After taking the controversial step to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain religious institutions cover contraceptives in their group health insurance plans, one might think OBU would lay low in the culture wars for a while.
Instead, administrators have upped the ante with a move that's sure to shock and offend many faculty, students, and alumni.
Today in Broken Arrow, President David Whitlock boasted in his report to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's annual meeting that OBU has invited Dr. Ben Carson to keynote next year's Green & Gold Gala, a fundraiser for student scholarships.
For those outside the religious right political movement who may not know of him, Ben Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who catapulted to fame for delivering a speech slamming many of President Obama's policies to his face at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year. After disrespecting the president in the most obnoxious and defiant way possible, Dr. Carson became a Tea Party celebrity. The Wall Street Journal editorial page urged him to run for president.
At last month's Values Voter Summit in Washington (the premier political convention of the most far-right elements of the Republican Party -- even the SBC considers the event too extreme to endorse), Carson was the runner-up in the straw poll for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He tied former Senator Rick Santorum with 13% apiece. Senator Ted Cruz won with 42% of the vote.
In his speech to the Values Voter Summit, Carson made a particularly offensive statement: the health insurance reform law is "the worst thing to happen in this country since slavery." Translation: The Affordable Care Act is worse than poverty, natural disasters, the Great Depression, segregation, child abuse, and tens of millions of abortions. To Dr. Carson, the Affordable Care Act is even worse than 9/11. What an insult!
However much money OBU raises for scholarships, it will pay a hefty fee to Carson. According to his booking agent, his speaking fee is "over $40,000." It's probably significantly more than that. Carson has a remarkable personal story of rising from poverty to become chief of pediatric neurosurgery at one of the world's finest hospitals. He is a highly sought after speaker. Even so, Carson's calendar has opened up a bit as he has had to withdraw from several engagements in the wake of offensive comments.
Earlier this year, he withdrew from giving the commencement speech at Johns Hopkins University and from another speech to a medial industry group. Petitions against Carson circulated after he equated homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. Does this reflect the views and values of OBU administrators? Compared to Dr. Carson, last April's controversial "ex gay" evangelist chapel speaker Christopher Yuan seems downright compassionate!
Last year's inaugural Green & Gold Gala speaker, Tony Dungy, also holds traditional views. But Dungy has a much more humble and modest persona, and I saw no need to protest his selection.
This year, I hope the OBU community will have a robust discussion about whether a figure as controversial as Dr. Carson truly reflects the consensus values of the OBU community.
When I was at OBU and Bill Clinton was president, I was taught that no matter how much I disliked him or disapproved of his actions, I should respect him and his office. If a liberal had so openly and shockingly denounced President George W. Bush to his face, do you think OBU would invite that person to speak?
To try to speak to Tea Partiers who will be glad to hear about Carson speaking at an OBU event and who say, "What's the big deal?" I asked a few liberal friends who the liberal counterpart to Ben Carson would be. They said, "Imagine a person with political views left of Nancy Pelosi and who is as obnoxious as Michael Moore." Think about how you would feel if OBU administrators invited such a person to headline the Green & Gold Gala.
Last year's event, by all accounts, avoided culture war politics. Big sponsors of the gala included businesses, churches, BGCO organizations and affiliates, and a few wealthy individuals. Next year's gala is sure to be highly politicized. Aside from whatever comments Dr. Carson makes, it seems likely that Oklahoma political insiders will gobble up tickets and sponsorships for a chance to meet their anti-Obama hero.
I truly don't think they could have come up with a more partisan or divisive speaker if they tried.
At a minimum, whoever selected Carson should be asked whether they agree with his implication that homosexuality is tantamount to pedophilia and bestiality and that Obamacare is worse than 9/11, though I'm a little afraid of the answer.
The event is scheduled for next spring, assuming the keynoter does not make any extremely offensive remarks in the meantime. Although, it's hard to imagine what comments would disqualify Carson if the things he has already said are acceptable.
In the future, we probably shouldn't let the College Republicans run the university. Or the College Democrats (if such a thing is even allowed to exist). I declined to criticize the trustees for acquiescing to President Whitlock's desire to join in a lawsuit against the federal government, since I thought they were simply trying to protect OBU's autonomy and prerogative even though the suit is harmful and offensive to all female employees on the group health insurance plan. But after this Ben Carson debacle, it would be nice for the trustees to reassure OBU students, employees, and alumni that there are actually some grown-ups in charge on Bison Hill.
[Ed. I am still in complete disbelief that the reports I heard today from Oklahoma Baptist pastors are true. If any mistakes in reporting were made, I will immediately withdraw this post.]