Convocation 10/27/17: Caitlyn Whitney, Emmanuel Ntibonera and immaturity

Don’t worry, I will talk about Nasser’s opening statements after the convo message.

Today’s convocation was all about Christian platform, how one acquires it and how to use it effectively. To speak to us on that subject were two people with massive platforms, Caitlyn Whitney and Emmanuel Ntibonera. Each of these speakers told us about how they came to have the platform they did and how God used them in their platform. We will look at each in turn.

Our first speaker was Emmanuel Ntibonera, the liberty student who was the catalyst behind last year’s Steph Curry convo and the donation of over 20,000 shoes to the Congo. He shared with us how he came to follow Christ and the events that led him to start collecting shoes for the Democratic Republic of Congo. He told us how God used him and his personal experiences to have an impact that he could not have had without God.

Ntibonera’s testimony is an inspiring tale of how God can use the actions of a few individuals for the betterment of His kingdom in big way. It does not take much to say that one has faith that God can do great things, but it takes a whole lot of faith and dedication to actually put in the work to accomplish the things of God. His story is an amazing demonstration of James 2:18, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (NKJV). Ntibonera’s actions exemplify his faith, something that we are all called to do.

Our second speaker was Christen Whitney, a contestant on the Bachelor and the Bachelor in Paradise. She talked about how she came to be on the Bachelor and how she managed to use it as a platform for her faith. She also described the challenges of trying to demonstrate Christianity and virtue in an arena where those things are not often welcome: reality television.

I am going to be completely honest, I did not expect a lot from Christen Whitney (sorry). I really dislike the Bachelor and a lot of the stuff that goes on in the kind of show. However, my presuppositions going into this convo were completely wrong. Whitney’s testimony of how she was able to use the show as a platform for Christianity was both interesting and uplifting. Her story truly demonstrated God’s ability to use people even in situations and circumstances where God is not normally glorified or desired. Her story in many ways reminded me of the story of Daniel, who stood strong in the faith even when it was not culturally or legally acceptable to do so.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, David Nasser’s opening comments. For those who missed it, Nasser went on his once-a-semester tear about how immature he thinks the student body is (It is becoming like clockwork at this point). Nasser claimed that it is good that students don’t go digging into speaker’s background before they come, and that until this semester the student body was too immature for diverse speakers . I will look at each of these statements in turn.

The first statement that Nasser made was the it was good that students do not look up the speakers before they speak in convo. He argued that if we did, we would criticize them for things they had said or done in the past or make fun of them. There is so much wrong with this statement, I do not know where to even begin. First, how ignorant does he think the student body is? A large percentage of the student body either googles the speaker to see who they are or asks another student about them. Frankly, “Who is the convo speaker today?” is probably the most asked question on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on this campus (the second most asked question being “Why did I take an 8:15?”). The student body is not as ignorant as he believes (or wants) it to be.

Second, I guess we know why Liberty University no longer puts out a convocation schedule with speaker bios. If students doing even the most basic level of research on convo speakers was irritating the office of spiritual development, it is not ridiculous to believe that the convo schedule was removed to make looking up speakers as difficult as possible (If invited speakers are so problematic that simply googling them causes problems, maybe we shouldn’t be inviting them in the first place). The security excuse for removing the schedule was always preposterous, so it is unsurprising to see that there were ulterior motives for getting rid of it.

Third and worst of all, he is advocating for the student body to be willfully ignorant. The whole purpose of a university is to educate students and to inspire a desire for learning, the complete antithesis of ignorance. For him to call for ignorance is to neglect the very function of his own organization. The Bible also denounces such rhetoric. Proverbs is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to the instruction of the wise and the denouncement of the ignorant and foolish. Proverbs 18:15 instructs us to pursue learning and knowledge, “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (ESV).

Being ignorant of the speaker’s background and beliefs is also harmful to the student body in several ways. First, it prevents the student body from getting the full story when it comes to a message. Let use Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby who spoke to us about the Museum of the Bible, and his message as an example. His message about the Museum of the Bible and its potential impact sounds good, however it does not tell the complete story. The New York Times reported in May 2017 that Hobby Lobby had reached a settlement with prosecutors, agreeing to forfeit the 5,500 smuggled Iraqi artifacts that they had purchased.¹ These artifacts were intended for display in museums and public institutions, possibly including the Museum of the Bible. While the Museum of the Bible has very good intentions, it would be a disservice the student body to only get one side of the story. Second, not knowing the background, beliefs, and previous actions of a speaker allows the student body to be misled or deceived. If students do not know what speakers actually believe, then speakers with ulterior motives can manipulate students. It is important to remember that most convocation speeches are not purely informative, they are also persuasive in nature. Convo guests can advocate for stances that are either unbiblical or unrelated to faith on religious grounds. By not knowing about convo speakers ahead of time, the student body is not equipped to fully analyze our guest’s message.

Now lets look at his other statement, that the student body was not mature enough in the past for speakers with diverse opinions. First, this is patently untrue. Our last non-conservative speaker was Bernie Sanders over two years ago, and that convocation went off without any problems. There was no heckling or disruptions at all during that convo. Ever since then, we have not had any truly non-conservative speakers. Second, Nasser seems to conflate immaturity with criticism or dissent with the speaker’s opinion. Being critical when analyzing a speaker’s message is not a bad thing, in fact the ability to think critically regarding what we are told is a skill that the university should be encouraging, not labeling as immature. In fact, according to Liberty’s website, this is one of the reasons that attendance of Convocation is mandatory. On the convocation FAQ’s page, this is one of the answers:

“Campus-wide participation at Convocation results in campus-wide conversation. We often see our students engaged in reflective and invigorating conversations as a result of a special guest or a particular topic presented to them at Convocation. This sort of processing fosters deeper community and accountability.”²

If students reflecting on and talking about the convocation message is one of the reason we attend it, why is it be discouraged as immaturity?

Today’s convocation speakers delivered stirring messages about God’s ability to use individuals for the betterment of his kingdom. However, the strength of the message was heavily overshadowed by Nasser’s opening remarks.

Lightning Round:

  • One of the largest problems with the whole convocation process is that it is completely opaque. Who is actually invited to convocation? Why are they invited over others? Who is invited but turns it down? How many guests that students request actually get invited? What role do Jerry Jr. and Nasser have in determine invited guest? We honestly don’t know any of the answers to these questions and as a result, it gives the appearance that school leadership simply invites their friends or people who wish to sell books as guests.
  • Random fact: that first sentence from the FAQ page is what inspired the title of this website.
  • When I was rewatching the convocation video to refresh my memory of Friday’s convo (you don’t really remember most of them after a few days) I noticed something missing. Specifically, Nasser’s statements on immaturity not digging into convo speakers were edited out of the youtube and Liberty.edu videos. Quite an interesting omission.

Bible verses quoted: 1

Bible verses quoted all semester: 56

Sources:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/hobby-lobby-artifacts-smuggle-iraq.html
  2. http://www.liberty.edu/faithservice/index.cfm?PID=32826

If you like what I do, consider following me on twitter at @skepticalpyrrho to get notified whenever I post. If you don’t have a twitter, you can follow me on the website and receive an email when I post. I would love to hear what you guys thought about this post, so leave a comment below or send a message through the contact page.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Liberty University leadership or administration in any way. This post is solely a matter of personal opinion. The opinions expressed here are solely my own and should be not be taken as the opinion of the University, its staff, or the student body.

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