What does it mean to be a Mercerian?
President William Underwood and Student Government Association (SGA) President Olivia Buckner have clearly answered my question when they chose to lionize Jay Sekulow, a Mercer alumni and lawyer for President Trump, as our Founder’s Day speaker. In Buckner’s eyes, “[Founder’s Day] is an event that promotes Mercer, and how Mercer can instill ethics in us as adults so that we may be successful in our paths,” according to an email she sent to SGA senators.
Jay Sekulow could perhaps be the worst possible selection for this event if we judge the quality of an alum speaker solely based on the Mercer Mission Statement. Mercerians are meant to become servant-leaders, following Christ’s example “to empower and to serve” those less fortunate than themselves. Jay Sekulow’s ungodly deeds instill us with a corrupt ethical system of power-hungry and self-serving exploitation.
After “speakers are chosen by SGA ... and President Underwood,” the esteemed alum delivers an apolitical speech that illustrates how their time at Mercer prepared them to achieve societal success, she said in the email. In theory, the Founder’s Day speech articulates an answer to my question.
What answer has Jay Sekulow given? Documented actions resonate louder than the most profound courtroom rhetoric. To measure a man by his merits, you must first examine the fruits of his labor. Here are investigative journalists’ reports featured in The Washington Post and The Guardian in June 2017.
More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades. But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.
Overwhelming evidence convicts Sekulow for charity abuse in the court of Christian ethics, if nowhere else.
Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses. Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift.”
Jay Sekulow has wrested the widow’s mite, spat in her face and insulted her pious trust. In order to fuel his lavish lifestyle and to fund his net worth, Jay Sekulow has serially exploited predatory scare tactics, unscrupulous financial fraud, and most of all, the mission of Jesus Christ to “excessively benefit” from the charitable donations of poor Christians. By portraying this false prophet as a praiseworthy success, we imply that the rightful path of societal success leads us straight through the gates of a nasty, nihilistic hell.
As a living mockery of the Mercer Mission Statement, Jay Sekulow does not deserve the opportunity to address the entire Mercer community as our Founder’s Day Keynote Speaker.
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I openly oppose this man’s invitation on his sacrilegious principles, not on his stated policies. I sympathize with his fight to expand protester rights and to ensure that students can individually express religious sentiments on public school grounds. As a radical proponent of our freedom of speech, I assure you that I will submit a scathing op-ed if a conservative or alt-right provocateur is invited by a student organization and restricted from voicing his or her political positions on our campus. Since the speech of Founder’s Day is meant to be apolitical, Sekulow ideally will focus on his Mercer experience and not adulate his beloved Trump. This is clearly not a free speech issue. Rather, it is apparently an ethical one.
Let the record stand. The decision to grant this “notable” alum a pedestal was made unilaterally, behind closed doors in the administration building by Buckner, not during an open Senate session with all stakeholders present. As a freshman Senator, I had no power to approve or to revoke Jay Sekulow’s invitation. I only have my voice, and I am deciding to use it now.
In beginning my remarks, I must preface by expressing that President Underwood is undoubtedly one of the most successful leaders in our University’s proud history. Sekulow is not. After our courageous split with the Georgia Southern Baptist Convention, Mercer lost millions of dollars from student scholarship and endowment funding. As a consequence, we have become increasingly reliant on public funds, appropriated at the state house. If incentivized through a speaking opportunity, “Trump’s Lawyer” could sway the hearts and minds of conservative Republican legislators through promising career connections or campaign contributions.
If Underwood primarily performed this political gesture for students’ benefit, my only misgiving is that the he did not select another notable, well-connected conservative alum. Without being privy to the entirety of factors, I have attempted to speculatively justify our leader’s compromise. If Underwood’s governing philosophy is pragmatism, then he simply lived up to his own code. I can respect that. I cannot however respect Buckner’s brazen bullying and unethical decision-making.
As an idealist, I cannot make moral compromises. Cumulatively, ethical compromises erode one’s inner convictions. Each time we sacrifice our self-created sense of meaning, we empower arbitrary circumstances to sculpt a shattered identity from the bedrock of our ideals. Feel free to criticize my response. I welcome it! If you do, I implore you to first ask yourself two questions. What are your own convictions, and what measures would you take to live them intentionally?
As for myself, I intend to skip Dr. Sekulow’s speech, an event mandated by Buckner. Instead, I will listen to the speech of Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, a man who appears to follow Christ’s example. Lastly, I will ask Dr. Sekulow about his documented charity abuse at the Founder’s Day question and answer session. If the past serves as any indicator, my ears will hear a half-hearted denial. I beseech you to do nothing other than to live out your ideals. I leave you with one final thought.
What does it mean to be a Mercerian? Is your answer the same as President Underwood’s, Buckner’s, or Jay Sekulow’s? Mine’s not.