Drew Theological Students Lead Protests Against Forum Speaker John Kelly

February 14, 2020

The group “No Cheap Grace for Kelly,” made up of Drew community members and students from Drew’s Theological School, staged a protest outside of the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) ahead of General John Kelly’s appearance as a Drew Forum speaker. “Of course we oppose John Kelly’s actions, but what we’re protesting is Drew’s alignment with these actions,” said Kirsten Trambley (T’20), one of the organizers of the protest. 




The protest kicked off with a Wednesday night chapel service, with songs, prayers and a Homily delivered by Younghak Lee (T’21). All three deans from the theological school were in attendance. The actual protest took place across from MPAC in Morristown, and though attendance fluctuated, organizers estimated that around 75 people were there during the height of the protest. 


President Baenninger did address the protests during her opening comments at the talk. "I would also like to acknowledge the peaceful protest across the street. I am adamant that part of an excellent and freeing education is to expose our students to civil conversations across a wide spectrum of views,” Baenninger stated. “I fully expect tonight’s lecture and interactions with our students to support that goal."


The movement began as an effort to prevent Kelly from appearing as a Drew speaker. Once it was clear that his appearance would go on, it transitioned to protesting the event. Organizers created a website as well as the hashtag #NoCheapGraceForKelly in order to spread their message and started their large media push in the past week, though a plan had been in the works for a few months. 


During the kick off service Trambley, former president of the Theological Student Association. and Christopher Dwyer (T’20) led a call and response reading which they wrote, that included Drew’s mission statement, an excerpt from Leviticus and words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those in attendance were asked to respond to their statements with the sentence “This is at conflict with John Kelly at the Drew Forum.”


They also defined the term Cheap Grace as used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, explaining that the term refers to offering forgiveness without requiring some type of repentance. “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."


Lee then delivered a Homily, talking about his experience as an immigrant. He focused on the idea of freedom of speech, stating, “I’m living in a great nation with freedom of speech. Yes, freedom of speech, freedom of hate speech, freedom of racist speech, freedom of xenophobic speech, freedom of sexist speech, freedom of homophobic speech.” He acknowledged Kelly’s right to freedom of speech and the argument that he should be able to speak at Drew in an effort to talk it out. “John Kelly has been tearing apart immigrant families and caging kids; this is not something you talk out, but something you must stop immediately. It is about people’s lives, not about your preference or a different point of view.” While the protest went on, clips of Trump and Kelly played above the stage. 


The No Cheap Grace for Kelly website states, “We believe Kelly's abhorrent actions as Secretary of Homeland Security and White House Chief of Staff rise to the level of crimes against humanity, and our school should not provide a platform for him to whitewash his legacy.”


When asked if there is anything Drew and the Administration can do after this, specifically in terms of not granting cheap grace to Kelly and instead installing costly grace, Trambley said, “I do think we are past that point. John Kelly I think personally would have to make a public repentance of words and also in his actions.” She elaborated, “He is still aligned with Caliburn International, he’s just continuing the work from a different platform...For us to give him that platform when he already has power and privilege is us offering a form of cheap grace.”


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