What is going on at Westmont? | WORLD
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What is going on at Westmont?

Students protest pro-life speaker, stage walkout from chapel

Lila Rose Wikimedia Commons

What is going on at Westmont?
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On Feb. 6, Lila Rose, founder of Live Action and one of the most articulate pro-life advocates in the public square, spoke in chapel at Westmont College, an evangelical liberal arts university in Santa Barbara, Calif. Surprisingly, out of the roughly 1200 students in attendance, more than 100 walked out as the campus pastor explained the importance of the pro-life position.

The protest was preceded by an email sent to students by organizers of the protest which read, in part:

The decision to host Mrs. Rose as a chapel speaker is deeply disappointing, and we fear that it will create a permanent stain on the reputation of the school. Mrs. Rose represents the kind of bad-faith, conservative Christian activism that currently plagues our politics and reflects poorly on many other followers of Christ. … Mrs. Rose’s entire living is seemingly made weaponizing Christianity for political gains. 

A social media post by this group blamed Westmont for “blatant sexism, disregard of women’s basic reproductive rights, anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, and lack of empathy for human suffering.” In response, the university didn’t apologize for hosting a pro-life speaker, but issued a somewhat tepid statement:

As followers of Jesus Christ, the goal of our Westmont College community is to learn how to live together with differences. In that spirit, we host a variety of guests to campus who express varying perspectives. [Monday’s] chapel and today’s lecture are examples of those community experiences and conversations. ‘Truth-centered attitudes’ and ‘other-centered actions’ remain our core commitments as our Community Life Statement articulates.

Later, according to the campus newspaper, campus pastor, Scott Lisea, apologized for some of Rose’s social media commentary which was described by protestors as anti-LGBT. These students who led the walkout were also upset that a pro-choice speaker wasn’t invited as a counterpoint. Lisea confirmed that Rose was the first pro-life speaker brought to campus in a very long time, due to the controversy it often generates.

We cannot assume that our kids and our grandkids will automatically adopt the pro-life position.

Rose, a committed Catholic, spoke of the injustice of abortion, urging students to devote as much care and concern toward the unborn as they do other vulnerable people groups: “We must demand better as a society for mothers, for fathers, for women, for children. Both our faith and the moral law require that we pray, speak, and act against injustice, especially injustice against the most vulnerable and on behalf of fathers, mothers, and children.”

It should not be surprising to us that college students in 2023 viscerally oppose a pro-life address. If Rose spoke at a state university, she might expect significant protest, perhaps even enough to shut down her address. What is surprising and troubling is that more than 100 students at an historic Christian institution with an explicitly evangelical faith commitment would find the mere presence of a pro-life activist to be offensive.

While many political issues are matters of prudence and debate among Christians, the Bible is resoundingly clear on when human life begins. In Psalm 139, King David assigns personhood to the unborn. God declared to the prophet Jeremiah, “I knew you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5).” After all, the sanctity of human life has been a pillar of Christian witness throughout the church age, with writing as early as the First Century Didache, declaring “you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.” To be pro-life is to seek justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Westmont should be commended for hosting Rose and for not caving in to pressure to cancel her speech. Still, it’s more than a bit troubling that students who willingly chose to attend an evangelical school with expressly evangelical commitments could not abide a standard talk on Scripture’s affirmation of human life. It’s a sober warning that despite half a century of teaching and advocacy, we cannot stop catechizing the next generation on what it means to be human. We cannot assume that our kids and our grandkids will automatically adopt the pro-life position. There are too many voices in pop culture, the media, and progressive Christianity seeking to catechize them in euphemisms and shibboleths that deny the humanity of the unborn.

We might start with Lila Rose’s own words, in response to her opposition: “It is not hateful to disagree with a person or to speak against the harm they are committing against others. It is also a basic tenet of the Christian faith, from the Ten Commandments to Christ’s greatest commandment, that we are not supposed to kill innocent people. That we are called instead to sacrificially love our neighbor. Abortion is the direct and intentional killing of a human being and violates the fundamental human rights of the child it destroys.” This message deserves, not a walkout, but a standing ovation.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book is Agents of Grace. He is also a bestselling author of several other books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words and the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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