A Christian Letter to Harvard University on Antisemitism, Truth, and Freedom

By The Stream Published on April 25, 2024

Editor’s Note: On April 23, a group of Harvard University alumni, along with Christian friends throughout the Ivy League university system, sent an open letter to the Harvard Corporation and Harvard University administrators about the open hatred toward Jewish students and the nation of Israel currently on display on college campuses nationwide. The rumbles which began as praise for the Hamas terror attack that resulted in the murder of 1,200 people in Israel last October, as well as 250 others taken hostage (some of whom are still held), escalated  after Iran attacked Israel directly on April 13. Nonetheless, Ive League institutions continue to protect and enable antisemitic and even genocidal language, activism, and protests from students and others on their campuses. 

Christian alumni and friends are now urging Harvard University to return to its mission of truth and stop endangering Jewish students, professors, and staff. The Stream presents the letter to you here in its entirety, and urges all of our readers to stand with the Jewish people — both on our campuses and overseas — in prayer.

TO: Harvard Overseers and Harvard Corporation

FROM: Harvard Christian Alumni and Christian friends of Harvard

April 23, 2024

As Christians, we the undersigned hold that all human beings bear the image of God and are of inestimable value. Therefore, we grieve for the 1,200 people who were murdered in the October 7, 2023 Hamas terror attacks in Israel, as well as the 250 who were taken hostage, and for all who have suffered in the wake of those attacks.

The atrocities of October 7 also deeply affected the lives of Jewish students at Harvard who were targeted by supporters of Hamas for harassment and even violence. The failure of those leading the university at that time to provide a robust response created great challenges and also an opportunity for deep reflection and course correction. As loyal alumni and friends of the university, we stand in solidarity with Harvard’s Jewish community, and we sincerely desire to see our alma mater live up to the calling of its motto, Veritas. Therefore, we urge the university to:

1) Add concerned alumni to the Presidential Task Forces on Combating Anti-Semitism.

2) Improve viewpoint diversity by rooting out all discrimination against Christians, Jews and other people of faith in hiring faculty.

3) Restore an environment in which Jews, Christians, Muslims, and, indeed, all members of the Harvard community are welcome to engage in truth-seeking (including moral truth-seeking) and robust debate without fear or favor.

Harvard’s founding mottos were, In Christi Gloriam (for the Glory of Christ) and later, Veritas, Christo et Ecclesiae (Truth for Christ and the Church). Later, to make clear that the University welcomed people of other faiths, and not only Christians, the popular motto was shortened to simply Veritas. We hope that Harvard has not changed, and will never change, its commitment to the principle, rooted in the biblical understanding of man as made in the image and likeness of God, that every member of the human family, without distinction, is the bearer of profound, inherent, and equal dignity.

Those who share the Christian faith of the undersigned look unceasingly to Christ, who is veritas, who offers forgiveness and redemption. Although frail and fallen, we strive to love, as Christ loves, and to bring healing, as Christ brings healing, to this broken and suffering world. This effort to share in God’s work of redemption links us, we believe, to Harvard’s Christian founders.

At the same time, we enthusiastically, gratefully, and joyfully join with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, at Harvard and beyond her walls, to honor the image of God in all men and women, especially the weak, the vulnerable, the despised. In working together, across the lines of theological division, we believe that our university and our world can be reformed and renewed.

Although we were disappointed by the University leadership’s response to October 7th and to the targeting of Jewish students by anti-Semitic elements on campus, we are not asking Harvard to take sides on issues in dispute between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership. We do not expect, or want, Harvard University to have a foreign policy. But we do expect and want Jewish students, Muslim students, Christian students, and indeed all students to be able freely to advocate for what they believe in without fear of harassment or violence. And we do want Harvard to root out the discrimination in hiring that prevents the University from having anything remotely approaching the measure of viewpoint diversity in matters of religion and politics that a great university in a pluralistic democratic society should have.

As the university charts a path forward, its leaders should work to restore an environment of intellectual freedom where faculty and students can seek the truth without fearing marginalization, ostracism, and punishment from the university. Harvard should be a place where students grow in understanding by reading and hearing a wide range of opinions and by subjecting their own ideas to rigorous scrutiny.

The university serves students by giving them the tools to be truth seekers themselves. This requires a commitment to humble and charitable debate, and robust curiosity and inquiry. And Harvard’s leaders can model truth-seeking by engaging in fruitful collegial discussion and disagreement with people of other views, and speaking the truth even when it is unpopular (which is often when it matters most).

Harvard’s lack of viewpoint diversity is well-documented. Former Harvard president Derek Bok wrote that conservative thought is now “nearly absent” due to the predominance of Left-leaning professors who often outnumber conservatives by 10 to one — or more. For decades, people who deny, doubt, and or challenge secular liberal orthodoxy have been marginalized and excluded from discussions. Students and faculty alike report that at Harvard, opinions must align with the dominant ideas about politics, religion, and morality to be welcome. We are concerned about the mistreatment of people like Dr. Carole Hooven and Professor Tyler VanderWeele who faced condemnation and marginalization at Harvard for expressing views that did not align with dominant opinion. And Harvard’s last place ranking out of 248 universities on the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) free speech index attests to a culture that stifles expression.

To have a robust campus culture where students can participate in the search for what is true, good, and beautiful, Harvard will need to welcome a wider range of perspectives. Unfortunately, as former Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier writes, some students are subjected to double standards based on whether their beliefs conform to the university’s politics. All students should be treated equally, but some are stigmatized by programs that deem them “privileged.” Jews have been persecuted throughout world history — including, shamefully, by some who have claimed to follow the Jewish rabbi that we as Christians believe is the Son of God. Now, they face a surge of violent attacks against them on American soil, including on college campuses. Nevertheless, they are deemed “privileged.”

Environments where open debate and inquiry are repressed lead to ignorance, prejudice, and abuse of the vulnerable. Anti-Semitism is but one manifestation; any group of students can be targeted for mistreatment. As Harvard searches for a new president, the university needs not just one, but many new leaders who believe it is their duty to foster intellectual and moral inquiry and who are unafraid to face up to the problem of a severe lack of viewpoint diversity.

In a recent speech at Princeton University, author Abigail Shrier counted the high costs of losing freedom and named the courage that is required to reclaim it. We commend this speech to you as you consider the qualifications of Harvard’s new leaders and the concrete steps that must be taken to return Harvard to the purpose for which it was founded — seeking veritas.

Sincerely,

Harvard Christian Alumni and Christian friends of Harvard

Co-authors and early signatories: * Names are for identification purposes only.

Robert P. George, MTS 1981; JD, HLS 1981; McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

Emilie Kao, AB 1996; JD, HLS 1999

Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Frmr. chaplain to graduate students; Harvard-Radcliffe United Ministries 1991-2000; Founder, the Veritas Forum; Editor/co-author, Finding God at Harvard

Arseny James Melnick, HGSAS 1977

Additional signatories, including:

Josh Abottoy, HLS 2015

Doreen Torgerson Denny, HKS MPP 1989

Christopher C. Hull, Ph.D., HC 1992

Charles Oellerman, HLS 1991

Gene Pierce, HC 1976

Carrie Sheffield, HKS

John D. Wylie, M.D., Ph.D.; Visiting Fellow HGSAS 2004

We invite additional signatures at www.JohnHarvardFellowship.com

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