Over 100 students walk out of chapel service featuring pro-life speaker

Protestors call the school to acknowledge chapel diversity guidelines


Noah Nims

Pro-life activist and founder of LiveAction spoke in Chapel, sparking a student protest.

Jenae McInnes, News Editor

On Feb. 6, roughly 150 Westmont students filed out of Monday’s chapel service in protest of speaker Lila Rose, a pro-life activist and founder of Live Action, who was invited to speak on the sanctity of human life. Students cited Rose’s pro-life stance and views regarding the LGBTQ+ community as a primary motivation for the walkout.

Amidst the protestors’ grievances was an alleged failure on the part of Westmont to host multiple speakers of opposing opinions when a controversial issue is spoken of in chapel, as per the college’s Guidelines for Campus Events. These guidelines state that in order for a controversial figure to speak on campus, an invitation typically must also be sent out to a speaker from the opposing view. 

One of the primary organizers for the walkout, third-year Malia Denny, commented, “The purpose behind the walkout was to make a statement to Westmont that it was incredibly inappropriate for them to invite Lila Rose to speak at chapel. Not only is Ms. Rose a politically-motivated, anti-abortion extremist; she’s also outspokenly anti-LGBTQ+, and allowing her to speak at chapel promotes her hateful perspective of the LGBTQ+ community, whether she touched on the subject or not.” 

Denny added that the “conversation of abortion” is important at Westmont, but that “it shouldn’t have been introduced by someone who holds such a narrow and political interpretation of the issue, on a platform that doesn’t allow for any dialogue or Q+A.” 

Denny and other “concerned students” organized the walkout after pastor Scott Lisea’s announcement of Rose’s message the preceding Friday. Denny explained that the process of organizing the walkout consisted of a group effort to articulate specific frustrations and then translate them onto graphics that could be shared through social media. She added, “from there it kind of took off.” 

The digital flyers shared through social media encouraged students to walk out of chapel due to her and “Westmont College’s blatant sexism, disregard for women’s basic reproductive rights, anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, and lack of empathy for human suffering.”  

After students walked out of the chapel service, Denny and another student addressed those who had left. They reiterated their concerns regarding Rose’s invitation to speak in chapel and urged students to also attend and protest after Dr. Carl Trueman’s lecture the following Thursday. Protestors cited Dr. Trueman as being “vocally outspoken against the LGBTQ+ community.” 

Rose was introduced by fourth-year student Caroline Eaton and pastor Scott Lisea, who both urged those in attendance to stay and listen to what Rose had to say. Lisea acknowledged students planning to walk out, saying, “If you refuse to read books or if you walk out to ignore hearing other voices, I think you have some hard questions to face about your own education.”

Lisea’s statement acted as a further catalyst for many demonstrators. A document outlining protestors’ requests in light of the chapel’s events argued that this statement constituted “moral and academic disparagement of Westmont students’ choice to engage in peaceful demonstration.” 

Lisea explained his goal for hosting Rose: “The vision would be to introduce into the conversation of how people see the issue of abortion, to introduce a scriptural esteem for the sanctity of human life.” He added, “I think it’s really important that students understand that the aim here was not … to set policy on what each person does with their vote.” Lisea also stated that he has had many students ask him to bring a pro-life speaker to campus over the years, however he has deferred this request until now because of “the baggage that comes with it.” 

In her message, Rose argued the life of a “pre-born child” begins at conception, reflected on her own experience fighting for the pro-life cause and urged her audience to take a “zero-tolerance policy” towards abortion. 

In an interview with Horizon Editor-in-Chief Chloe White, Rose clarified what her zero-tolerance policy entails in regards to cases of sexual violence: “The solution…to sexual violence is not to commit more violence against an innocent third-party and that’s what an abortion does… So we need to think better for survivors of sexual violence and work on better solutions, not turning to another violent act, abortion, as the way to healing because it’s not.” She added, “The intentional killing of an innocent child is always wrong, there’s no justification for it.”

Rose’s stance presented in chapel proved to be controversial. However, Lisea affirmed that his aim was to present a “scriptural case” on the issue of abortion, not a political one. Lisea added that preceding her message he was “comfortable 100%” with the notes for her speech she had sent him. Nevertheless, he said that he was not aware of Rose’s controversial statements on the LGBTQ+ community on social media, namely on her Twitter account. 

Second-year Nathan Coons also affirmed Rose’s message, “it was important to hear a strong perspective concerned with the sanctity of human life.” He added, however, that he wished her message dealt more with “the biblical perspective” on the abortion debate. 

The day after the Monday walkout, Lisea issued an apology via email to the Westmont student body stating that the chapel team was not aware of Rose’s social media “commentary,” and asking for forgiveness for not doing more research on Rose. 

However, in an interview Lisea further reiterated that he does not “apologize for the intent of bringing a scriptural conversation at a Christian school.” Denny responded to this development, observing, “Scott issued an apology, which was a nice sentiment, although not comprehensive of everything that needed to be apologized for.” 

In regards to the request to bring a chapel speaker from the pro-choice side of the debate, per the Campus Life Guidelines, Lisea said, “The only thing I wanted to introduce is that people consider the Word of God, and the esteem for human in life into what they end up thinking or doing about it. The opposite of that, the opposing view, would be ‘don’t consider the word of God.’ I will not bring someone to say that. I feel like that’s all they hear, we hear, all the time.” He added, “This isn’t like ‘hey I brought a Republican, now I’m going to bring a Democrat’, not the category I was thinking in.” 

An anonymous pro-life student commented that she also felt that the Westmont community needed to hear Rose’s message. “We haven’t had an explicitly pro-life speaker at Westmont and, as a Christian institution, we need to understand the pro-life argument as a good majority of Christians hold that view.”

Regarding the students who walked out, one pro-life student commented, “I care deeply about my peers, but I was disappointed in their choice. We had an opportunity to learn about a very important subject, yet the walkout occurred over tweets on another topic. I understand why they chose to walk out … but I always think it’s easier not to listen than to disagree with another’s view thoughtfully.”

When asked what she would say to the students who walked out, Rose remarked, “I would say, ‘what are you so afraid of?’ You can listen and choose to disagree, but if you don’t even listen, how do you even know you disagree?”

Student frustrations expressed on Monday were also directed at Westmont welcoming Dr. Trueman, a historian with politically conservative views, for a guest lecture three days later on Feb. 9. Many of the students involved in the chapel walkout also participated in a peaceful protest outside of the Dining Commons (DC) after attending Trueman’s lecture. 

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