ProLife Speaker Ryan Bomberger Discredited for Making Some Wheaton College Students Feel “Unsafe”
Ryan Bomberger, a prolife speaker and the founder of a nonprofit group called The Radiance Foundation, travels across the country advocating for the unborn and telling his own personal story, which began when his biological mother was raped. She gave him life, and Ryan was adopted into a Christian multiracial family of fifteen (ten of the thirteen children were adopted). He and his wife Bethany have four children of their own, two of whom were adopted. He says “his life defies the myth of the ‘unwanted’ child as he was adopted, loved and has flourished.”
Last month, Ryan was invited by the College Republicans at Wheaton College to share his presentation “Black Lives Matter In and Out of the Womb.” His talk was followed by a lengthy Q&A session, and Ryan also stayed afterwards to talk to students.
However, in the following days, Ryan became the center of controversy when the student body president, vice-president, and the executive VP of community diversity wrote a letter saying he made people, minorities in particular, feel “unsafe.” The three student leaders, reportedly with the assistance of two college staff members, sent this email to the entire student body six days after the presentation:
As many of you know, a special interest club hosted an event on Wednesday night titled, “Black Lives Matter: In and Outside the Womb”. The speaker of this event, Ryan Bomberger, made several comments at the event that deeply troubled members of our community. His comments, surrounding the topic of race, made many students, staff, and faculty of color feel unheard, underrepresented, and unsafe on our campus.
As Student Government, we are committed to the College’s mission to promoting student programming that “pursues unity, embraces ethnic diversity, and practices racial reconciliation so that it will contribute to the education of whole persons”, and therefore, felt it necessary to respond to the offensive rhetoric from the speaker at this event that compromised this mission. We would like to reaffirm that call in our Community Covenant to “pursue unity and embrace ethnic diversity as part of God’s design for humanity and practice racial reconciliation as one of his redemptive purposes in Christ”. As a community, we seek to affirm the worth of all human beings as unique image-bearers of God. We also look to recognize and challenge any situations that may hinder this mission.
You can read Ryan’s email response in full, but I thought this part was notable:
I am a person of color, a clarifying fact which you conveniently left out of your letter of denouncement. I was primarily presenting a perspective of those who are never heard, always underrepresented, and are actually unsafe—the unborn.
…For anyone to claim they felt “unsafe” by anything that I said is unfortunate and simply hyperbole. Are students at Wheaton taught to fear or taught to think?
According to one source, some communication then happened between Ryan and the college administration, but he still feels the matter has not been addressed satisfactorily. The position of the Wheaton College administration in response to this isn’t clear, as they haven’t made a public statement. It does appear that the initiative to write and send the letter was taken by the student leaders (only one of whom attended Ryan’s presentation). The letter being sent may or may not have been with the Wheaton administration’s approval, so I make no assumptions on this.
You can read more thoughts from Ryan here about the situation, but I thought this was especially important:
The story has now become the “hurt” and “grieving” students. It’s not about the slaughter of 2,500 innocent human lives every day in this country through the violence of abortion. This is the dangerous consequence of placing the emotional above the Eternal.
My previous blog, related to Isabella Chow, addressed the environment of the University of California Berkeley and its hostile reaction to a student leader seeking to represent Christ in a spirit of grace and truth. The situation at Wheaton is a reminder that confusion doesn’t just exist on secular campuses. Again, I am not assuming the worst of the Wheaton College administration, but I think the action by student leaders represents a clear trend that concerns me deeply.
I can attest from speaking on the campuses of a number of Christian universities that there is sometimes a trend toward stifling free speech. Some universities, both secular and Christian, are increasingly becoming centers of intellectual wimpishness. The widespread use of the language “what you said makes me feel unsafe” implies someone has a fear of physical harm. Of course, if there is any actual threat of violence or physical aggression, that should certainly be dealt with decisively.
But the great majority of the time it appears that’s not the case. What these students are feeling is not unsafe but uncomfortable. A college campus should not protect students from being exposed to viewpoints that make them feel uncomfortable. There is a right to free speech, but not a right to hear only what you want to hear. Of course, students and faculty were, and rightly so, perfectly free not to attend Ryan Bomberger’s presentation. And the students who invited him and Ryan himself were free to do what they did.
But unless Ryan pulled a weapon or made a threat to do so, or pushed someone, the language of feeling “unsafe” isn’t appropriate. If we wish to be safe from freedom of speech and different values and unwelcome opinions we should stay away from college campuses, or arguably from America itself, since those things are woven into who we are. No such “safety” from beliefs we don’t agree with is ever guaranteed. In fact, civil liberties and freedom of speech ensures the opposite: that in a free society all of us must face more, not fewer, uncomfortable viewpoints. What many people are experiencing is not best described as being unsafe but rather being unwilling to tolerate the viewpoints of others.
If a Christian student on a secular college campus said “I feel unsafe because my philosophy teacher is defending atheism,” I would sympathize with their discomfort but suggest that “unsafe” is the wrong word and trying to silence the professor is the wrong approach (unless it’s a Christian college and the professor is violating the school’s doctrinal statement, then it’s fair to ask the administration why a Christian college would be teaching atheism). My philosophy teacher at a secular college argued passionately against the Christian faith. My response was to talk to him after class as well as respectfully disagree in class. No big deal.
Our society and our colleges are under no obligation to protect frail and vulnerable college students from the discomforts of hearing what they don’t agree with. In my opinion, thin-skinned intellectualism has no place on college campuses. We need to encourage students to learn how to articulate their own ideas, not to try to shut down others from articulating theirs. We need greater tolerance for diversity of opinion. (And ironically many of the people using the words “tolerance” and “diversity” are remarkably intolerant and are perpetually offended by opinions different than their own.)
One of the unfortunate aspects of the victim mentality is that when we think of ourselves as victims because others disagree with us, we minimize the world’s truly unsafe environments and real victims. As I look around the globe and consider the degree of danger in South Sudan, North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, and other places, one of the unsafe places that does not come to my mind is the campus of Wheaton College in an Illinois suburb. Nor any other college campus across the U.S. When there is someone shooting on campus, or at a church or a restaurant, then people are right to feel unsafe. If someone was severing people’s body parts on campuses, now that would be unsafe. Which brings us to the subject of abortion.
For unborn children, and especially for African American unborn children, there are many truly unsafe places in our country, places where they’re literally torn limb from limb. They are called abortion clinics. (And because so much proabortion rhetoric characterizes most college campuses, there is a great need for the sort of counterbalance Ryan Bomberger brings.)
One in every four pregnancies in America ends in abortion. BlackGenocide.org reports that on average, 1,876 black babies are aborted every day in the United States. Statistics show that a soldier’s chance of survival on the front lines of combat are greater than the chances of an unborn child avoiding an abortion. What should be the safest place to live in America—a mother’s womb—is now the most dangerous place.
Ryan Bomberger and I were both fortunate enough to not be aborted. The same is true of every single student and professor at every college in our country, secular and Christian. Ryan isn’t some frail flower who needs me to defend him. Neither do our college students need people to come to their rescue when they are uncomfortable with what other people say and think, and use the magic word “unsafe.” The people who most need our defense are the unsafest people in our country, and in the world: preborn children.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV
Note from Randy, January 16, 2019: When I wrote this blog, I searched for any kind of statement from the Wheaton administration that would have clarified their position. I found none. I wanted to share their perspective but couldn’t.
Now, two months after the presentation, Ed Stetzer, who serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, has written an article sharing their position, as well as a follow up article that directly addresses Ryan Bomberger.
I certainly agree with Ed that the parties need to talk and as brothers in Christ seek resolution. Both “sides,” a Christ college and a Christian guest speaker at that college, don’t have to agree about what actually happened, which was seen through different eyes. But they should try to put aside defensiveness, and as followers of Jesus, apologize to and forgive each other for any inappropriate words or actions. And then learn from it and move on.
Finally, here is an article from The Wheaton Record student newspaper, which provides some more clarifying details.