about coming out to his flock as a creationist who accepts evolution gives us a few clues. As always, it’s not actually evolutionary theory people loathe, but something else.

The Rev. Matt Herndon shared his experience recently at BioLogos. Like a lot of creationists who accept mainstream evolutionary science, Herndon began his adult life as a radical young-earth creationist. As he put it,

I had grown up a young-earth creationist, even defending the position in college and my early days as a church planter. Slowly, though, I grew dissatisfied with the scientific credibility of young-earth explanations. Also, it gradually became less and less obvious to me that Genesis was intended to be read as a scientific description of events in natural history. And the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth grew steadily more compelling.

None of this really challenged my faith, which is not rooted in a certain interpretation of Genesis, but (among other things) in the historical resurrection of Jesus and my personal encounter with divine grace. In fact, opening myself up to the scientific consensus gave me a new pair of glasses through which to see the beauty and truth of Christian doctrine.

Before he came out as an “evolutionary creationist,” his church had been split, he explained, between young-earth creationists, evolutionary creationists like himself, and undecided creationists. He thought that meant he could safely reveal—as a staunch Christian and creationist—his new acceptance of evolutionary theory.

AIG foundations

For radicals, evolutionary theory itself isn’t the problem. It’s what they think evolution supports that troubles them…

He was wrong.

When he recommended a book supporting evolutionary creationism on Facebook, his church splintered. There was gossip, anger, hard feelings, and eventually a sizeable faction of young-earthers left the church. Why?

In Rev. Herndon’s opinion, the young-earthers left because they were afraid of what their church would become. They were afraid of what would happen to any church without a firm young-earth pastor. As Herndon explained,

To them, evolution isn’t one issue among many that Christians should deal with. It is THE issue that Christians must NOT “compromise” on. For a pastor to “compromise” on a literal reading of Genesis is, in their minds, not a disagreement. It’s a heresy.

In the end, it was not the science or theology that the young-earth radicals were afraid of. After all, they had long been members of a church that was divided between different types of creationism. But when the pastor came down on the moderate side, the radicals left. They didn’t stay to debate the science of radical creationism or mainstream evolutionary theory. They didn’t try to help Herndon see the theological problems inherent in his new ideas about evolution.

To radical young-earth creationism, mainstream evolutionary theory is mainly a problem for what it implies, not what it says. For generations now, radicals have told one another that mainstream evolutionary theory is a gateway drug, a slippery stepping stone to a devil’s brew of pernicious ideas and trends.

Back in the 1970s, for example, in the Kanawha County (WV) school controversy I’ve written about in my book about educational conservatism, one of the creationist protest leaders explained what he disliked about a new set of textbooks. The Rev. Avis Hill explained to an interviewer that there was not just one thing wrong with the books.

Yes, the books were bad, Hill explained. They were full of “that garbage, that trash, that four-letter words.” They encouraged students to “act out a street riot.” They encouraged the sorts of delinquency Hill deplored,

students drinking and . . . smoking their dope. . . . leaning against the wall with their feet on the wall dirtying and defacing the school with initials and names all over it.

Some of the people who liked the new books, Hill admitted, were Christians, but they were the sorts of Christians who were friendly to “gays and homosexuals . . . and being proabortion.”

When pressed, the Rev. Hill had a quick shorthand that he thought captured all these dire cultural trends. In the end, Hill explained, the problem with the new textbooks was that they were contaminated by “attitudes of evolution and all that.”

Avis Hill was far from the only radical creationist to bundle together a host of cultural issues under the vague but all-encompassing label of “evolution and all that.” National young-earth leaders such as Henry Morris and Ken Ham do the same.

In a recent edition of his book The Long War Against God, for instance, Henry Morris argued that evolutionary thinking was bad science, but more important, it had

Practically eliminated the semblance of Bible-based behavior from American life.

Evolutionary thinking, Morris insisted, could be blamed for increased rates of

premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality. . . .Unrestrained pornography. . . . Prostitution, both male and female, is at an all-time high, as is its attendant criminal activity. . . . [and] this rapid change in abortionism from criminality to respectability. . . . [plus] the modern drug crisis (rock music, peer pressure, organized crime, etc.)

Morris is not the only radical creationist leader to make these connections. As Ken Ham is fond of arguing, evolutionary theory is the foundation on which all other social ills are built. Unless creationists take a radical, fundamentalist stance against moderate forms of creationism, Ham insists, their churches will be lost.

Taking a firm line against Rev. Herndon’s evolutionary creationism, then, was likely about cultural issues rather than about actual evolutionary science. The radicals who left were likely asking themselves the questions they had been asked since the 1960s: Do you oppose homosexuality? Do you oppose abortion? Are you against crime? Drugs? Rock music? If the answer is yes, radicals have heard for decades, you can’t remain in a church under moderate creationist leadership.

Of course, none of those questions is really about evolutionary science itself, but together they give radicals a clear line of defense. Remaining in a church under moderate creationist leadership, radicals often believe, means supporting abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and even organized crime. The only option is to get out before the inevitable moral decline.

What are radicals afraid of? Not evolutionary science itself. They are afraid of slipping into a temptingly reasonable cultural position. They are afraid of being too soft on abortion rights, homosexuality, rock music, and drug use. The radicals who left Herndon’s church did not mind praying with non-radical creationists. But when their pastor came down against radical creationism, they felt they had to get out fast. Accepting mainstream evolutionary science, for many radicals, is not really about evolution, but about opening the door to a slew of cultural trends they find abhorrent.

Why Do the Fundamentalists Love Tracey Ullman Now?

Next to saddle-wearing dinosaurs, nothing gets under arch-creationist Ken Ham’s skin like the idea of anti-Christian persecution. So I guess it’s no surprise that he has eagerly embraced Tracey Ullman’s latest character. I’m not sure I understand what Ullman is doing, comedically speaking, but she has certainly picked up on one of the notions closest to the hearts of fundamentalist Protestants.

In this bit from her BBC sketch show, Ullman portrays an evangelical Christian character, Patricia Hughes. In this sketch, Dr. Hughes has totally nailed a job interview until she lets it slip that she is a Christian. The reaction is swift and sure. Hughes is suddenly seen as a “nutter” and hustled out of the room.

The radical wing of conservative evangelicals loves it. As Ken Ham crowed about the comedy sketch,

surprisingly accurate & also a reminder of what’s coming to the USA as free exercise of Christianity is already being persecuted with increasing intolerance of Christians.

Of course, Ken Ham’s persecution complex is nothing new. For generations, as I describe in my recent book about conservative-evangelical higher education, evangelical intellectuals and academics fretted that they had been unfairly shut out of mainstream academic life.

Bergman the criterion

Is Tracey Ullman joining the creationist team?

In high-profile creationist cases, too, evangelical academics have yelped about their persecution for decades. [Check out our longer ILYBYGTH treatment of the issue here.] In a 1984 book, for example, Jerry Bergman complained about his treatment at Bowling Green State University. As he warned,

As the dominant, ‘official orthodoxy’ in our public schools is evolution, those who oppose it will experience the persecution common to the minority in a dissonant religious environment. . . . Several universities state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’ . . . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices.  This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue.  But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’

With this long history of persecution anxiety, it is no surprise that radical creationists like Ken Ham would embrace Ullman’s new persecuted-Christian character. I can’t tell quite what Ullman’s joke is—she doesn’t strike me as a Kirk Cameron type, but these sketches certainly don’t seem to be snarky toward evangelicals. Instead, they portray Ullman’s evangelical character as sympathetic and reasonable, faced with petty bigotry from secular types.

Am I missing something obvious? Is there maybe some British part of Ullman’s comedy that I’m missing? Or is she really taking the side of conservative evangelicals?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

SCOTUS, flags, and dino-riding grandpas…it was quite a week here in the ILYBYGTH International offices. Here are some of the stories that caught our eye:

Can campus art disrespect the flag? Kansas says no, at IHE.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Trump and affirmative action in higher ed:

Get elite higher ed out of the social-justice game. Rachel Lu at The Week.

How many creationists does it take to lock in a tax rebate? Examining Ark Encounter’s attendance claims at RACM.

Getting rid of AP: a bad call, says Chester Finn.

Kavanaugh and the Christians:

Turkish creationist under fire, at NCSE.

Creationist Ken Ham shoots for satire, at BB.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

Taylor U. ousts prof for sexual aggression, at IHE.

Can You Find the Creationist Joke in this Picture?

Breaking news from Kentucky: Arch-creationist Ken Ham has found a photograph of his great-great-grandfather riding a dinosaur! Proof that humans and dinos lived together in the not-so-distant past? No, not really, but it is proof of a couple of other things about young-earth creationists.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

First of all, it is proof that creationists like Ken Ham can take a joke. As Ham tweeted about the spoof,

Shhh…don’t tell the atheists this is satire as they’ll believe it’s true.

Second of all, it points out that the topic of people riding dinosaurs is still intensely sensitive among Ham’s type of radical creationist. As I’m teasing out in my new book about creationism, the idea of people on dinosaurs is touchy. As Ham is well aware, the idea of humans riding dinosaurs has long been used to ridicule Ham’s ideas.

For example, Charles P. Pierce opens his book Idiot America with a story of his trip to Ham’s Creation Museum. The first thing Pierce noticed was a statue of a dinosaur with a saddle, a display Pierce derided as “batshit crazy.”

So maybe it makes sense for Ken Ham to be defensive. Yes, there is a statue of a dinosaur with a saddle at his museum, Ham responded. But that was “just a fun part for kids,” not part of the real science on display.

dinosaurs-of-eden-pic.jpeg

Page 42.

I’d like to be fair to Ham, but his position on dinosaurs with saddles seems, at best, inconsistent. In his 2001 book Dinosaurs of Eden, for example, he includes pictures of dinosaurs carrying people and goods. Yet he insisted that he has never claimed that people rode dinosaurs. As he put it,

I don’t know where people get the idea that people rode dinosaurs. I mean, there’s no evidence in the Bible that that is so.

If we wanted to give Ham the benefit of every doubt, we might conclude that Ham has changed his opinions about dinosaurs and saddles since 2001. Yet in a 2016 book, Ham repeated his idea that dinosaurs would likely have been used for all sorts of purposes by humans. As he explained,

We see and hear [in the Bible] about all sorts of animals being tamed by man. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

While I’d like to give Ken Ham credit for having a sense of humor and being able to poke fun at himself, I’ll admit I’m a little perplexed. Ham’s AIG organization insists that the real story about humans riding dinosaurs is the “head-scratchingly bizarre” fixation of atheists on the idea of dinosaurs wearing saddles. Such ideas, AIG sometimes suggests, are not really Ham’s ideas, but only fake news meant to “discredit and malign creationist groups.”

Yet Ham and AIG continue to promote the notion of people riding dinosaurs.

I’m stumped. Maybe the joke is on me.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Welcome to your weekly round-up of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs. Thanks to everyone who sent in tips.

Nun in the huddle! Sister Jean and March Madness, at NYT. HT: DW.

calvin reading

My kind of Calvinism…

White evangelicalism—the church of the “slave state,” at Forbes. [Editor’s note: The original Forbes article was taken down as “way out of bounds,” but the text is still available at this new link. Thanks to alert reader for pointing it out.]

Don’t have your copy of Fundamentalist U yet?

Campus cults and “passion plays:” “War on Cops” author Heather MacDonald talks with “What’s Happened to the University” author Frank Furedi at CJ.

What do college students think about free speech on campus? New poll numbers at KF.

What does Queen Betsy think? A tough interview at 60 Minutes.

Creationist Ken Ham praises the Oklahoma university that welcomed his lecture—see his op-ed at KHB.

The view from Greenville: An instructor at Bob Jones U explains why he voted Trump, at HNN.

Dripping Wax: Professor Amy Wax suspended from teaching mandatory class after latest disparaging racial remarks. At IHE.

Is the Museum of the Bible just an evangelical missionary outfit “masquerad[ing] as an educational institution”? That’s the charge at R&P.

Teacher pay and underpay: Check your state at Vox.

Students who walk out should be punished. So says Daniel Willingham. HT: XX

Too close for comfort? Ben Carson’s aide chummy with secretive religious charity, at the Guardian. HT: LC.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

From Scott Pruitt to Thing T. Thing, this week has been another doozy. Thanks to everyone who sent in stories for the weekly roundup.

Want to understand educational culture wars? Start with the Addams Family Goes to School. HT: JN.

Teacher strikes sweeping down the plains?

Head of EPA warns about Islam and evolution, at Politico.

What real school reform looks like, at TLFM.

American Stalinism is back, says Andrew Bacevich at AC.

Loving power, tolerating Trump: Concerned Women for America’s “Esther Moment,” at R&P.

Creationism and “hate speech” in Oklahoma: Ken Ham talks at university after all, at RNS.

  • Was this Christian love? Or something else? At ILYBYGTH.

White nationalism in the teachers’ lounge:

Life as a closeted conservative academic, at AC.

Campus Christian group wins reinstatement in Detroit, at CT.

Town government quits after losing the mayor’s office in polygamous town, at RNS.

Set your clocks to stupid: Why 100 years of Daylight Savings Time have been a flop, at RCS.

Remember those clocks! C. 1956.

Is your top cardiologist out of town? Good—your chances of survival just went up, at CHE.

Why did white evangelicals jump for Trump? Michael Gerson says they “lost their interest in decency, [they] . . . became defined by resentment.” At Atlantic. HT: DL.

  • Sounds just about right, but it’s missing one important thing, at ILYBYGTH.

Genesis, Free Speech, and Hate Speech

What would arch-creationist Ken Ham say if someone accused him of hate speech? We don’t have to guess. At his recent talk at the University of Central Oklahoma, Ham defended his vision of proper Christian morality. Did he capture ancient Christian wisdom? Or spout off twenty-first century bigotry?

ham speech audience UCO

Part of the 500-person audience at UCO.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH recall, we’ve tussled over this issue recently. When UCO rescinded Ham’s original invitation, we wondered if free speech was still alive. I argued at the time that free speech was something of a red herring in this case–and many similar college cases. The real issue is sponsorship. The student organization at UCO did not want to pay Ham to speak, due to Ham’s views on sexuality and marriage.

In the end, UCO President Don Betz squared the circle by using money from a separate slush fund to pay for Ham’s visit. And the talk went off without a hitch. During the Q&A, one audience member asked Ham directly about gay rights. Here’s how the interchange went, according to Religion News Service:

One questioner — a self-described “spirit-filled Christian” and member of the LGBTQ community — said: “I sought the Lord and churches for why I feel attracted to the same sex. I found the church nor churches’ traditional view on (LGBTQ) fit my experience of hearing the Lord speak directly to me. Science, not the church, gave me peace. How can you say my experience of still being a child of God isn’t valid?”

Ham said he would start by asking how the person heard from God: “My way of dealing with that would be to say, ‘Let’s judge what the actual written word of God says. Let’s judge what you’re saying against what it says.’

“Because I have a different worldview in relation to marriage and gender doesn’t mean I hate that person,” Ham added. “Sometimes, people accuse us of hate speech because we disagree with them. It’s a clash of worldviews. That doesn’t mean we hate someone. In fact, the Bible commands us to love everyone, and that’s what we do.”

What do you think?

From my perspective, Ham’s answer sidesteps the central point. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but my hunch is that anti-Ham protesters at UCO didn’t care if Ham personally hated or loved them. The real question is whether or not he wanted to take away their civic rights to marriage equality.

Fundamentalists Forget their Furious Family Feud

Maybe there’s hope for every family feud. The death of Billy Graham last week inspired an outpouring of love and respect from people whose fundamentalist forefathers loathed Graham’s revivals. Creationist impresario Ken Ham, for example, never one to water down his fundamentalist faith, had nothing but praise for Graham’s ministry. The archives tell a much different story.

Some of today’s no-compromise conservatives seem to have forgotten the legacy of their fundamentalist forefathers. Ken Ham, for example, praised Graham’s evangelistic outreach. As a child he listened to a Graham rally in Australia. As Ham recalled,

I remember people going forward in this church after listening to him and committing their lives to Christ.

Of course, it’s never kosher to speak evil of the dead. Ken Ham, however, lauded the whole body of Graham’s evangelistic outreach, from the 1950s through today. Ham included no whisper of accusation about Graham’s work.

Does he not know the backstory? Or have fundamentalists given up their ferocious feelings about Graham’s revivals in the 1950s?

Cover art final

Yes, there is a place to read the full story…

To be sure, Graham’s passing has attracted some criticism from intellectuals. Historian Matthew Avery Sutton blasted Graham’s reactionary politics. D.G. Hart recalls the fact that many conservative Protestants were “not exactly wild about Graham’s ministry.”

The epochal anger and denunciations sparked by Graham’s outreach, however, seem to have been forgotten by some latter-day fundamentalists themselves.

I look into this history in my new book about evangelical higher education. In a nutshell, Graham’s revivals split the conservative evangelical community. The sticking point was follow-up. At Graham’s hugely popular services, audience members who felt Jesus’s call were put in touch with a sponsoring church. Those churches included more liberal Protestant churches as well as more conservative ones.

Fundamentalists worried that Graham’s preaching was leading souls directly into the pit of hell, by sending them to false churches to learn poisoned theology. These fears weren’t limited to a few right-wing wackos; they were a prominent part of conservative evangelical thinking in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In 1963, for example, Samuel Sutherland of Biola University denounced Billy Graham. To a correspondent who accused Sutherland of cooperating with Billy Graham, Sutherland wrote,

I do appreciate the truth found in the Word of God which Billy Graham proclaims.  We appreciate also the souls that are saved and who find their way to Bible-believing churches and thus are nurtured in our most holy faith.  We deplore quite definitely, and have said so publicly, that there are so many doctrinally questionable individuals who are identified in prominent ways with the campaign and we are disappointed beyond words in the knowledge that so many of those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at the crusades will doubtless find their way into churches where the Word of God is not proclaimed and where they will not have a chance to know what the Gospel is all about or what it means, actually, to be born-again.  I am with you.

In 1971, one outraged fundamentalist wrote to Moody Bible Institute President William Culbertson to express his disgust at the Graham crusades. As he put it, the Graham crusades only sent people into false churches, such as “Luthern” [sic], “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, etc.”

anti culbertson anti graham letter 1

Fundamentalists didn’t like Billy Graham…

For a fundamentalist, that was a serious accusation.

Such accusations flew fast and furious around the world of fundamentalist higher education. The magazine of Biola University ran one typical reader letter in 1958. Reader Dorothy Rose condemned Graham as a false Christian and a servant of world communism. Rose warned (falsely) that Graham had been expelled from two “outstanding, sound Bible colleges.” As Rose wrote direly,

It is easy to be popular with the high-ups and with the press if we are willing to compromise.  But what is the cost spiritually?

No one denounced Graham more fiercely than Graham’s former mentor Bob Jones Sr. In 1958, for example, Jones wrote to a fundamentalist ally,

No real, true, loyal, Bible friend of Bob Jones University can be for the Billy Graham sponsorship . . . . [Billy Graham is] doing more spiritual harm than any living man.

Fundamentalists have come a long way. When it comes to the legacy of Billy Graham at least, no-compromise conservatives seem to have forgiven, or more likely, forgotten the divisive nature of Graham’s ministry.

When Conservative College Students Cancel Campus Speeches

Should they or shouldn’t they? At UCLA, conservative students invited Milo Yiannopoulos to campus. A conservative professor advised them against it. His reasons for doing so highlight another fundamental question buried beneath our campus-free-speech shouting match.

milo yiannopolous

A “legitimate” conservative? Or just a “despicable asshole”?

Like everyone else, we at ILYBYGTH have been pondering questions of campus free speech lately. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, last week we wondered if arch-creationist Ken Ham could legitimately be disinvited from an Oklahoma university. Then we wondered if conservative student groups could be forced to accept leaders who don’t agree with them.

The issues from UCLA might seem vastly different at first. The College Republicans had issued a speaking invitation to right-wing bomb-thrower Milo. He planned to talk on the topic, “Ten Things I Hate About Mexico.” In an open letter published at Weekly Standard, one of their few conservative faculty mentors, Gabriel Rossman, advised them to cancel the invitation, for conservative reasons. And they did.

Why?

Professor Rossman condemned Milo as nothing but—using the words of Charles Murray—“a despicable asshole.” If UCLA conservatives were really dedicated to promoting conservative ideas and principles, inviting Milo was a bad idea. As Rossman put it,

You need to ask yourselves, what is your goal as an organization? If you’re in it for the lulz and just want to see the world burn, then I guess go ahead and bring in a vapid provocateur.

But if your mission is to spread conservative ideas, you should recognize that hosting Yiannopoulos will only render your organization and our ideas toxic.

Prof. Rossman’s advice—which the students heeded—raises another central underlying question in our debates over campus free speech. Last week in these pages, Agellius noted that the real question was not just creationism or homosexuality or nationalism. The real question, he wrote, was this:

It’s all about who gets to define “discrimination” isn’t it?

If Ken Ham’s version of Christianity is considered ipso facto discriminatory, then it makes some sense that he wouldn’t be invited to speak at a school dedicated to fighting against anti-homosexual discrimination. But if it isn’t, then it doesn’t.

Prof. Rossman’s advice raises a related question. He encourages UCLA’s conservative students to invite provocative conservative speakers. He lauded the decision to bring “War on Cops” author Heather MacDonald to campus. As he explained,

I can understand why some people were offended by Heather Mac Donald’s ideas when she spoke on campus last year. But reasonable people can disagree about whether all Americans, and especially African Americans, on net benefit from aggressive policing. More to the point, Mac Donald expresses her pro-police position without animus, so sponsoring her talk was an entirely legitimate and honorable thing to do.

Milo is different, Rossman thinks. His goal is only to push leftist students into vulgar displays of coercive thuggery. Rossman’s against it; against the entire “epater les SJWs performance art model” that Milo represents. [Editor’s note: SJW = “Social Justice Warrior.”]

We might say that Professor Rossman considered some so-called conservative speakers beyond the pale of legitimacy. Did College Republicans have the right to invite him? Rossman says yes. But was it good conservative strategy to do so? Rossman says no.

The central question, though, is not about Milo or Ken Ham or any single speaking invitation. The central question, it seems to me—following Agellius—is this: Who decides what “extremism” and “legitimacy” are?

Is it “illegitimate” to oppose same-sex marriage? The Oklahoma student protesters said yes. Ken Ham says no.

Is it “extreme” to deride Mexico? To try to provoke UCLA students into wilder and wilder displays of speech-blocking ferocity? Professor Rossman says yes. The College Republicans, apparently, agreed.