This week, the Cornell Political Union was accused of discriminating against Jannique Stewart, a conservative, Christian speaker, because of her religious beliefs. As CPU’s Vice President of Finance, I was present for all full executive board discussions related to the retraction of Stewart’s invitation, and I feel that it is my obligation to shed some light on the incident as neither Stewart nor the CPU executive board has been fully honest and transparent.
Stewart was invited to speak to CPU on the topic of abortion. However, after researching her background and discovering her traditional Christian views on sexuality and marriage — namely, her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman — the executive board decided to cancel Stewart’s speech and attempt to find a less controversial speaker to discuss the topic. Contrary to her characterizations in a Facebook post, Stewart’s beliefs were not likened to supporting slavery or denying the Holocaust. Nonetheless, this was a decision made primarily due to Stewart’s beliefs. CPU’s claim that her invitation was rescinded to avoid security fees is misleading; there were no indications that our event would be protested, and no security assessment ever concluded that the event would require protection.
As a practicing Christian, I personally have a more liberal interpretation of the Scriptures, consider myself an ally of the LGBT community and am proud to have helped found a gay-straight alliance at my Catholic high school. However, I understand why Stewart believes what she does, and to chalk up her beliefs to mere bigotry is a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian teaching and dismissive to the millions of conservative Christian Americans who share her beliefs.
Christians believe in the sanctity of the body, the rejection of earthly desires and a distinction between sin and sinner. As such, conservative Christians believe that sex is a deeply serious endeavor that should be subject to certain restrictions and generally reserved for marriage and procreation. Disagreement with a behavior does not constitute disgust with a person, and characterizing Christians who believe in traditional marriage as bigots unworthy of a platform will serve only to further divide us.
I would not have felt comfortable inviting Stewart specifically to discuss her views on marriage, precisely because many in our community would perceive this as an attack on their identity. But to say that Stewart ought not speak at Cornell on an unrelated topic, merely because she holds certain beliefs about marriage, is incredibly insulting to traditional Christians and is antithetical to CPU’s commitment to free speech and open discourse. I firmly and unequivocally believe that the best way to counter bad opinions is with better ones. I do not wish to silence speakers with whom I disagree, but instead disprove their flawed ideology through the free exchange of ideas. I joined CPU because I believed in its mission, and still do. However, recent events have proven that others in the organization’s leadership do not share my commitment to these values. As such, I wish the Cornell Political Union and its leadership all the success in the world, but feel obligated to resign from my position on the executive board.
Brendan Dodd is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Guest Room runs periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected].