[NOTE: This guest post was written by John Paul West. He loves applying the lense of TOB to a variety of issues and is currently studying at Ave Maria University in Florida.]
For the last year or so a variety of public figures from both sides of the political spectrum have been ridiculing the idea of Campus Safe Spaces. A “safe space” is a place that students can go to escape language and ideas deemed emotionally injurious. They are advertised as a place where the wounded and marginalized can find safety and peace, which sounds good on the surface. But in the end it often means refusing to engage any ideas and beliefs contrary to one’s own. These safe spaces are often stocked with comfy pillows, cookies and Play-Doh while also having strict rules about what can and can’t be said, which has invited mockery of safe spaces as infantile and an attack on free speech.
Ever since I first heard of safe spaces, I have joined in on the mockery. Not only did it seem infantile, but I saw it immediately as a threat to evangelization and a particular threat to the spread of the Theology of the Body. After all, if young men and women refuse to even listen to a view contrary to their own, how can we reach them? I maintained that perspective right up until my first day of class in American Civilization at Ave Maria University.
The teacher began class by describing in disturbing detail the history of eugenics and racism in America. Noticing the distress of his students, the teacher commented, “Sorry folks, when America lives according to her ideals she is a great nation, but when she abandons those ideals it gets pretty messy, and we have to look honestly at that. If you get too disturbed by that, well, Ave has a built in Safe Space for you: the Oratory.”
At first, I was miffed by my professor’s comparison of a Church to a Safe Space. But the more I thought about it, the more I warned to the idea. My professor was creatively untwisting the distortions of the typical campus “safe space” and showing that Catholic universities have the real thing. Any person who has entered a Church knows that it is a place of immense safety and peace. This is not because you won’t find hard beliefs in a Church, but precisely because the Hardest Belief lives there. Jesus is really and truly present in every Catholic Church and, just like Noah’s ark, a Church provides a place of safety among the troubled waters of our world.
As I came to this understanding, I felt an immense compassion for the students seeking a Safe Space. These students are seeking a refuge for the marginalized and the wounded. And my word, are young people wounded today! The sexual chaos that is rampant in our world has attacked us young people in brutal fashion, eroding the family which should be the domestic church, a place of safety, and turning it into a place of abuse. No wonder these young men and women seek a safe space! But their desire is unfortunately misdirected; just as “The person knocking on the door of a brothel is really looking for God,” the young man or woman knocking on the door of a Safe Space is really looking for the Church.
My recent trip to our nation’s capital to witness the inauguration drove this point home for me. I went with a few friends from college and during the entire trip we were ill at ease. We would pass “preachers” screaming into microphones, damning all homosexuals to hell, and then a minute later hear a young woman shouting about her “right to abortion.” At one point, we walked past a Starbucks and then an hour later saw on the news that violent protestors had smashed its windows.
DC was a dangerous place to be. In the midst of this chaotic city, we happened to pass a little Catholic Church. Taking a quick detour, we stepped inside, and immediately, peace descended. The beautiful Church was quiet and utterly still; drawn to Jesus in the Tabernacle, we knelt and prayed. The craziness outside, spurred on by sexual confusion on both sides of the political aisle, didn’t stop. But inside that Church, we found safety from the storm. That brief respite also gave us the courage and the peace to walk back out into stormy waters without fear.
This is what the Church offers to a sexually dysfunctional world and it is precisely what these young college students are looking for. The false “church” of a Safe Space is redeemed in a real Church. While the safety of a Safe Space is false and artificial, a Church is a true field hospital. While Safe Spaces prevent students from developing the skills needed to live outside their walls, the Church give people the courage to go out and bring Jesus to a chaotic world. And while Safe Spaces worship the false gods of “toleration” and sexual “liberation,” in Church we get to worship the truly merciful and loving God. Let us be compassionate to these students and pray that they find what they really desire.