May 29, 2024

Gordon Removes Deep Faith Speaker after Controversial Remarks on Gender and Harassment

Kate Walker '22

This article has been updated since its initial publication to reflect new information indicating the college administration had determined the scheduled Deep Faith Week speaker should not continue with the engagement following his remarks in Monday’s chapel, as well as to clarify that Daniels’ 2021 chapel address was not during a previous Deep Faith Week.

The college’s administration has quickly removed former Adjunct Professor Marvin Daniels from his three upcoming Deep Faith sermons following several controversial remarks he made in his first sermon. The comments, deemed by many students to be transphobic and predatory, elicited campus-wide outrage, leading many to flood the Chapel Office and President Hammond’s inboxes with their concerns. In response, Hammond sent an email to inform students that Daniels was removed from Deep Faith Week, and that he would be speaking in evening chapel in his place. ALANA, Gordon’s club for inclusivity, organized a Solidarity gathering, wherein Gordon’s LGBTQIA+ students and women victims of sexual harassment shared their poetry and stories.  

The event that started the controversy was Daniels’s Valentine’s Day sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:21, which reads: For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” To illustrate his point, Daniels called up six students to hold signs that read: “Anger,” “Lying,” “Hurt,” “Identity,” and “Sexual Behaviors.” After speaking in detail about each of the five, he replaced them with a sign that read “Right with Christ.” 

Addressing the impact of social media on identity, Daniels said,

“And we see this all the time—that people don’t know who they are…. And Jesus says, ‘You know what, if you hang with me, I could tell you who you are. I designed you, I fashioned you as my masterpiece. I’m perfect in all that I do, so when I create you, I create you with perfection. You don’t need to live in confusion, because if I designed you to be male and I designed you to be female, in my perfection, I’ve done that. So what could you add to perfect?’”

This was the first of several to be flagged as speech against non-cisgender people. Daniels continued on to the next sign, which read “Sexual Behaviors.”  

“It’s amazing to see that even in the church, my Christian brothers out there treating young ladies like they’re urinals. And I’m concerned about that. And I’m concerned by my Christian sisters who dress like they’re desserts on a menu and then they get upset when a brother wanna place an order.” 

This was not the first time that Daniels made this joke about sexual harassment. Several students have commented that they remembered hearing this same remark from Daniels in 2021, when he was invited under the Lindsay administration to speak at chapel with a pre-recorded sermon. This year, however, students did not tolerate the off-color jokes, especially after the predatory comment that followed.  

“We got a culture in chaos. And they tryna redefine sexuality for us—always crossing lines left and right. What was appropriate before is no longer appropriate. We got individuals that say ‘I feel like I’m a female’ and they get a chance to participate in female activities. Back in the day, I wish that would work. I would’ve been saying “I wish I were a female so I could get in the Girls’ Locker Room.” 

Student volunteers visibly uncomfortable moments after disaster

The uncomfortable silence that lingered on after Daniels’s first joke was now broken up by a handful of boos and murmurs from the audience. Caleigh Williams (‘24), one of the volunteers holding a sign on the stage, said that even masked, the audience was visibly tense, an unsettling atmosphere for a chapel service.

“You can see fear in people’s eyes. There was fear, there was concern.” She went on to say that no one made a move to stop Daniels from talking, even though he only had two minutes left of allotted time. “Even if we have to end two minutes early, two minutes can spare someone years of pain, years of trauma.” 

In the silence from administration that followed the chapel message, students planned a walk out before Daniels’s second scheduled sermon, sharing this message across social media: “Hey, we’re organizing a walkout at tonight’s chapel as a peaceful resistance. We will be attending chapel for worship but leaving as the speaker (Daniels) starts preaching his message. We want to show Gordon that they cannot continue inviting someone who will spread more hate than love.” 

However, administration was already meeting to discuss the removal of Daniels from Deep Faith Week. The push from V.P. of Student Life Kenny Kidd to issue a formal apology to the students solidified that decision. President Hammond sent a short email to the student body, wherein he stated that “Our scheduled speaker, Marvin Daniels, will not be speaking this evening, and I will be taking this opportunity to personally address some concerns within our campus community following this morning’s opening session.”  

Nearly every seat in evening chapel was filled by 9pm. Hammond opened the conversation, apologizing for the tactless message delivered that morning. Dr. Sharon Ketcham followed with a message that acknowledged the hurt caused by Daniels and discussed the effects of misguided assertions of power.  

After chapel, many students stayed for ALANA’s Solidarity event, which was primarily organized by members of the queer community at Gordon. Six students shared powerful messages and poems about identity and sexual harassment in religious circles. It was a time for lament, community, poetic expression, and healing. For perhaps the first time in Gordon’s history, LGBTQIA+ students stood on the stage of the chapel in front of the president of the college and spoke about the pride and beauty in their identity.  

 Max Kane (’23), an advocate for queer students on campus, commented on the evening’s events.  

“I commend Hammond for even getting on stage and addressing the fact that something wrong was done. But it still hurts a lot to not have him say anything specifically about what happened. He was very vague about what communities were hurt about what things were said. He never even said the speaker’s name…. I could tell that he was hurt by it and I could tell that he really hurt for us, but I don’t think he’s even allowed to say anything, even if he wants to.” 

Reflecting on the Solidarity event, Kane said,

“It sucks to have to be in a position of ‘My identity can’t be spoken onstage unless it’s an unofficial time or if someone attacks it’…. But I think it is some kind of step, because there’s never been anything like that before. No one has ever proudly come out as nonbinary on stage. No one has read queer poetry on stage that I know of. And so that is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t mean that more right steps will come after it. I think there needs to be more pressure…. It’s just about human dignity, which I think is the biggest problem with what happened yesterday.”  

Several students have reached out with similar sentiments.

In an email to campus the following afternoon, President Hammond addressed one of the key questions everyone was asking: What did Daniels have to say about all of this? The email reads: “Mr. Daniels apologized to Chaplain Bob Whittet and to me after we addressed this with him on Monday, and he was willing to do the same with students in the evening Chapel. However, we felt it best to move forward with this year’s DEEP FAITH program without his involvement.” 

Bob Whittet offered a statement on behalf of the Chapel Office.

“I was both surprised and incredibly disappointed that our invited guest speaker used language and illustrations that were inappropriate and hurtful to our students and community at the deepest level during the Deep Faith chapel on Monday morning. I am sorry for the hurt that his remarks have caused within our community. As a chapel staff our desire is to minister to the whole of the Gordon community as we seek to lean into our faith in Christ. We are working alongside RDs and the counseling office to provide pastoral care to our community.” 

Controversy did not end there. Rumors spread across campus that because Daniels is Black, AFRO Hamwe must have been responsible for choosing him as the speaker for Deep Faith Week. In an open letter shared on their Instagram, AFRO Hamwe shut down the rumors immediately.  

“We at AFRO Hamwe unequivocally denounce and condemn the words and statements made during yesterday’s chapel by Pastor Marvin Daniels…. We would also like to take the time to denounce any rumor that AFRO Hamwe had any part in choosing the speaker for Deep Faith Week. We do not have the jurisdiction for such choices. It is harmful to us as an organization, whose mission it is to utilize the Fruits of the Spirit to uplift, educate, and care for our AFRO Students, to say such things.” 

For the time being, Dr. Amy Hughes, Dr. Sharon Ketcham, and Kori North, Director of Spiritual Formation have stepped in to speak at the third Deep Faith chapel service. The time was utilized as a space for reflection on how Gordon College can move forward following the events of this week.

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