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Role of gay marriage advocacy at Fun. concert raises concerns

File photo.
File photo.

The band Fun. is partnering with a nonprofit organization in order to promote marriage equality during its fall tour. However, per Calvin’s request, the band will not bring that organization to campus on Nov. 14.

The organization REVERB, an environmental sustainability nonprofit, launched the Campus Consciousness Tour (CCT) in order to link college students with local causes. CCT partnered with Fun. this fall to advocate for the cause of marriage equality.

“LGBTQ equality has always been an important issue for Fun.,” reads the band’s website. “This Campus Consciousness Tour is focused on mobilizing college students to actively support LGBTQ equality, both in their lives and in the voting booth.”

“Colleges are fertile ground for activism and change,” said Nate Ruess, lead singer of Fun. “It’s exactly where we need to be as we launch our support for LGBTQ equality.”

At other schools on the tour, the CCT collects $1 per ticket for a local marriage equality nonprofit. It also sets up booths at the concert representing local marriage equality organizations. Fun.’s own marriage equality organization, The Ally Coalition, also advocates at the concerts.

Calvin’s administration is not allowing these two components of Fun.’s fall tour to be present at the band’s Calvin concert.

Ken Heffner, student activities director, recognized, however, that Fun. is still able to advocate for marriage equality during the concert.

“What we fully anticipate is that the band is going to talk about this on stage. I’d be surprised if they didn’t,” he said.

Calvin booked the band in June through a binding verbal agreement without the CCT component, according to Heffner. Later, when the band wanted to bring CCT to the concert, Calvin requested that Fun. not bring the organization to campus.

Fun. “readily agreed” to this arrangement, said Shirley Hoogstra, vice president for student life.

“I am utterly appalled…”

Members of the Calvin community have expressed concern surrounding the concert. Some are concerned about Calvin inviting a band that advocates against the Christian Reformed Church’s (CRC) positions on homosexuality and marriage.

Because of Calvin’s affiliation with the CRC, the college adopts the denomination’s position that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman.

The CRC’s position on homosexuality says that homosexual orientation is a “condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world,” according to the denomination’s website.

The position states that homosexuals “should not be denied community acceptance based solely on their orientation.” It goes on to say that explicit homosexual practice is “incompatible with obedience to the will of God.”

The college received eight letters from both alumni and people outside the Calvin community that expressed concern over Fun.’s role in marriage equality advocacy, and in some cases, called for Calvin to cancel the concert.

“I am utterly appalled that the college would permit the group Fun. to perform on campus,” read one letter, whose author’s name was withheld by the college.

“Listening to and supporting groups with a clear and outspoken political agenda advocating values that are absolutely contradictory to scripture is not redeeming culture,” it continued. “The political agenda they openly state as the reason for this tour ought to be enough to make Calvin take a stand and not allow them on our campus.”

“There is a point where tolerance and acceptance of others’ social actions crosses a critical line,” wrote another person. “I believe … the administration that allows this type of cultural diversity has crossed that line.”

Hoogstra said that college primarily booked the band for its musical talent and did not make the decision based on its political leanings.

“We invited a band with a known performance value. We invite many persons to campus who have personal or professional alliances that may or may not align with Calvin,” Hoogstra said.

“They are an earnest young band that creates thoughtful, creative and exciting music,” she continued. “They are actively trying to create popular music that avoids the cynicism that sometimes is found in contemporary popular culture.”

Hoogstra said that Calvin has no intention to cancel the concert.

Hoogstra said that Fun.’s marriage equality advocacy can help enliven campus-wide discussions on the issue, one that has been prominent on campus since Calvin was named on the Princeton Review’s LGBT-unfriendly list earlier this year.

“When we bring live entertainment to Calvin College, it is because we are creating a laboratory for an experience that will bring to life conversation and discussion,” Hoogstra said. “When a college invites a live performance, the conversation doesn’t just end at the end of the performance. As a community we can continue to talk about things that occur on campus.”

Concerns arise over language in “Some Nights”

Other letters expressed concern over the language in Fun.’s songs. The band’s hit “Some Nights” uses the F-word.

“Listening to their song ‘Some Nights,’ in which they use God’s name in vain in the first 30 seconds and continue on in vile language, I hardly knew what to think,” read one letter.

“Hosting this group is totally opposite of the message we heard this weekend during inauguration,” wrote another person.

Heffner said that the F-word in the song “Some Nights” is not misused. He said that while swear words can be used in a flippant, cavalier way, the band uses the word with a purpose, in a way similar to literature.

Hoogstra said that she appreciated the letters of concern and how they help her think actively about the role of cultural discernment at Calvin.

“When Jesus said to be in the world but not of the world, the command is clear; the living it out can feel untidy,” she said.

Calvin passes on CCT

The college also has backed up its decision to request that the CCT not collect $1 per ticket or bring in local marriage equality advocacy groups.

In order to keep prices low for students, Calvin does not allow any money to be added to ticket prices for any cause. Since Calvin is a nonprofit organization, it raises money for other nonprofits under very rare circumstances.

Calvin also did not want unknown groups coming to campus through CCT to set up booths to form what CCT calls a “village.”

“While we had the choice in inviting Fun. as performers, we were not inviting unknown causes or groups to be a part of a Calvin concert experience,” said Hoogstra.

“Having a booth on campus without an opportunity to contextualize it would lead to misunderstanding about the position of the CRC,” she continued. “We wanted to lessen confusion.”

The conversation continues

Sophomore Seth Wilson is a leader in Sexuality Awareness, Gender Acceptance (SAGA), a peer education group of both LGBT and straight students sponsored by the Broene Counseling Center.

“Our goal at SAGA is to create a safer campus, and I think Fun. has the same goal,” he said. “If you don’t talk about [LGBT issues], it isn’t going to go away. It feels a little bit like it is being brushed under the rug, out of sight.”

However, Wilson said that Calvin is encouraging good conversation on the topic.

“We have lots of people willing to engage in the conversation,” he said. “It’s definitely getting better. Shirley Hoogstra is doing a lot; she’s always been great support, and President Le Roy is going to be coming to a SAGA meeting sometime soon.”

Hoogstra reinforced that the conversation is happening around campus.

“We aren’t pushing the conversation away,” she said. “We have a lot of conversation about LGBT issues at Calvin and it’s pretty vibrant.”

About the Author

Ryan Struyk

Ryan Struyk was the Chimes editor in chief for fall 2013. He's a senior studying mathematics and political science. Being a journalist means being both student and teacher of the world, and that’s why his job is the best one out there.

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