For the love of God!

CNU’s choice of a Christian missionary as commencement speaker is questionable

CNU’s recent announcement of Suzanne Scheuble as the Class of 2019’s commencement speaker perplexed many graduating seniors looking forward to their big day. There is a lingering question as to why someone who is the same age as us (or in my case, younger) should be qualified to send us off as we journey into the real world. 

What possible qualifications could someone have accomplished at our age that enables them to lecture to us about how to live our lives? Minimums might include having a four year college experience we can relate to, an equivalent experience in the working world, or independent accomplishments not organized and subsidized by your church or family.  The school would like us to believe that Scheuble has experienced the real world herself, touting her experience founding a specialized care home in Ethiopia. What is missing from CNU’s announcement is any mention of the fact that Scheuble is engaged in Christian missionary work.

The school says Scheuble’s inspiration behind founding Lantu’s Home of Hidden Treasures was a particularly gruesome visit to Ethiopia, “where she witnessed abandoned babies, people dying of AIDS, and children suffering from starvation and tuberculosis.” 

Scheuble describes her experience a bit differently. On her website, netsanetministries.com, she writes that “when [she] was in sixth grade, she knew God was calling for her to care for orphans in Ethiopia.” 

After visits to multiple orphanages and “witnessing the appalling conditions of some of these institutions, God gave her a vision.” This vision became Lantu’s Home of Hidden Treasures, from which point on Scheuble began to “[seek] to provide care for impoverished, special needs and orphaned children with the freedom of Christ’s perfect love.” 

Noticeably absent from CNU’s announcement is any mention of visions sent to Scheuble from God. 

The school describes the Lantu Home’s mission as to “create beautiful places of love and joy for special needs orphans and abandoned children in Ethiopia to grow, heal and be treasured.” 

The school does not mention that this is actually the mission of Scheuble’s Netsanet Ministries, whose mission is to “create and support beautiful places of love and joy for special needs orphans and abandoned children in Ethiopia to grow, heal, and be treasured by the compassion of Jesus Christ.” It looks like CNU might not have wanted the student body to be fully aware of Scheuble’s mission. Scheuble’s website provides background on both Lantu’s Home and Netsanet Ministries, but it’s unclear as to whether or not they are separate entities.

Let’s make one thing clear here. Absolutely no one can disagree with providing healthcare to children. And I, for one, have no quarrel with Christianity. But I do have a bone to pick with missionary work. 

Read the description both CNU and Scheuble have provided to you of Ethiopia. From their perspective, the country sounds like a Mad-Max esque hellscape, one that can apparently only be fixed by a “white savior.” 

While CNU’s announcement was misleading about the nature of Scheuble’s missionary work (by the way, not cool, CNU), Scheuble comes outright on her website and say that she wishes “to bring Christ’s freedom to the abandoned.” This statement is patronizing, to put it lightly. 

Ask yourself these questions: do you think that humanitarian aid should only be provided as a means of converting the needy to “Christ’s freedom?” Do you really think there is not a single Ethiopian who has recognized any problems with childcare or healthcare in their society? 

If there are societal issues of such scale occurring in Ethiopia, I don’t want to hear from the white American missionary telling horror stories about them, I want to hear from one of the creative, enterprising citizens of Ethiopia working from within to solve them. 

It’s worth noting that Scheuble’s husband is an Ethiopian doctor. Instead of hearing from the same tired perspective of the “white savior,” perhaps an individual like him could give us a fresh and worldly point of view into the problems the international community faces and tackles with innovative solutions. That is a perspective that wants to make me set the world on fire.

There is a broader point here to be made about what CNU’s selection of Scheuble as a commencement speaker means for us graduating seniors. Our public, state-funded university has selected a speaker with the same amount of life experience as us to lecture us about how to live because she is “qualified” to do so on the basis of her sectarian work. This is a tacit endorsement of her evangelization, and gives her a platform to do so on one of the most important days of our lives. Search your cnu.edu account email inboxes for “diversity statement,” and you’ll eventually find an email, dated November 1st, 2018, from President Paul Trible outlining the school’s support for diversity. Here’s a few key excerpts: the school “embraces the full spectrum of human attributes, perspectives, and disciplines.” The school is committed to “understanding and respecting differences,” and aims to build a community “where members learn, live, work and serve among individuals with diverse worldviews, identities, and values.” Yet, we will become a captive audience of 10,000 on our commencement to someone our age who is “qualified” to speak to us because of her Christian missionary work. 

I respect everyone’s choice to practice their religious beliefs, but I will not be lectured about mine on the day of my graduation. I grew up in a Turkish-American family with one parent practicing Catholicism and the other practicing Islam. My religious background informs my views on many things, but it is not my primary qualification for the things that I do. Why should this be different with our graduation speaker? 

You’d have to be insane to disagree with providing aid to the needy, but selecting a Christian missionary for our commencement speaker is a step too far. It perpetuates the existence of the white-savior complex and is inherently unwelcoming to students of diverse backgrounds. While this would be the optimal outcome, I’m sure it’s too late to find another speaker (and I’m sure this would ruffle some feathers, considering that Mr. and Mrs. Scheuble ‘81 are “Leadership” Alumni Donors of $10,000 to $25,000). It would have been great to have a speaker distinguished through a series of accomplishments in a field not intertwined with religious advocacy, and someone whose depth of experience and independence of accomplishment were beyond doubt. 

It’s probably too late to fix any of that, but I call upon the school to reaffirm their commitment to diverse backgrounds and worldviews and to ensure that our commencement speech is purely secular. 

In the complex world graduates face in 2019, Christopher Newport University should send us off with a speaker committed to a message impressive in both its breadth and depth, not one rooted in a problematic, singular, and sectarian experience. We’ll be listening.

~Zach Outzen, Staff Writer~


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