Pastor Vows to Avoid Pro-Faith Message in School Speech

A Christian minister whose invitation to speak at the inauguration of the University of Rhode Island's new president has stirred controversy is assuring protesters that he won't be abusing the platform he's been given.

Responding to objections from those concerned about the blurring of the lines between church and state, Pastor Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., stated Friday that the message he will deliver "will be predicated on our shared humanity, not my particular theology."

Boyd was asked by URI's new president, David M. Dooley, to give an address next week at his inauguration ceremony. The university head was familiar with some of the pastor's works, including his messages on separating politics from religion and messages on free will, and felt they would fit well with the vision he has for URI.

But some campus staff and students feel Boyd speaking at a significant event like the president's inauguration is inappropriate. Some point to Boyd's conservative positions on homosexuality and abortion.

"[G]iven that the inauguration is supposed to represent what the university is and will be in the future, I'm concerned that [Boyd's] very public views do marginalize a significant portion of the university," said Lynne Derbyshire, associate professor of communication studies and women's studies, according to The Providence Journal.

Boyd admitted he initially had some reservations about accepting the invitation considering he had never given an address that was secular. But he said he was "excited" to accept after he heard Dooley discuss his vision.

The Woodland Hills pastor, a former atheist, distanced himself from the label "evangelical" though most of his theological views, he claims, are in line with evangelicalism. (Some of his beliefs are controversial among traditional evangelicals).

The fact that there are concerns that he may use the university platform to speak against homosexuality convinces him about "the damage done to the evangelical movement by the self-serving public judgmentalism of certain evangelical spokespeople," he said.

"Much of what is often associated with this label – including the self-righteous judgmentalism of gays – is stuff I'm adamantly against," Boyd stressed in his blog Friday.

"[H]owever grieved they (gays) are by evangelicals who campaign against homosexuals, I am probably more so," he added. "And I'd confess, along with the apostle Paul, that I am the worst of sinners."

Boyd also noted that he has emphatically insisted on the separation of church and state and he feels his speaking at the URI "enhances the message of diversity and open-mindedness for a secular university."

In addition to Boyd, the inauguration ceremony on April 8 will also feature speakers from different religions.

The event is URI's first inauguration ceremony in 35 years. Dooley succeeds Robert L. Carothers, who did not have a ceremony in 1991.