Where’s the Great Conversation, Gutenberg?


When I graduated from Gutenberg College in 2005, I left a place that felt like a haven in American evangelicalism. I left a place that valued dialogue.

Gutenberg encouraged me to engage in conversations with people and ideas. While most of the staff were outspoken in their conservative Christianity, they felt their beliefs necessitated that students experience other beliefs. We didn’t just read Christian textbooks about philosophers, scientists, and historians; we read those philosophers, scientists, and historians ourselves. We weren’t given glib catch phrases against Darwinianism; we read Charles Darwin’s own words from The Origin of Species.

We were given the gift of understanding the people behind ideas. This was all part of what Gutenberg called “the Great Conversation” for the second two years of the program. The history of ideas was a Great Conversation, and we were invited to be conversational partners.

But since last summer, when the college’s official Summer Institute — an event intended to showcase to the public the strengths of our collegiate environment — was nothing more than a soapbox for one of their professors, I’m finding myself at a loss. Instead of valuing dialogue, the conservative Christianity of the school is taking center stage — and it’s becoming more radical, more vehement, than I have ever encountered it.

The Summer Institute last year was nothing more than Jack Crabtree, the man who advised my senior thesis and I grew to admire as a stellar philosopher, presenting an earth-scorched conspiracy theory filled with internally incoherent analysis grounded in “evidence” from Fox News’ Todd Starnes. And the only “dialogue” amidst Jack’s monologue were other professors taking issue with definitions and throwaway arguments. No speaker — save the one graduate allowed to respond — challenged Jack’s shoddy evidence or extremist positions.

When I first voiced my concerns, I was almost immediately contacted by one of the professors who asked me to  “please stop commenting.” I was “misrepresenting” the school’s commitment to dialogue and thereby giving it a bad name. I quietly worried whether my alma mater, a school of dialogue, had publicly shape-shifted into a school of monologue.

Yesterday, Gutenberg once again gave Jack Crabtree a platform for monologue.

They introduced a six-week series where Jack presents his version of “biblical sexual ethics.” Which, honestly, appears to be nothing more than his “defense” of why he thinks being gay is a sin. He puts gay people in the same category as cannibals, child rapists, and people who f@#$ automobiles. They are all on the same level of “morally disgusting” and “viscerally repulsive” to Jack. And even more bizarre — for a class that supposedly present “biblical” sexual ethics, Jack presents hardly any evidence from the Bible. It’s all his “worldview,” baptized as “biblical.”

I’m getting tired of this. I’m getting tired of hearing a professor from this institution — that I care deeply about — repeating lines, almost verbatim, from people like Kevin Swanson.

I mean, seriously, here’s what Jack said:

“Does love for my neighbor require that I want my neighbor to have and do whatever he wants to have and do? Clearly not… ” “To the member of a tribe of cannibals, eating his enemies (though they are human beings) feels comfortably ‘right’ and ‘natural.’ Why wouldn’t it?”

And here’s what Kevin Swanson said just last month:

“The problem with this ‘love’ thing is you can define it anyway you want. Homosexuals love their friends and cannibals love their victims, they taste good.”

How did this place of dialogue so quickly transform into a nightmare from my homeschooling past?

It is highly unlikely I could ever convince Jack that he has a warped view of the Bible on LGBT* issues. After all, I’ve probably just fallen under the spell of the Satanic American Beast’s propaganda. It is also deeply painful to watch the college give sanction to what I consider blatantly hurtful, bigoted language and comparisons. (LGBT* individuals have attended and graduated from here. Your choice of words has an impact.) But at the very least the college could muster what good will it has — good will it used to raise a significant amount of money from its dedicated alumni to keep it afloat — and show the world it still values dialogue.

The world is changing. People are becoming more accepting — and I believe rightly so — of LGBT* individuals. This frightens Jack and makes him worried for our country’s — and our souls’ — future. But he’s doing no one any favors — and Gutenberg is doing itself a disservice as an institution of higher learning — if he and it allow that fear and paranoia be what the school presents to the public. If he and the school succumb to fear, they succumb to their own Beast. Jack has strong faith in what he believes; let him demonstrate that — and put his faith to the test — by showcasing to the public a dialogue.

Where is the Great Conversation, Gutenberg?

Where are the gay Christians, the ones Jack Crabtree compares to cannibals? Will they ever be invited into the Conversation? Or will they continue to be marginalized as the “morally disgusting” equivalent of child rapists? Where, on the reading lists of these events, are books like Justin Lee’s Torn? Or Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love? Where is the commitment to challenge our inherited Christianity, without chalking up people we disagree with to the Worst Things Ever?

If Gutenberg continues with giving a platform to extremist monologue, the school will descend into an echo chamber. And becoming an echo chamber would betray the very values that we alumni learned to love about our alma mater.


For another alumni perspective on perceived changes (though not on LGBT* issues specifically), see “Dismissed by the Dismissive,” from House of Water.