Editorial: Nov. 9

As we reported last week, Calvin asked fun. not to bring along the “village” of booths that would come along with the Campus Consciousness Tour to promote marriage equality. I am not here to make a judgment about whether that was the right decision or not. However, I do wish to raise some questions about the assumptions behind that decision.

Two weeks ago, we ran several Op-Ed articles that explained how there is some part of the conversation about LGBT issues that Calvin is not getting right. There are reasons why Calvin appears on the Princeton Review list and that a petition urging change is as popular as it is, in spite of all the efforts to make Calvin more LGBT-friendly. One of these reasons are background assumptions that tend to make us unfriendly. Because of these, the default position for whether things like fun. bringing along the marriage equality booths is acceptable is “no” and the burden of proof rests on the other side. (In a parallel way, the newly-released “Homosexuality and the Calvin College Community” document makes clear that the burden of proof rests on faculty members who want to demonstrate that “a change in the church’s historic position” on homosexuality is necessary (54-55).)

In some of our interviews for the fun. article, we heard it being taken for granted that bringing the marriage equality booths along was unacceptable. “In the village, there would be a pro-marriage-equality booth. That can’t happen either,” said one of the people we interviewed. Granted, part of this response might have been because other groups don’t bring advocacy booths on tour with them for any cause, but would we have had any objection to booths for world hunger? Hiding behind a statement like “that can’t happen” is a set of assumptions that aren’t being given a critical eye.

In this case, I believe that asking fun. not to bring along the marriage equality booths is a very complicated question. Because it was a decision that is now setting the tone for community conversations and conveying to the world what the Calvin community’s beliefs are, it was one that could have been made in a way more open to that community. To show that this was by no means a trivial decision, here are some arguments for both sides:

For the position that we should not have asked fun. to not bring the booths along, an argument can be built about the limits of the authority of the CRC’s official positions on homosexuality. The CRC’s positions do preclude marriage equality, and these positions are settled and binding for the positions of Calvin and its faculty and official programming. However, they are not settled and binding for all Calvin students or Calvin’s guests. By allowing fun. to bring along its booths, the college is not endorsing fun. or those booths. In fact, Calvin has made it clear that fun. is allowed to say whatever they want from the stage. Therefore, the CRC’s positions on homosexuality do not have bearing on what Calvin should or should not allow fun. to do or who they can bring.

Another argument is that hospitality and being open to the other means allowing the other to speak on their terms. We are comfortable allowing a band freedom to say what they want on stage, because the stage contextualizes what is said as a performance. At the end of the night, we can make statements like “Fun. said that marriage equality is an important issue.” By bringing the booths along, we are letting them make moral claims on us, such as “you ought to support marriage equality.” This is less comfortable because it is a confrontation, not a performance. However, part of hospitality is being open to being uncomfortable and not treating the other or a band as an artifact on stage.

There are also good reasons for not allowing the band to bring the booths along. By allowing fun. to advocate for a position in a way that other bands do not, it might seems that Calvin is endorsing their positions. In the interest of keeping it clear that the CRC’s positions are the official positions of Calvin College, the band should not be allowed to bring organizations to Calvin that advocate incompatible positions. The bracketing that being on stage provides is a part of the concert experience and is necessary for semi-disinterested critical engagement with the band, which we label discernment.

There was a weighing of these kinds of arguments, implicitly or not, behind the decision to ask fun. not to bring along its village of booths. In the decision-making process, it seemed to be assumed that the default position was “no.” This choice not only influences current thought-processes, but it forms the background for the next decision, creating a culture of a default “no.” In order to start to combat the implicit assumptions that cause Calvin to be perceived as an LGBT-unfriendly place, these kinds of decisions need to be made in the open so that we know the right questions were asked and the arguments fairly weighed.