Two recent incidents involved teachers at traditional Christian colleges being targeted for comments they made on social media about transgender issues.
Professor David Upham at the University of Dallas and Dr. Christina Crenshaw at Baylor University were both taken aback by the reaction to their posts but see it as part of a larger issue.
“What is at stake here is not merely the freedom of Christians to speak about Christian faith. The culture is telling Christians and all Americans that they may not tell the truth about human nature,” Upham told The Texan.
“Most people would gather around the concern about even faculty not being able to have the free exchange of ideas which are fundamental to higher education. We need to have a conversation about what is safe and unsafe. Someone isn’t unsafe because they have a differing opinion,” Crenshaw emphasized.
University of Dallas
In reaction to President Joe Biden’s recent appointment of Dr. Levine to be the assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services, Upham, a professor of politics at the University of Dallas (UD), posted on his private Facebook page in January.
“Dr. Levine has since, through ingesting various drugs, put on a somewhat convincing hormonal costume to go along with his conventionally feminine dress. He may also, in addition have surgically mutilated his once functioning organs of generation–powers of procreation given to him by God Almighty.”
The University of Dallas is a traditional Roman Catholic university that is committed “to the Catholic Church and its teaching” and with a vision to provide “a rigorous Catholic education dedicated to a lifelong pursuit of wisdom, truth and virtue.” Upham is a Roman Catholic himself.
He went on to express his concerns, specifically that this is part of a larger problem of forcing Christians to participate in recognizing a newly created identity.
“There, Dr. Levine, in concert with the whole Biden administration, will try to use the powers of the federal government to FORCE others, by their words and their deeds, including their medical expertise and know-how to participate in these falsehoods, these hormonal and surgical harms–these wrongs.”
Upham deleted the post in anticipation of the upcoming semester, a regular practice for him, but he says he understands how it could be perceived as an act of regret on his part. However, he pointed out that he reaffirmed his statement in a subsequent post.
“Generally speaking, I endorse what I said,” Upham told The Texan. “It was generally a comment about the Biden administration because he is presenting Dr. Levine as a woman and plans to use the administration’s authority to coerce dissenters to speak the same words and admit that non-women can turn into women. I’m concerned about what it foretells for the future.”
According to The University News, UD’s newspaper, a letter was sent to the university signed by 66 alumni calling the university to “reconsider its relationship with Upham.”
Almost immediately, a letter of support for Upham with over 500 signatures was received as well. “I’ve been very gratified by the support I have received,” Upham acknowledged.
He said he doesn’t see it as an attack based on personal animus against him, but that the opponents to his remarks are “attacking me as a representative of an idea.”
UD released a joint statement by its current and incoming presidents regarding the increasing tension between a faculty’s right to speak and the protection of persons who choose to alter their biological gender.
“We are not in the business of limiting the speech of our faculty and staff when they speak on personal social media sites,” the statement reads.
It continues, “The university embraces unreservedly the Church’s articulation of the moral law, including its articulation of those truths that deal with the embodied nature of the human person and human sexuality. If anyone is wondering whether we will protect the civil rights of all the members of our community, we can say unequivocally that we will.”
The university is planning to host a series of information sessions for students and faculty to attend regarding the school’s civil rights policies.
“I think the public statement that the administration made makes clear that one is still permitted to be a public Catholic at our Catholic university,” Upham said in praise of UD’s statement.
Just down Interstate 35 at the traditionally Baptist Baylor University in Waco, a similar incident occurred. Crenshaw, a recurring lecturer in Baylor’s English department, posted a tweet related to President Biden’s recent executive order regarding transgender issues.
Crenshaw tweeted in reply to another post by a Baptist leader, “What if I don’t want biological boys in the bathroom with my biological daughter? Do the 99% of us who do not struggle with gender dysphoria have a voice? No? Cool.”
The tweet enraged some students on the left who notified the university of Crenshaw’s tweet and began a petition calling for her removal.
“Prior to this, I’ve hardly ever been active on Twitter,” Crenshaw mentioned to The Texan. Crenshaw said she had about 400 followers at the time.
“I have felt largely supported, but it is disheartening that such a small group of students are creating such a ruckus,” Crenshaw emphasized, saying many students and fellow faculty have reached out to her with support and compassion.
Crenshaw believes that the article in the student newspaper, The Lariat, stirred things up. The article was later altered to remove a characterization of Crenshaw as a “transphobe” and an apology was issued.
“This is less about trangender issues and more about the religious liberty and free speech of faculty on a Christian campus,” Crenshaw told The Texan, adding that she has received very hateful comments and threats from critics. “It has been a shocking experience. I wouldn’t wish this persecution for expressing an opinion on anyone.”
Crenshaw, who is a mother and an advocate to end human trafficking, says she has questions and concerns about policies that put previously safe spaces in jeopardy.
“I am less concerned about transgendered people as I am about others exploiting the opportunity. As a mother, I want to know if the rest of us have a voice in this. Are we having a nuanced conversation?”
Crenshaw feels like she’s been a victim of cancel culture and she’d like a conversation to ensue about what that means for free speech, freedom of religion, and for people of faith on a Christian college campus.
“I believe I am within the Baptist mission with my stance,” Crenshaw said, adding that one thing she regrets is that she didn’t mean for her comments to be read as “snarky as it does for some people.”
Baylor’s statement on human sexuality declares that “The University affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God. Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
In a statement issued after the incident by the provost about the importance of civil discourse, the university appeared to try to strike a balance.
“A university is both a marketplace of ideas and a gathering of diverse cultures. This diversity is an enduring strength. Within this community, the ability to share perspectives and beliefs, even when they may stir controversy, must be safeguarded. It is equally true that Baylor, like other institutions of higher education, places a high priority on creating and fostering a community that people from all backgrounds will find welcoming and supportive.”
Crenshaw is not currently teaching any courses at Baylor, explaining to The Texan that she made the decision to take a semester off before any of these events occurred. She does plan to teach a colloquium on human trafficking there this spring without compensation and is still overseeing a thesis.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.