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  • Reverend James Squire

A Response to Harrison Butker's Speech


Let’s respond to the ethical issues that the premier kicker of the Kansas City Chief’s made in a recent commencement speech. (video of the speech at the end) What a response he has gotten from all sides of representatives from the very issues that have divided our nation. Let’s focus on who was giving the speech and the group that he was addressing at the commencement exercises for Benedictine College, a small Roman Catholic College in Kansas and how your listeners determine speech content.


No one should say well you shouldn’t believe what you, Butker said or feel that way, but you should remember that it is not what you say, but who is saying it to as well as the context and how it is delivered. He was speaking at a small conservative school, Benedictine College, so what he said should not surprise anyone. Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and teammates stood behind him as a great teammate. They have shared experience. No surprise there. Jalen Hurts thought he wrong in his condemnation of gay people, women, Biden, Church Leaders, etc. Not a teammate so less supportive.


But leave it to our beloved retired center, Jason Kelce to hit the nail on the ethical head. What he heard was how Butker’s address seemed to be in that genre of speech where you must believe what I am saying if you want to live right. Kelce had a different value system.


Butker knew his audience and received a standing ovation because it seemed authentic to him and to what his audience believed as well. But it went viral, and he had a new audience of diverse people in the whole nation who have different points of view on all the hot button issues that he addressed. I think that is what people were responding to both in agreement and disagreement with him. That is why Jason Kelce said that “If I had your attitude and said your views to my daughters, I would be a bad dad.” Whether he wanted to or not, Butker’s words sounded a lot like “it’s my way or the highway.”


Butker was passionate about his words hence it was why he got choked up when talking about his wife. He knew his audience at the college, but he didn’t anticipate the diverse response that makes up our nation or maybe he did. He would not have changed anything, but I think that people in our country should have responded in a diverse way without attacking him as a person. People’s response came from their different perspective, and some communicated that he was evil incarnate. The NFL didn’t help things by stating their inclusivity statement, but others criticized the organization that didn’t write anything to the public when too many players were beating up their spouses. As soon as they did that or the Chiefs expressing their support of Butker, we were immediately in the land of right/wrong decisions. We are right! You are wrong! No possibility for dialogue and respect.


Just to make things worse, Pope Francis was recently in a private meeting with 250 Italian Bishops when he was asked if gay men should be allowed in seminaries. He said, “No, they are already too full of frociaggine (Italian for faggots). Word got out. So much for private meetings! His group changed. He apologized because he never meant to offend gay men with that slur. He knew the bishops, but never thought that it would be in the public domain. Does he really feel that way about gay people? Private domain versus public domain.


My job at EA was “to know my audience.” It is why I could mandate that you could say what your faith means to you, but you can’t say, “This is not only my truth, but you should believe as I do or else.” Butker’s group was not a diverse group. My people were diverse religiously and politically.


There was an occasion when I forgot who my audience was and paid a heavy price, but I learned a lot from the blowback. I forgot how I and the Student Vestry set the tone for issues discussed in chapel which was always a place that was so special that if I was endorsing it and it was coming from the chapel, it had a higher standard than other venues. It fact, it was the most important place on campus, revered as sacred.


It was in the early 2000s. I learned when we started the new term in September that the Domino Club was giving the Laramie Project as the Fall play. The play is very dramatic and deals with Matthew Shepherd, a gay man killed and was tied to a fence in Wyoming.

We had almost no discussion about sexual orientation issues at that time. So, our community was going to encounter the issue of sexual orientation without any preparation.


A gay member of our faculty and I met and were concerned about the lack of transition from no discussion of sexual orientation to the heavy viewing of the Laramie Project. He volunteered to address a combined chapel of Middle School and Upper School about the importance of respect for others who are different from us. He let people know that he was gay. I would say a high very percentage of his address was about the need to respect differences in people. A very small part of his address was about his sexual orientation.


Here are the mistakes I made. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I failed to see that it would be impossible for Middle School students to process the address when they never discussed such issues. I forgot about the power of my office and of the chapel itself.

Instead of focusing on the respect part of the address that was given, people focused on a perception that “I let someone come out in chapel.” I had moved too fast! The students were not as bothered as the parents and the alumni were. Everyone focused on a small part of his address and missed the bigger picture of having discussions after the Laramie Project to be more productive on respecting differences. A different person in a different place such as the theater may have had a more productive experience.


It was a rough start to engaging a still controversial topic. I am pleased to say that later during outside evaluations of the school that the topic of sexual orientation and other topics of inclusion were given high marks. I became a resource for other Episcopal Schools on how to make their schools more inclusive and that includes people who disagree with a different point of view. All voices in a diverse community are important. I could also share with them how not to do a discussion of sexuality based on the above experience.


Later, in the 2010 + decade when the 50th reunion class wanted one of their classmates who is transgender address chapel at the beginning of our Alumni Weekend, this all-male class chose one of their classmates who was transgender who they regarded with great love and affection. I had a member of the class introduce her, Clemmie Engle, with the same accolades that the class recounted to me about her. The class had very diverse views across the spectrum of conservative and liberal. She was a unanimous choice. Following her address, she received an extended standing ovation from our Upper School students, faculty, and parents who chose to come and hear her. I sat listening to her and thought, depending on your perspective, “Look how far we have come!”


That night my wife and I had dinner with the 50th reunion class. Clemmie was moved to tears by the warm reception that she received.


One of my guidelines in diversity work is that once you get to know someone, labels and stereotypes fall to the wayside. That’s why Butker’s teammates and coach supported him and part of the reason that Jason Kelce and Jalen Hurts didn’t. The same thing happened to Pope Francis. He thought he was talking to 250 Bishops who had a shared purpose. When his slur went viral, he got a much different reaction when it was world news.


The shame of it all was that Butker and those who responded positively and negatively were authentic to their views that he was right or wrong. Ironically, they were living out Esse Quam Videri, to be and not to seem to be. I am not sure about the Pope’s slur to a small group of Bishops. He apologized only after his slur was made public.


A guideline in ethics is that you can share your view on any hot button topic, but you can’t engage in ad hominem attacks (attack the person). A lot of people across our land forgot about the importance of that truth including Harrison Butker.


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