Cedarville University: LGBT Christians In The Hands of An Angry god.
Cedarville’s hatred of LGBT folks
Cedarville’s public relations and external communication rely heavily upon their evangelical mission as a university. Every sub-organization within the university, from the college radio station to the department of engineering, utilizes a filter for describing their activities often centering upon the abstract concept of glorifying god. Official university communication at Cedarville papers over the internal organizational resistance from faculty, students, and the community. In this blog post, I will examine first the role of self-interest in rhetoric, and second I will examine how Cedarville’s focus on a certain external corporate image led to the elimination the LGBT identity at Cedarville.
Rhetoric in organizations is important not only because rhetoric is a key part of understanding the mission and goals of an organization, but also because ultimately power and organization is always a rhetorical activity. Rhetoric organizes the orientation of an organization and its stakeholders around common ideagraphs, standards of communication and goals. Organizations are by nature self-interested. Boyd and Waymer (2011) discussed corporate advocacy as uniquely self-serving, which presents problematic issues regarding the treatment of external and internal stakeholders. They go on to suggest that analyzing organizational rhetoric requires an analysis of multiple conflicting interests and visions that make up an organizations identity, and that a balanced approach can illuminate silenced publics within an organization.
At Cedarville one of the most important silenced publics is the LGBT community and its allies. It is important because firstly, it is a large and growing community at Cedarville despite their history of direct discrimination against LGBT students and faculty. The second reason this community is important to focus on is because they represent the silenced public Boyd and Waymer refer to. Finally, as a visible community, their struggle became a focal point for resistance to Cedarville’s oppressive rhetoric more broadly in 2014.
On a bright Thursday day, on a February morning in 2014 a half a dozen students gathered outside Cedarville chapel. With them were nearly a thousand publications of the latest edition of The Ventriloquist. The Ventriloquist was a student paper started by the debate team in 2010, the idea behind the paper was to be the voice for students and faculty who disagreed with the Universities theological and social beliefs. The paper published dissenting opinions to foster debate and conversation across campus. But a few weeks before this morning, the paper had a slightly different message. On the front page of the paper only a few weeks before read “The Final Decision” which the picture of Avery Redic, an openly gay black man who was the student director of diversity, and a prolifically involved student across campus. The article can be read Here. In short, Avery shared his story explaining the use of Christian rhetoric to shame him and strip him of his leadership positions, simply for being gay. The following publication, things had changed.
We students spread out around the chapel, to hand out the paper to chapel attendees. Suddenly, out of no where the chapel doors nearest us burst open, the the president of the University Dr. White rushed at myself and my debate partner handing out papers. He demanded we stop immediately, and campus security officers confiscated our papers. Later that day, the university banned the Ventriloquist from campus permanently, removing any copies of the paper found around the campus. For context, this was the first time in 4 years of publishing our paper that the University had actively censored our perspective. We could talk about open theism (the idea that God doesn’t know the future, because if he did it would compromise free will), but questioning the organizations decisions was not chill with Dr. White. In response to the loss of our papers, we started an all out media PR assault against Cedarville, getting our story of student advocacy into the Huffington Post, New York Times, and Dayton Daily News, among other publications. Despite this negative public relations blitz, Cedarville has only reentrenched its active discrimination against left-leaning and LGBT students in recent years.
This is not an isolated incident. Advocacy for gay rights at Cedarville is grounds for questioning your spiritual beliefs and your Christian salvation. There was a social cost to bear for the “radicals” who dared recognize the validity of LGBT identities. During my time there, 6 of my friends who were LGBT were either forced to leave or chose to leave Cedarville for their identity. Other students were forced to hide their sexual identity for fear of University retaliation, only telling their most trusted community. The LGBT community was unified more with the creation of “CU Out,” an incredible student led advocacy group for gay students at Cedarville. These students developed their own organizational codes, and ways of communicating their gay identity that weren’t overt enough for Cedarville to punish them. Allies and LGBT individuals would meet to discuss advocacy issues, support each other, and create effective arguments against evangelical theological justifications for hatred against LGBT.
The Cedarville organization’s public rhetoric on LGBT issues is reprehensible. Dr. White attempted to address the issue in a Chapel, which I live tweeted and has since been deleted due to reprisal from the University. I am well used to reprisal from the University at this point though, so I am not afraid to call out Cedarville on their hate. Dr. Whites descriptions and understanding of LGBT individuals was overtly offensive. Dr. White described gay people as sexual deviants, and suggested that their sexuality is enough to damn them to hell. Other speakers also engaged in anti-LGBT rhetoric in Cedarville’s chapel, once provoking an exacerbated response from one my my gay friends. He yelled out “We are people too.” The next week he was asked to leave the University, because that was the “wrong forum to communicate his message.”
Cedarville tells LGBT students, that chapel is the wrong forum for you to be you, and then actively shuts down any form of advocacy or safe space that does allow LGBT students a voice. This principle is not only true of the LGBT students, but more broadly of any students who seek to challenge the university on policy or ideology. All of this control, and the exclusion of these sub cultures, is founded on the basis of maintaining an evangelically pure image for the university.
Once again I must point to the ideagraph of “the good christian” in the rhetoric of Cedarville. On the surface they will claim we are all evil, and we all need a savior. But in reality, Cedarville has strict written and unwritten codes that construct a certain expected rhetoric which carefully establish that some “sins” are worse than others. Cedarville didn’t take action on the sexual assault of my friends, but they seemed very responsive to gay folks standing up for themselves. Avery’s open gayness, and the fact that he didn’t hate being gay, made him a challenge to the rhetoric of Cedarville, who believe being gay is a sinful choice made because someone is living in sin. They disciplined him by removing him from his leading position in the choir and as the student government association’s diversity director. They claim to love gay people, but that to love them the gay people need to stop being gay because its a sin. This is an example of how the ideagraph of christian love is turned against groups of people at Cedarville who don’t behave according to their standards.
The root of Cedarville’s outright assault on freedom of speech and identity, is their evangelical Christian mission to create a fundamentalist consensus on their campus. This is a fundamentally self-serving goal, because they use this brand as a asset for attracting conservative evangelical students, and to attract those students they silence dissent that would indicate Cedarville might not be the Christian safe space it claims. The solution to this issue is simple, Cedarville needs to listen to its students for once. Since Dr. Whites arrival, the channels for students to offer feedback and their own advocacy have been systemically eliminated. There used to be open question chapels, but then a certain student (me) asked Dr. White how Cedarville would handle LGBT discrimination, and those chapels never happened again. Public forums were common when I first arrived, but now they are no where to be seen. The student population as a whole has been silenced, in favor of the organizations Christian rhetoric and mission dominating all aspects of Cedarville’s campus identity.
To the LGBT folks at Cedarville:
I believe in you. You are legitimate, and so is your sexual orientation. Those who seek to dissuade and destroy you are but mist in a rain storm. You are stronger than them, you stand firm against the hurricane. We are proud of you, we support you, we love you. Period.