Dear Baylor Nation,
As I sit down to write this letter, I am reminded of two things. First, how lucky I am to be on a campus where this letter might make a difference. Baylor University has created an environment that encourages open conversation and honest debate in a world where these things are shockingly absent. Second, that each Baylor student has a responsibility to continue to cultivate a campus environment in which honest and open communication is encouraged and where every voice can be heard. Baylor cannot be a Christian community if it is not a community that invites differing opinions. It is with these two things in mind that I write in response a Lariat article, published on Feb. 8th, titled “Why We Can’t Defend Art Briles Anymore.”
I can think of no better descriptor to for the tone of the column than indignation. Let me be clear, I am not decrying the article for its indignant tone. If any topic is worthy of indignation, it is this one. Art Briles, a man who once stood as the most visible face of Baylor, is accused of ignoring victims of sexual assault in order to pad the win column of the Baylor football team. Art Briles stands at the center of one of the greatest college sexual assault scandals of all time, a scandal that occurred at our university under our very noses. Indignation is a reasonable and understandable response. With this in mind, the question then becomes: “Is it the right response?” and more importantly “Is it the response that we are called to have as Christians?” My response to these questions, and thus to Ms. Woytek’s column, centers around a single claim. In addressing the issues surrounding the Baylor sexual assault scandal, we must constantly strive to communicate with one another in a way that exemplifies Christian humility. Furthermore, in order to move forward as a Christian community we must find a way to work together.
In order to address the issues that surround the Baylor sexual assault scandal, we must first emphasize that as Christians, our response to any situation must always be made in full awareness of our responsibility not only to fellow members of the Baylor community, but more importantly in light of our responsibility to God. We can see how this responsibility should shape our reaction by looking at two sources. First, the gospel of Matthew tells us in chapters 4-5, “How can you think of saying to your friend,[a] ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Before criticizing others, we must first make sure to adopt an attitude of humility. If we are not humble, we are likely to fall into the trap of hypocrisy. How can we apply this humility in this situation? We can see an answer to this question by looking at The “Rule of St. Benedict.” In Chapter 8, St. Benedict outlines the importance of humility for those living in Christian community. He offers 12 steps by which Christians might cultivate humility and in doing so, might manifest “the perfect love of God, which casts out fear.” In order to fully understand Benedict’s writings on humility, it is important to understand that for Benedict, humility is only truly expressed in full obedience to God. With this in mind, we can see how Benedict’s writing applies to the Baylor sexual assault scandal when he states: “It is in this obedience [to God] under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions [a Christian’s] heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.” He clarifies and emphasizes this idea again when he says, “In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord’s command: When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also, when pressed into service for one mile, they go two.” It is with this understanding that I offer my criticism of Ms. Voytek’s column.
The indignant tone of Ms. Voytek’s column eschews humility in favor of harsh and unrelenting criticism. We can see even in Ms. Voytek’s own column the consequence of the kind of stand that she is taking. In the article she states that “it bothers [her] that [her] friends who publicly decry [Art Briles] now are the same ones who rushed to find a last-minute game day outfit to ‘Blackout for Briles.’ The same ones who sported ‘CAB’ in black sharpie on their hands for weeks.” There is a reality here that isn’t addressed. Over the last nine months, the Baylor population has had little to no evidence regarding why Art Briles was fired. The Board of Regents has chosen to repeatedly hide the facts of what happened. As a result, when each new piece of information has been revealed, opinions have undulated and changed over and over again.
A lack of humility is what lies at the base of the problem that Ms. Voytek sees. Each and every time new information is released, the Baylor community has rushed to ever newer conclusions. We have all forgotten to step back and consider that the information we have is not whole, and that in rushing to make strong statements, we reveal over and over again our own ignorance. Even now, we do not fully know the truth that surrounds the firing of Art Briles. It is no coincidence that the Board of Regents has chosen to release only the information that supports their cause. The column’s headline states, “We can’t defend Art Briles anymore,” but my ultimate question is this: How can we defend ourselves? When we look back at our Facebook posts and text messages and see how we have allowed popular opinion to sway us back and forth, how can we defend ourselves? When we reject Christian humility in order to elevate ourselves, we fall victim to pride. As Benedict states, “every exaltation is a form of pride.” Too often we use a tragedy to convince ourselves that we are good by piling hatred onto Art Briles, or any other public figure who has been set up to take blame. I am not saying that Art Briles is guilt free — he has responsibility for what happened. However, we have a responsibility as Christians to react in humility, not hatred.
Ms. Voytek concludes by saying: “I hope it’s the victims of sexual assault who receive the outpouring of love and support, not the ones who allowed it to happen.” This is the most dangerous form of false dichotomy. Ms. Voytek implies that you must either support Art Briles or support victims of sexual assault. This is simply not true. If we come together as a Christian community in humility, I believe that we will come to realize that we have a responsibility to offer love and support to every member of Baylor Nation. There is nothing to be gained from attempting to decry or insult anyone else here at Baylor. For victims of sexual assault who have come forward in bravery to report crimes committed against them, we should offer nothing but love and support. If we want to prevent this tragedy from occurring again, we have to come together as one. We must stop seeing each other as enemies, and we must stop lashing out against those who disagree with us.
J.R.R. Tolkien illustrates this in part in his epic work of creation titled “The Silmarillion.” In this myth, Tolkien imagines the creation of the world as a result of a great orchestral movement. Though each individual person in an orchestra plays something different, they all come together to form a whole. Even when one member of the chorus breaks away in discord, his own music ultimately adds to the beauty of the work. There should always be room for disagreement and discussion at Baylor, but we must also act in humility to ensure that the conversations we have always contribute both to the Baylor community and to God. We cannot create a safe campus by fighting each other. We cannot serve God if we tear the body of Christ apart. We must all strive to “walk humbly with our God.”
Matthew Graff is a junior great texts of the western tradition major from El Campo.