Knowledge vs. Wisdom: Johns Hopkins Graduates Protest of Dr. Ben Carson As Commencement Speaker


College graduations run the gamut of absolute boredom from irrelevant speeches given by large donors to absolute excitement from watching a loved one walk across the stage in recognition of hard work and dedication.

Then Vice President George Bush, Sr. delivered the commencement speech when I received my Bachelor degree at Ohio State University in Spring 1983. It took place amid a climate of polarizing Reagan presidency, with Secret Service agents standing watch and snipers positioned along the top of Ohio Stadium. Nothing of lasting memory about the speech itself.

This year, politics is playing an unprecedented role in denying scheduled speeches at both high school and college commencement programs. Perhaps the most enigmatic protest came at Johns Hopkins University where Dr. Ben Carson stepped down as the School of Medicine commencement speaker after students circulated a petition to officials in opposition to Carson’s statements that likened homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. The outgoing Director of Pediatrics Neurosurgery grounded his comments in Christians tenets, including the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome [Romans 1: 26-27]. Nevertheless, in a letter that reversing his prior acceptance of the speaking invitation, Dr. Carson recognized the day’s primary focus should be that of honoring the graduates without shrouding an otherwise celebratory moment with controversy of his appearance:


“Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interest of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year.”

The Carson controversy is unfortunate for several reasons. First, having attended a lengthy presentation by Dr. Carson and having had the pleasure to meet with him, this is one truly engaging individual. Indeed, a gracious individual with the ability to grab the attention of audiences with challenges, insights, and illustrations. Also, our nation has few more compelling examples of the power of attitude to determine altitude. Originally a severely under-performing grade school student, Dr. Carson is the quintessential off-course ship making a remarkable change in course.

In addition, protesting Dr. Carson on the grounds of his expressions of Christian tenets is tantamount to tomorrow’s leaders choosing popular culture over religious expression; that is, the secularization of America. The university is the center for free expression. Ironically, John Hopkins was raised in a family that was active in the religious community – namely the Society of Friends (Quakers). Historically, Quakers have viewed homosexuality as abhorrent and sinful. At its 1992 Mid America Yearly Meeting, the Evangelical Friends Church issued a definitive statement on homosexuality:

“The Scriptures declare that God creates us male and female. Furthermore, the biblical record shows that sexual union was established exclusively within the context of a male-female relationship (Genesis 2:24), and formalized in the institution of marriage. The partner for man was woman. Together they were to be one flesh. In the New Testament, the oneness of male and female in marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-23). Everywhere in Scripture the sexual relationship between man and woman within the bonds of marriage is viewed as something natural and beautiful. We believe that homosexuality is not an expression of the Creator’s plan for human sexuality.”

“Homosexual activity, like an adulterous relationship, is clearly condemned in the Scriptures. In Leviticus 18:22, God declares the practice of homosexuality an abomination in His sight. In Romans 1:26-27, the practice of homosexuality is described as a degrading and unnatural passion. I Corinthians 6:9-10 identifies the practice of homosexuality as sin that, if persisted in, brings gave consequences in this life and excludes one from the Kingdom of God.”

“We as evangelical Friends believe that sexuality has moral implications unlike race, gender, or national origin. The Apostle Paul, strong in his condemnation of the practice of homosexuality, also testifies that those once engaged in homosexuality were among those who were forgiven and changed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 6:11). Individual Christians, pastors and congregations need to maintain the believe that all human beings have sinned, and that all Christians have received God’s mercy while helpless, ungodly and hostile to God. In the name of Christ we proclaim forgiveness, cleansing, restoration and power for godly living for all who repent and believe the gospel (I Corthinthians 10:13).”

A recent theological statement by the Friends Church Kenya underscores the Quakers’ position:

“…What is pure and eternal in the Spiritual journey of a Quaker especially in terms of marriage and relationships? Is it homosexuality or heterosexuality? Is it same sex marriage or opposite sex marriage?
    What is Biblically pure in the eyes of God in terms of human sexuality? Homosexuality is a sin that is roundly condemned in scripture. Gen. 19:5, Lev. 18:22-23, Rom. 1:26-27, 1Cor. 6:9-11, Eph. 5:3-5, Gal. 5:19-21, 1 Tim. 1:9, 10, Jude 7.
    God’s attitude toward the vile behaviour of homosexuality is clear. He prohibited and condemned homosexuality in Gen. 19:5 when He destroyed the city of Sodom. It is clear that the homosexuality of the people of Sodom carried an uncontrollable lust that defied restraint so that even when the people were blinded they still tried to fulfil their lust (Gen. 19:11). Actually God outlawed all homosexuality and bestiality as sexual perversion that should not be tolerated. All sexual perversions were worthy of death, indicating their loath sameness before God. 
    Homosexuals are those who have deliberately deviated from what is normal sexual practices as God intended it to be, to bad behaviour of transverstism, sex changes and other gender perversions. As Quakers and for that matter Christians, we are supposed to discern and have more knowledge than the gay people and therefore greater accountability will be required of us. We cannot and will not give ourselves over to sexual immorality. Instead, we urge those practicing this immorality to abandon this abomination and repent and change their ways so that the Lord can forgive them…
    By re-branding sexual immorality to mean human rights and by confusing that of God in everyone to mean Spiritual liberty would mean departing from Quaker core values of truth and uprightness as Children of the Light into our own earthly wills. How can we abandon that which is pure and eternal and still consider ourselves to be the Light of the world and good salt of the earth? Then we are not worthy of our calling. Modernizing Christianity to meet our own selfish desires is immoral. The God of yesterday is the same today and tomorrow and His commandments have remained and will remain forever.

For this matter, Friends Church in Kenya condemns homosexuality in the strongest term possible without reservation.”

It is certainly true that Quakers, as is the case of many religious sects, is being influenced by more liberal voices that take pro-homosexuality positions, irrespective of Biblical passages that specifically refer to the practice as sinful. However, the traditional position is clear. And political incorrectness notwithstanding, Dr. Carson’s theological declaration on homosexuality is consistent with those tradition doctrinal foundations that taught the man after whom John Hopkins University is named.

Most startling in the commencement speech controversy is that students rejecting Dr. Ben Carson contradicts one of academia’s principle values. That is, to instill a commitment of giving even as the university promotes knowledge. Dr. Carson has given away over 5,000 college scholarships; an accomplishment that few graduates at John Hopkins or other institutions will match over their careers. Not only did Dr. Carson’s work enhance the prominence of John Hopkins, but also one might safely assume that some of the scholarship recipients attended the institution. Is there a greater qualification than that for delivering a commencement speech?

Clearly, May 17 will honor some incredibly knowledgeable graduates at Johns Hopkins University. However, the opposition to Dr. Carson for commencement speaker illustrates that the attainment of knowledge does not ensure the exercise of wisdom.

That’s my take. What’s yours?


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