Harding University should not change the name of the Benson Auditorium. My position is an unpopular opinion, especially coming from a black man. Issues of racism and America’s history of slavery and segregation create cause for a greater need. The idea of righting the wrong of racism on Harding’s campus by removing the name of a man from a building fails to address the many racial wrongs that were done to many people on Harding’s campus long after George Benson. How do we right those wrongs? Here are my top 5 reasons for why Harding should not change the name of the Benson auditorium:
1. It’s a measly response
Slavery and segregation is permanently etched on the walls of American history and tangible bad influences on black people’s lives. Slavery and segregation’s influence permeated into the Church and into every learning institution in the country. In fact, the Federal Government had to make it stop because Christians didn’t step up to the plate. Years of influence that led to George Benson’s position on segregated education prove that racism leaked into areas where GOD demands unity. Harding is getting off the hook too easily if all that’s required to neutralize years of influence is changing a name. Let’s say “it’s a starting point”. Bad starting points or starting points with a low bar, of necessity, result in bad resolution or resolution with a low bar. Harding, Harding Alumni, Harding Black Alumni, and Harding’s Black students should challenge Harding and all Christian people to a higher standard. Years of racism should be challenged by things that change hearts and cause comfort zones to be compromised. For example, change the on-campus experience for black students so there is no black or white culture. Create a more prominent African-American History program. Allocate $1 million for educating blacks in underserved communities. Provide assistance to struggling black churches, and on and on. There are all kinds of ideas that set a higher bar for racial improvements on Harding’s campus and with Harding’s influence. Removing his name is a lackluster response to a much greater need.
2. It stifles necessary conversations
There simply needs to be more discussion after one proposal. Black people have been crying out for hundreds of years – nearly all of which have fallen on deaf ears. Removing George Benson’s name at the behest of a petition, with no other options or conversations causes blacks and whites to miss crucial discussions that create deeper and more meaningful understanding. Are there better ideas? What could happen if a large cohort of alumni came together to critically think about solid approaches to solving issues of race in America and on Harding’s campus? I can personally attest as a black man that there are conversations needed to make differences. Stopping at one suggestion prohibits the potential to make real change.
3. It doesn’t tell the story
What is the value of the story of King David’s sin? It’s redemption. GOD’s love despite David’s sin helped David and GOD’s people move forward. Had GOD annihilated David the story would have been incomplete. There wouldn’t have been a Temple or more glorious victories over enemies to show GOD’s power. Let’s tell the whole story of redemption and progress. Once we were at point A and now we’re at point B because we’re Christian people living for justice, unity, and salvation for other people.
4. It doesn’t challenge Christians
If we cease to honor a man who has flaws, we would have to stop honoring Moses, David, Jonah, Peter, and nearly all of the Bible characters. Should David be dishonored because he murdered and took a man’s wife? Christianity disallows that. In spiritual communities, Christians are challenged by reactions. The gut reaction would be to remove the name in anger for a man’s shortcomings. As a black man, I can tell multiple stories of why anger could be justified. As a Christian I am challenged to forgive and move forward. Worldly communities can do whatever they want but we’re different. The Bible that is the foundation for Harding to even exist honors fallible men and challenges us to forgive and not throw the first stone.
Removing letters on the side of a building doesn’t challenge white Christians. What does removing letters do for the white dad who doesn’t want his precious daughter to come home with a black football player after her first semester at Harding? A girl is taken out of Harding because she likes a black man after her sister “tells” on her to her parents – but we took a name off of a building. Fail. What can Harding do to challenge the sister and the parents to see a black young man the same way that his Creator sees him?
5. It makes us miss our goal
James 5 calls us to go out and save souls for multiple reasons. James said “..my brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Perhaps a better response by Harding would be to move forward by going out into underserved communities across the country and saving people. Harding has the resources to save those souls spiritually and then saving them from the plague of generational poverty by educating blacks. Inviting members of those underserved communities to learn scripture on a deeper level is critical for changing lives and communities.