When I saw the news that Cedarville chose to uninvite Shane Claiborne, I was saddened. Not only because some watch bloggers were behind the event, but most especially because of educational theory and for its impact on students. So, I got to thinking of what I would do if our President had invited someone and some bloggers raised a protest and then the school chose to uninvite someone. Here are my ideas:
First, I begin with this: I don’t know Shane personally; I like him and his stuff; some of our students love him and have grown from his stuff. I don’t know the leaders at Cedarville, though I must admit I like the place because in college I had a good game of basketball against them in their gym. I know a professor or two. This isn’t for me anything personal about Cedarville.
In one word: it’s about education.
Colleges do not endorse everything anyone says when they invite someone to speak. I cannot comprehend why so many don’t get this: invitations of speakers to schools or even churches do not mean blanket endorsement. Invitation does not mean endorsement. In fact, if we think about this a bit it becomes clear: no one agrees with anyone completely. So, let’s spread the word that a school inviting someone does not mean the school will agree with everything that someone says. I know I didn’t think this: “Wow, Cedarville invited Shane; Cedarville might be considering becoming a social gospel school. Nor did I think they were suddenly transforming into a new monastic community.” I thought, “Good for Cedarville. Those students probably will like some of his ideas and not like others. They’ll all learn. He’ll challenge them to think about Christian involvement.” I’m sure that this is what I would say to an administrator who would do such a thing at our school.
We must distinguish between what faculty at a Christian college are expected to believe and what speakers believe. Christian colleges have nearly always asked their professors to subscribe to a doctrinal statement. They also teach their students that kind of theology. I have no problem with that stance. But, applying those kinds of statements to guest speakers is unnecessary.
This was a great educational opportunity that did not happen. I believe the major issue here is education. We often invite to our school folks who take differing views. It’s good for our students to hear other ideas. Then we have opportunities to debrief, explain, explore, and make our own decisions. I would say this:
By inviting someone who differs with us, maybe we could have an evening session or two after the lectures or talks or sermons. In those sessions we could do our best to explain what the person said, see where we both agreed and disagreed, and that way show what civil conversation is all about and show how to respond with those with whom we disagree. An uninvitation not only blocks the educational opportunity but sends a message loud and clear: the way to deal with those we disagree with is to keep them from talking.
Yes, invitations create ambivalence for our students. This Fall a student or two stormed out of our lectures by Randy Balmer; they had the right to do that. They complained to their teachers in class. That teacher listened and discussed the issues. We think Balmer’s own viewpoint needed to be heard. Did we agree with everything? No. But his views got many of us to think again about the relationship of faith and the Presidency. Isn’t that the point?
Another question: Where is the best place to model listening and disagreement? On our campus, with our students, with our colleagues.
I would also do this: I would ask such persons to reconsider their decision and think about un-uninviting and re-invite the person back. I am encouraged to read on this blog yesterday a comment that says Cedarville is inviting Shane to speak some time in the future. Good for them. Your students deserve it. I will be glad to hear a first-hand account about the event.