Speeches on Main Hall Green

Snyder, Peter

In this speech I want to talk about debate on campus. As students, it’s something that makes up a significant part of our day, and as people who take the time to talk at and/or listen to these Main Hall speeches, it’s something that many of us seem to value. In order to have this clash of ideas, we need to be willing to consider minority opinions and beliefs, and since Lawrence is on par a liberal place, considering minority opinions here often means, ironically, considering opinions that are majority and mainstream outside of the “Lawrence Bubble.” I don’t think we as a student body always do a good enough job of considering and debating these opinions, and I think it’s to our detriment.
For example, last year, Lawrence Christian Fellowship held a campaign titled “I Stand With Ann.” The campaign consisted of LCF members wearing T-shirts declaring their Christianity, putting up posters around campus with statements of personal faith, and asking people if they would mind answering some questions about their religious beliefs in Downer. The campaign was completely passive, meaning that at no point did anyone in LCF, as part of the campaign, tell a non-LCFer that they should convert, or even that non-Christian beliefs were wrong. The efforts consisted solely of questions and the equivalent of “I” statements.
Many non-LCF students, unsurprisingly and understandably, objected to the campaign. Some disagreed with what they saw as mainstream Christianity’s anti-gay teachings, others found the subservient position the Bible seems to prescribe for women offensive, and still others just found the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful god irrational and unpleasant. Unfortunately, instead of initiating debates and discussions with the “I Stand with Ann” crowd, many members of the Lawrence community responded by asking, in effect, that LCF not be so open and vocal about their opinions. Instead of writing letters to The Lawrentian about why people found either the campaign or Christianity in general offensive, which would have been a beneficial discussion for all parties involved, LCF posters were torn down. Instead of organizing a campus debate so LCFers could respond to their detractors, people approached members of LCF and asked them to not be so obvious. In short, instead of having the uncomfortable but valuable clash of ideas that would have benefited the entire campus, people responded by asking, even demanding, that less opinions be expressed.
It’s unfortunate and ironic that LCF initiated the “I Stand With Ann” campaign in an attempt to dispel a fear among its membership that Christians at Lawrence could not be open and public about their faith, and the Lawrence community responded by confirming that fear.
So, what’s the point? Why dredge up six-month-old history? Just that I hope that next time an individual or group expresses an opinion that goes against the general Lawrence sentiment, we do a better job of welcoming, discussing, and debating that opinion, instead of just dismissing it offhand and asking it to go away. Consider what we as a campus lost last year. Maybe through debate some LCFers would have been convinced by arguments of people of other or no faiths, and would have altered their beliefs. Likewise, non-LCFers lost out on an opportunity to better understand – and possibly be convinced by – the Christian position. I think it’s too bad that those opportunities were not taken advantage of, and I think we should make doubly sure we don’t miss out on a similar opportunity the next time it presents itself.