Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton recently interjected himself into a controversy concerning a commercial in support of California Proposition 8. His ostensible purpose in doing so was to quell a wave of outrage from radical gay activists in California. If anything, his actions will embolden those who prefer intellectual terrorism over civil political discourse as a means of shaping public policy. His actions will also further diminish the reputation of Pepperdine as a conservative Christian university.
The controversy began when Law Professor Richard Peterson appeared in the following television ad.
President Benton responded with the following:
“I want to provide an update on an issue that weighs heavily on many of our minds: encouraging academic freedom while refraining from political endorsement by Pepperdine University. As most are aware, Yes on 8 ads airing on television and radio feature one of our professors. The Pepperdine name is prominently displayed in the current round of ads and many vocal supporters and opponents of Prop 8 see the opinions expressed as not only the professor's, but Pepperdine's as well.
Many of our professors write op-eds, books and give speeches; and they are appropriately identified with Pepperdine University. My first reaction to this series of television ads was that Pepperdine was too prominent. Many on the faculty disagreed, some agreed strongly. At the faculty conference I learned that a disclaimer would satisfy the professor and others who were involved. We offered language that was simple and clear, and while we knew the firestorm would continue in some quarters, we felt a straightforward disclaimer would allow the professor his right to speak and our right to remain outside any role of endorsement in the political fray. The next day, I learned that the professor and those promoting Proposition 8 preferred to withdraw Pepperdine's name completely. We agreed. It was a change from a position announced just the day before, but it seemed a stronger measure and appropriate.
Just prior to running a second ad, the campaign announced to us that in their opinion it would be more effective if Pepperdine's name was back in. They added a disclaimer, albeit so small and bare, that most do not see it. It was not the language which we had suggested. They did not ask us; they told us what they were going to do, and they did it.
Without any involvement in the campaign, Pepperdine has been lionized and vilified. We have been given credit where it is not due and blamed beyond anyone's wildest imaginings. I, and perhaps many of you, continue to receive words of praise and condemnation from people who are either thanking us, or sharply criticizing us. Whether the writers are for or against Prop 8, I take no comfort from either position as it puts us where we don't belong -- in partisan politics.”
President Benton has made - if you have not yet detected it – a gross error in characterizing the Proposition 8 controversy as one involving “partisan politics.” Proposition 8 passed in California because virtually every Republican and a very sizeable proportion of Democrats supported a reaffirmation of the simple belief that marriage should be confined only to the union of one man and one woman. The fact that measures like Proposition 8 always win when subjected to popular vote – even in the most liberal states – shows just how un-controversial the issue really is.
Just as the issue of the definition of marriage not partisan, it is not even political in the truest sense of the word. Just as God created man and woman, God also created the institution of marriage. Therefore, God alone has the power to define marriage. No one who disagrees with that simple principle can rightly define himself as a Christian. And no university that retreats from that principle can rightly define itself as Christian. The issue could hardly be less confusing or less controversial.
But Andrew Benton simply cannot think his way through this very simple issue. When, during the commercial, Professor Peterson’s affiliation with Pepperdine was (briefly) displayed beneath his name it was not seen by anyone as an endorsement of Proposition 8 by the university. It was seen by fringe gay radicals as an opportunity to vilify a Christian university for having the audacity to employ a professor who holds traditional Christian beliefs.
But too much emphasis has been placed on the supposed black eye given to Pepperdine in the wake of the Proposition 8 commercial controversy. President Benton should be far more concerned with what has happened to Professor Peterson’s reputation than what has happened to Pepperdine’s.
Indeed, Professor Peterson, who does legal advocacy for handicapped children, has been branded as a pedophile by opponents of Proposition 8. This defamation was done in the name of tolerance by those claiming intolerance of hatred. The story is just too strange to pass for fiction.
There are only three appropriate ways to respond to the gay lunatics who attacked Pepperdine and Professor Peterson: 1) Sue for defamation every gay activist who has accused Peterson of pedophilia. 2) Arrest for trespassing anyone who bothers Professor Peterson at his place of work. 3) Shoot and kill anyone who comes to Professor Peterson’s home to cause physical harm to him or to any member of his family.
What is not appropriate is trying to appease these radicals. Gay activists are never satisfied and they are never happy. It is far better to side with their opponents. That way, a majority of people (Remember: Proposition 8 supporters are a majority) could have been satisfied. By trying to please everyone, Benton has succeeded in pleasing very few people in the short term.
And the long term consequences of riding the fence on this issue are far worse. As you read the final three paragraphs of President Benton’s mass email to all faculty and students at Pepperdine, try to imagine what those long term effects will be:
“This is a very challenging situation. We believe that the right to freedom of expression must be balanced with the fact that universities cannot endorse political candidates and propositions. We can host debates, we can educate, but we can't endorse.
We regret when anyone supposes that we are inappropriately involved in a political issue when we are not. We will take whatever measures we deem appropriate to correct the misunderstanding. I will be writing to alumni and donors to explain the delicate nature of the balance we strike. We must not chill the right to free expression, but we must also avoid the appearance (intended or not) of political partisanship.
You can be of service to our institution by helping us clear up this confusion with those who may ask. I appreciate your understanding, your assistance and your patience.”
President Benton could be of greater service to his institution if he only knew something about the nature of gay political advocacy. The idea is to attack all Christians and Christian institutions expressing agreement with the Bible’s very clear teachings on homosexuality. When they are ignored they go away. When they are taken seriously they come back.
Because the Gaystapo has successfully gotten under the skin of Andrew Benton, Pepperdine’s days as a Christian university are numbered. And the number of places where parents can send their children for a Christian education is shrinking.