Religious Right watchdog site Talk to Action recently noted that the Harvard Extension Service & Leadership Society is hosting the 2011 Social Transformation Conference on April 1st and 2nd. HESLS wants to reassure us that this conference is a positive, diverse, and hate-free event.
“This conference is focused not on drawing lines of division, but on providing an opportunity for students and the community at large to explore how we can transform or improve our society. We have been assured by our speakers that they have not supported any hatred directed towards any group, and that allegations to the contrary are untrue and/or misinterpreted.”
The only problem with this statement is that it isn’t even remotely true. You see, the backers and speakers at this conference are members of the New Apostolic Reformation (aka the “Third Wave”), a neo-pentecostal Christian group obsessed with waging a spiritual war against indigenous religions, Pagan religions, homosexuality, and even Catholicism! Three of the featured speakers have publicly inveighed against the dangers of Witchcraft and “New Age” religions, spurring Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action to note that “it’s been a few years now since witch hunting was in vogue in Massachusetts, but an upcoming conference to be held at Harvard this April 1-2 could help rekindle the practice.”
The staff of the Harvard Crimson have also weighed in, strongly criticizing HESLS’s defense of the event, noting that if some of the participant’s “expressions do not seem like hatred, we are hard pressed to understand what does.”
“By hosting a panel discussion whose participants will merely voice their opinions without being called upon to justify their past incendiary remarks, the event seems to accept incredibly offensive opinions without providing any internal challenge. In a sense, the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community is consequently on trial with this coming conference. Regardless of their subject matter, conferences must nevertheless be held to basic standards of intellectual honesty and accountability, and we simply cannot imagine what value the Social Transformation Conference will bring to our community.”
For those who haven’t been following my coverage of this extremist Christian movement, they have taken credit for the crisis in Japan, and blamed Shinto for God’s wrath, praised the Haitian earthquake for breaking the “strongman of the occult’s” back, provided Sarah Palin a religious mentor who claims to have given a Wiccan chaplain cancer through prayer, believes Japan’s emperor literally slept with a demonic succubus, thinks worship is a weapon, gives fiscal aid to African witch-hunters, burns indigenous/Native art, and are obsessed with destroying the “Queen of Heaven”. In short, they are consumed with a theologically-driven hatred of indigenous and Pagan faiths. Oh, and I think it goes without saying they are rabidly anti-gay.
Let me echo the Harvard Crimson and say that these individuals have the right to believe as they do, and the First Amendment right to air their opinions in the public square, but for them to go unchallenged here, using Harvard to legitimize and paint a veneer of respectability over their almost cartoonishly nefarious goals seriously endangers “the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community.” As for the New Apostolic Reformation, their conceptions of resistance to this conference are typical.
“Today, however, Harvard is known as one of the most liberal universities in America. Recently, a student felt a leading of the Lord to host a Christian marketplace conference on social transformation. Little did he realize the level of opposition that would come against him. It wasn’t long before this conference was met with real opposition from a gay activist group that is seeking to prevent the event from taking place. This group has been effective at causing the Dean to question the merits of such an event. We believe the root of this concern is simply spiritual forces seeking to keep Christ off this campus and fear caused by the gay activists.“
One wonders if all it takes to have Harvard host a hate group is a willing student and a heavily edited press packet. By hosting this group, a message is being sent to religious minorities, indigenous groups, and GLBTQ individuals that they aren’t safe at this campus. That claims from extremists that they in “no way seek to convey any negative message about any group,” are taken at face value despite obvious evidence to the contrary. This isn’t the usual debate about conservative speech being allowed at liberal college campuses, or even conservative Christian speech, this group’s theology and mission transcend the usual left-right debates. This is a group on a mission, one that should concern anyone who doesn’t fit into their very narrow Christian paradigm.