In the nation’s smallest state, a big controversy is brewing over the keynote speaker for the inauguration ceremony of the new University of Rhode Island president. The reason for the furor: President David M. Dooley has asked a Christian minister to deliver the keynote address at Thursday’s ceremony. The Providence Journal reports that the decision “has triggered a campus-wide discussion about the separation of church and state, tolerance and free speech.”
Who’s the speaker causing so much concern? The Journal introduces him this way:
Dooley invited Greg Boyd, a well-known minister from Minnesota, to deliver the keynote address at the April 8 inauguration, a choice that has sparked all sorts of discussions — online, informally and in campus meetings.
Now, the reference to “a well-known minister” immediately made me snarky — maybe because the name didn’t ring a bell with me. If he’s well known, there’s no need to describe him as such. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the story goes in identifying Boyd. The reader never finds out where he serves as a minister, much less if he belongs to a particular denomination (for the record, he’s the senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church, a megachurch in suburban St. Paul).
The story goes on:
Some students and faculty say they are concerned that Boyd’s views on issues such as same sex-marriage and abortion — he opposes both — and his position as a religious leader make him an inappropriate representative at such a significant public university event.
“Under almost any other circumstance, inviting Greg Boyd to campus to speak would not bother me,” said Lynne Derbyshire, associate professor of communication studies and women’s studies. “But given that the inauguration is supposed to represent what the university is and will be in the future, I’m concerned that [Boyd's] very public views do marginalize a significant portion of the university.”
What are those very public views? The Journal provides no specific details. The story cites no past quotes from Boyd on same-sex marriage or abortion. And the piece includes no fresh quotes from the minister on those issues, although he is otherwise quoted.
Why did the new president invite Boyd to speak?:
Dooley, the son and husband of Baptist ministers, said he had read many of Boyd’s books and was struck by their emphasis on themes Dooley says are relevant to college communities. These include separating politics from religion, advocating nonviolence and refraining from judging others, views that have put Boyd at odds with evangelical Christians.
“I really am leery of people thinking you can easily translate your faith into political categories,” Boyd said. “Because when you start doing that, you start demonizing everyone who doesn’t agree with you.”
OK, apparently, Boyd has written many books. What are the odds that this particular story names even a single one of them? (If you answered “zero chances in infinity,” you win.) But crazy me, I think the title of one of Boyd’s books (the one that got him front-page play in The New York Times in 2006, not to mention a GetReligion post by Mollie) might be relevant in this story. That book was called “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.”
Suddenly, I’m wondering again about that “well-known minister from Minnesota” description. Would “outspoken critic of the religious right” be more accurate? And if so, is this minister really taking on same-sex marriage and abortion — which tend to be political buzzwords — or has he simply expressed his theological viewpoint within the context of his church? Again, there’s no way to know by reading this story.
Finally, while avoiding any comments from Boyd on same-sex marriage or abortion, the Journal lets the minister discuss what he considers the negative connotations associated with the term “evangelical”:
Boyd said he no longer describes himself as an evangelical as the word “has gotten so wrapped up with so much that I’m against. Jesus does not want to enforce his morality on others. That’s why he attracted prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus has this encompassing embrace. His love for people outruns his desire to control them.”
What do other evangelicals think of Boyd’s perspective? By now, you certainly know that this is not the story in which to go searching for such basic journalistic ingredients. Moreover, I’d be curious to know what evangelicals think of Boyd speaking at the inauguration. Are they pleased with the choice, or — irony of ironies — are they concerned that the university might be pushing a political agenda (one adverse to evangelicals, not left-leaning academics) by inviting Boyd?
It’s a potentially fascinating story, all the way around. Unfortunately, all the Journal piece does is make your head spin.