Mars Hill Forum #67 at Wesleyan University: Circus and “Hate Crimes”

John C. Rankin

[excerpted and adapted from First the Gospel, Then Politics …, 1999-2004, Vol. 2, not published]

On April 18, 2002, I addressed a Mars Hill Forum at Wesleyan University, Connecticut. Wesleyan is a top-tier school, and no longer pretends any theological fidelity to the man after whom it is named, John Wesley. It is in fact a campus where the politics of sexual license is as pronounced as anywhere in the nation.

I had been working with a group on campus to host a forum, and we decided on the topic: “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?” I have always had difficulty finding qualified homosexual spokespersons willing to address a given forum, and though I had a couple of interested parties, the timetable did not work out for them. So Norm Allen, with the Council for Secular Humanism, was glad to address it, though not as a homosexual.

The forum was held on a Thursday evening at the end of a two-week period on campus called “Queer Awareness Days.” When I arrived on campus, the main quad was full of chalkings on the sidewalks, a type of political free speech expression as it were. The theme of much of the challkings was “gay rights,” seeking explicitly to be “in your face.” As I approached the entrance to the auditorium, some chalkings were specifically aimed against me. The first one I noticed said, “Rev. Rankin – Eric wants you.” The next one said, “F— Rev. Rankin.” The third was the same as the first, and I do not recall the exact nature of the fourth, except to say it was congruent with the prior three. The  segue from the first to the second chalking was unmistakable in its suggestion of homosexual rape. Click here for another report.

So we had the attempt at intimidation. As with Yale Divinity School, this revealed a great fear of hearing both sides in a honest forum. Also, the “Queer Alliance” had plastered the campus with flyers declaring: “Come on out to a safe space for queer people, religious people, queerreligious people, and their allies. This is a fun, argument free, social environment where all are welcome.” It listed a range of sponsors, and a long list of syncretistic labels of people and groups.

When the forum was set to start, in a room that held 100 people and was nearly full, a young woman came to the front and announced the “safe space” and encouraged people to come to it. None did, and as it turned out, easily half of the audience were members of the Queer Alliance. So we began with Norm’s opening comments, then mine. The moment I began, there was a scripted entrance of three people into the auditorium, designed to cause disruption. One was a tall young man dressed in a long skirt. Another man was dressed in drag, high heels, fingernail polish, the whole works. Since I but glanced up briefly, I did not note such details, and was informed afterward. They were there to make their “statement,” and sat in the middle front section, expecting they would become the center of attention.

As it was, I was doing something unusual in my presentation. I actually read it – an adaptation of my Judiciary Committee testimony (click here), along with the petition suppositions and questions, followed by the resolution on Human Sexuality and Civil Rights. So I was less distracted than otherwise might have been the case. Usually I speak from a simple outline.

As I did, all the restlessness among the homosexual partisans stopped, and I had their full attention for those fifteen minutes. The content and the ethics drew them in. Then, the question and answer period was as much a circus as I have ever experienced, with the student moderator doing her best to include as many people as possible – mostly homosexual partisans challenging me.

Of particular note are three elements. First, I was challenged twice by lesbians who said that the anecdote concerning childhood abuse, by the Harvard lesbians, was not true in their own cases. The first woman who said this struck me as angry and lonely, and whereas I am not in position to challenge her testimony, there was more underneath the surface. So I readily gave her this liberty.

The second woman who challenged me actually tried to make me apologize for only saying that the anecdote “not a statistical claim for all lesbians,” whereas she thought I should have issued a greater disclaimer. I said I could have emphasized the point more, but time was limited, and my words were clear. After the forum she spoke at length with a friend of mine, and actually admitted to him a very troubled and painful upbringing. The Harvard lesbians did not say all abuse was sexual or physical, but also emotional.

Second, and as I indicated earlier, I was called a “homophobe” many times, just like the attempt at Yale Divinity School. I gave consistent answer, and repeatedly said that the only reason I was called a homophobe was because they did not allow me to have a different opinion than they held. They chafed at this, but could not argue otherwise. In this context, the tall young man in the skirt then said that I was a homophobe because secretly I desired to be a homosexual like him. I simply said no, and moved on.

Here we can look at an important reality. Various political activists who oppose homosexuality do have skeletons in their closets, where they have secretly wrestled with this temptation, whether in the mind or otherwise. Thus they can become particularly judgmental of homosexuals, seeing in them their own worst fears, and accordingly put much energy into a crusade against homosexuality, one which can easily descend into ad hominem diatribes. Homosexuals are delighted to discover and expose such hypocrisy, and they can tell by eyeball or voice tonal responses whether or not they have hit their mark. This young man in the skirt was disappointed.

And third, at least two homosexual students said that they found it “offensive” and “threatening” that I was even on campus speaking my views, and as they did, there was a chorus of assents by their like-minded friends. So I said that they must not want a level playing field for all ideas. I said that I did not desire one inch greater liberty to say what I believe than what I first commend to those who disagree with me. I also noted how remarkable it was that I was the one who was subject to lewd and sexually violent chalkings directed against my person, and yet my response was to show respect to my disputants, not to cower or complain in response. From there I was able to address the nature of unalienable rights and true liberty being rooted in biblical ethics.