December 01, 2016
Following the recent presidential election, a local college had a rally on campus to “offer words of encouragement to all, light candles of peace and speak of unity.”
Apparently the results of the election caused a big divide on campus. At a gathering of campus Democrats, they watched the election results and when the winner was announced, “some students were moved to tears because of the result.” This led to faculty members wearing safety pins indicating that they could provide a “safe place” to come where students could process their feelings. One faculty member put a poster on her office door indicating that her office was a “safe space” for marginalized students. Shortly after her sign went up a student posted a note below it which read, “What about students who voted for Donald Trump?” That is a divide.
The same faculty member who identified her office as a safe space, observed that “…faculty are perceiving a disconnect on campus between students who are really devastated and frightened right now and people who have what we call in intercultural studies, the luxury of obliviousness.” That doesn’t sound like a safe place for people who aren’t devastated. It sounds like passing judgment on those who might not be devastated by characterizing them as “oblivious.”
I am not taking sides on the election results, but I am not a fan of “safe spaces” on college campuses. Some current college students don't want to be exposed to ideas that they find offensive. They want to be warned (trigger warnings) about content, or they shout down and demonstrate during a lecture with which they disagree. Television journalist, Megyn Kelly, refers to this generation of college students as “cupcake nation.” These are young people who have grown up in the “everyone gets a trophy” culture so that no one will have their feelings hurt. In her new memoir Kelly wrote, we “…are trying to eliminate offensive or even differing viewpoints and, with them, our grit and resilience.”
In my years of ministry, congregants have wanted the church to be a “safe space”. “Let’s not bring up controversial and divisive topics.” “Let’s keep the peace.” People who profess that we should preach the whole counsel of God, really don’t want the whole counsel of God to be included. They want us to only share Bible stories that are PG rated. Don’t preach on the passages where there is seemingly senseless violence and cruelty. Don’t preach on sexual topics in worship because our children shouldn’t have to listen to that. Don’t preach anything that comes across as judgmental or critical. People want to be loved.
Jesus’ teaching wasn’t always a “safe space” as some would define it today. Jesus referred to religious leaders as a “brood of vipers”. He challenged the assumptions of the religious establishment and stretched all of us to a much broader understanding of faith (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7). He taught us that love doesn’t coddle, or protect us from the unpleasant, or avoid the uncomfortable. In fact true love does just the opposite.
I would redefine safe spaces. A safe space is a place where all ideas and differences of opinion can be expressed, regardless of how offensive they may be. They are places where we can disagree with one another without being disagreeable. We don’t have to like the ideas or opinions, but Jesus calls us to love people, even the disagreeable. He even went so far as to tell us to love our enemies!
Listening to ideas and opinions with which we disagree and even hearing things we find offensive builds strength within us. It teaches us how to face adversity, difficulty and trial. We learn the important skill of acceptance of people, but not finding everything acceptable. I am afraid that when the “cupcakes” enter the “real world” they will crumble.