Letters: September 10, 1997

Chapel Ceremony

In response to the July 2 letters condemning the same-sex marriage in the Chapel, the board of trustees of the Fund for Reunion wishes to add its collective voice to the many who have written in support of the university's decision to provide venue for that ceremony.
It has long been the university's position that the Chapel is a place for spiritual expression, regardless of the particular characteristics of those who use it for that purpose or for the particular stamp of their spirituality. That the graduates whose commitment ceremony the Chapel hosted were not only gay but also self-described atheists seems to have tested fully the university's allegiance to that position. Commendably, the university did the right thing.
The decision to support two men who wished to have their union celebrated in the Chapel was surely made with full knowledge that it would create controversy among certain alumni. Nearly 30 years ago, the decision on coeducation was made with the same knowledge. The university is certainly stronger today because of that earlier decision, and we believe it will be made stronger still by this recent one.
As the century closes, our alumni acknowledge with shame that Princeton was one of the last of the so-called elite colleges to open its enrollment to students of African descent. In the next century, alumni will acknowledge with pride that Princeton was one of the first to endorse the right of everyone to a socially sanctioned ritual expression of love and commitment.
New York, N.Y.

I was saddened to read the letters attacking Sue Anne Steffey Morrow for marrying two men in the Chapel. My understanding of the Christian message is that we are all beloved children of God, all equally and unconditionally accepted, "just as we are, without one plea."
We are all precious in God's sight, and I am thankful that Deans Morrow and Williamson have the love, compassion, and wisdom to know that truth, and the courage to act on it.
Princeton, N.J.

As a boy growing up in West Virginia during the 1940s and 1950s, I had absolutely no context in which to place my sexual feelings. Neither my family nor schools nor my Lutheran Church, nor the movies I saw on Saturday afternoons nor the songs I heard on the Hit Parade, touched what I was feeling. Some cautious testing at puberty taught me that, by and large, I should keep my feelings to myself. In this regard, Princeton in the late 1950s was neither better nor worse than the rest of my life. It was merely more of the same.
After Princeton, it took me 14 years and a loving but inevitably doomed marriage to come to understand and to begin to accept a very essential truth about myself.
My partner and I have been in a fully committed relationship for over 21 years. I personally feel neither the need nor the wish for a spiritual ceremony to validate our union. Our life together is testimony enough.
Greenport, N.Y.

Michael Beer *95 and Jason Rudy '97, who were married in the Chapel, exemplify characteristics most prized by generations of Princetonians. They are courageous, self-assured, confident, and brave young men who know who they are and what they value. They have made a commitment to fidelity and union before the community at a time when quite the opposite is the norm.
That these men in their 20s are quoted as being atheists is neither shocking nor news, nor does that set them apart from the student body as a whole. What is significant is their decision, despite their avowed atheism, to declare their pledges before God. The last word regarding anyone's spiritual development has yet to be written.
Philadelphia, Penn.

More than most species, Homo sapiens is endowed with an innate need to bond. In the Christian community, the earliest theological debates focused on the meaning of freedom and conscience, abandoning deeply held prejudices about right and wrong. This led to practices in the early Church that offended the legalistic moralists. It has recently been documented that one of these early practices was the blessing of same-gender relationships.
As an older alumnus, I take great solace in the movement toward true personal freedom being forged by many brave brothers and sisters. Today, there are hundreds of churches in which "who a person is" is not only embraced but celebrated, and at least three denominations where this has been a nonissue for decades. And within every denomination there are hundreds of clergy performing same-gender holy unions, with or without official sanction.
Bishop, the Agape Church of St. Louis
St. Louis, Mo.

I appreciated Dean of the Chapel Joseph Williamson's letter in the July 2 PAW, especially his setting the record straight about the nature of the Chapel as a welcoming place for the entire Princeton community. As a freshman I was required to attend Chapel with no regard to the fact that I was an atheist, as indeed I still am. I found the Chapel to be a sanctuary, a place of solemnity and meditation, although not for me a holy place. There is no desecration of such a place if nonreligious people use it for its special character.
Newville, Penn.

Like it or not, Princeton is becoming a place of inclusion, where respect for human dignity rises above crusty tradition and the grumblings of dyspeptic alumni. Princeton's community now includes gay couples, same-sex parents bringing up children on campus grounds, non-Christians who use the Chapel with every bit as much fervor as Christians, and countless others who may not have been completely accepted in the Princeton of old but who are now fully participating members of today's campus community. No amount of vitriol will stop Princeton's movement toward inclusion and respect for all human beings. Those who claim otherwise risk becoming estranged from the very institution they are trying so hard to protect.
San Francisco, Calif.

I can't help wondering if some alumni are confused about where their degrees come from. This isn't Bob Jones University, and the last time I checked, Princeton still opened its doors to people regardless of race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.
In all of this I am reminded of Christ's rejoinder to the religious leaders who criticized his disciples for violating a Sabbath law, that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Surely the Chapel was made for Princetonians, and not Princetonians for the Chapel.
San Francisco, Calif.

As promoted in its literature from the admission office and Annual Giving, the Princeton of 1997 is dedicated to ideals of diversity and tolerance, and to critically examining the mores and standards of our society. In this light, it is entirely appropriate that Princeton lead the way in redefining outdated notions of what it means to be a part of civil society. To forge a community that is truly in the nation's service, tolerance and compassion are crucial.
San Francisco, Calif.

While many gay couples seek formal recognition of their commitment, many of the rest of us see only the ignorance, cowardice, and hypocrisy that church leaders and politicians evidence on this issue and wonder why anyone would choose to be a part of that ugly mess. As my partner and I prepare to celebrate our 25 years of love and commitment, we do so without the trappings of either church or state, content in our own happiness and the loving support of our families and friends.
Phoenix, Ariz.

Gay marriage strengthens rather than threatens heterosexual marriage by affirming the importance of lifelong commitments between two people in love. Those who oppose gay marriage apparently wish to drive gays back into the closet, a move that could only result in increased instances of self-destructive behavior and suicide. We remind those who use the Bible to condemn homosexuality that similar tactics have been used throughout history in attempts to justify many true abominations. We encourage those who object to such ceremonies to get to know some real gay and lesbian couples, rather than the stereotypes often presented in the media.
Arlington, Va.
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

It would seem difficult to miss the irony in the recent eruption of spleen regarding the same-sex marriage performed in the Chapel. For years, the outcry of many who condemn gays and lesbians for their audacity to exist has centered on the assertion that they flout cherished values of responsibility, monogamy, and stability. Now that two gay men have affirmed these values, rancor in a new tongue comes hissing from the other side of the mouth of intolerance.
Not content to cloak their sentiments merely in religious self-righteousness, at least two letter writers contend that the ceremony was illegal. One might have hoped these pundits could have discerned that, while not legally binding in New Jersey, the ceremony itself was not an illegal act. But when prejudice and enmity cloud our minds and hearts, logic is usually the first victim. The other victims are, of course, the millions who have had the misfortune to be members of a disfavored minority. Earlier in this century, one might have been deluged in a similar miasma of malevolence regarding an interracial marriage.
Santa Monica, Calif.

Over the years I have been repeatedly offended by the homophobic drivel in your pages. The intolerance many of your readers proudly espouse is shameful; the editorial stance that encourages such intolerance is offensive. Your failure to accept and embrace gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the Princeton community, many of whom are among its most distinguished academic and financial contributors, betrays poor judgment, in that it alienates people who would otherwise support the university.
I would give significant amounts of money to the university if I had not experienced so much homophobia as an undergraduate and if I did not continue to find so many blatantly homophobic opinions in your pages. Instead, I give my money to the University of Pennsylvania, where I attended medical school, and to the University of California at San Francisco, because of their strongly supportive positions toward gay students and faculty members.
San Francisco, Calif.

Wasted Education
Julie Rawe '97's On the Campus column of June 4 was a shocker. Her misty-eyed sentimentality about winding up her Princeton career was touching enough, but she writes that she and 63 percent of seniors surveyed listed "friends" as the most important aspect of their four-year experience. She cannot remember the 30 classes she took, and writes that "study breaks inevitably lasted longer than our study sessions, and there were many nights when we never got around to studying at all."
This was supposed to be funny, let's put it in context. We are talking about one of the world's great universities, crammed with wonderful professors, courses, books, and facilities. Thousands of qualified applicants are turned away every year. Princeton is an academic institution of the highest reputation.
In the 1960s, when I spent a year at Princeton studying Arabic in the Critical Languages Program, I enjoyed friends, football games, parties, and playing club hockey. But for the past 30 years, whenever someone mentions Princeton I think of how intellectually stimulating it was, how rigorous and exhilarating. I think of professors like Philip Hitti, R. Bayley Winder, T. Cuyler Young, and Norman Itzkowitz. Is Princeton in the 1990s just a social experience? Are today's parents spending $120,000 per child on a four-year country club?
Geneva, Switzerland

First Women
If PAW is to be believed, at least six women attended Princeton and graduated from it more than 100 years before the trustees officially endorsed coeducation. I quote from the June 4 Vintage Class Note, on Robert Stockton 1813: "Stockton had six daughters and three sons, all of whom graduated from the College of New Jersey."
Too bad that precedent took so many years to materialize!
Princeton, N.J.

For the Record
Several readers pointed out an error in our July 2 cover line and story about the men's lacrosse team. The team's record for the year was 15-0. We apologize to the national champions and to Coach Bill Tierney for depriving them of a victory. Hey, when you win that many games, it's easy to lose count.