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Black pro-life leader considers ‘legal action’ against Christian college for defamation

‘Demonstrably false statements about my character’

Ryan Bomberger has been called a “racist” who hates black people. A student activist at Harvard Law School even called him a “fucking piece of shit.”

But the African-American pro-life activist told The College Fix he’s never before experienced what happened to him at a Christian college last month.

Student government leaders at Wheaton College sent a campuswide email accusing him of making “many students, staff, and faculty of color feel unheard, underrepresented, and unsafe on our campus” at a Nov. 14 lecture.

At least one of them separately “made demonstrably false statements about my character,” Bomberger wrote in an email, referring to Sammie Shields, executive vice president of community diversity.

Bomberger spoke at the invitation of the College Republicans. The theme of “Black Lives Matter In and Out of the Womb,” as usual, was how abortion has ravaged the black community.

Matt Lamb, communications director for Students for Life of America, attended the event and disputed the narrative told by the student government leaders.

Though some people disagreed with Bomberger during the event, nobody seemed angry or upset, Lamb told The Fix in a phone interview: “A lot of questions were challenging his positions” but none were disrespectful.

“The room was pretty full and there was probably 15 to 20 people standing,” he said. (Lamb is a former contributor to The Fix.)

Though Bomberger told the college, sometimes called “the evangelical Harvard,” that he was considering “legal action” for defamation, he told The Fix he’ll settle for an apology, retraction of the student leaders’ email and pledge to stop saying false things about him.

Bomberger and his wife Bethany were scheduled to have an “off-the-record” phone call Monday with the administration, but the college pulled out two hours before, he said in a phone call. (Bethany had told The Fix the day before about the scheduled call.)

Wheaton objected to the Bombergers’ late request to let a board member of their nonprofit, the Radiance Foundation, join the call, and it ended up not calling them, according to Ryan.

Bomberger’s invocation of possible “legal action” is partly based on the administration’s interpretation of the email he sent to the three student leaders who publicly denounced him.

But he has also accused unidentified students of putting words into his mouth on social media.

Never said ‘women should think twice about reporting sexual assault’

Bomberger’s lecture focused on his own personal story, namely how he was conceived in rape and adopted, in the context of abortion.

He laid out his problems with leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly their alliance with Planned Parenthood, and discussed the need for “factivism” – conversations that are grounded in facts.

Students submitted questions on notecards for Bomberger, and the College Republicans chose which to ask.

“You mentioned there is no ‘your truth or my truth,’ but how is your opinion unbiased or the truth, considering the topic’s connection to your own background?” was the first question in the Q&A session.

Another student asked: “In one of your columns you speak on white guilt and how the Black Lives Matter movement is toxic. Can you elaborate on why it’s toxic and explain statistics regarding black-on-black crime and police brutality?”

MORE: Bomberger shouted down at Harvard Law, profanities fly

Bomberger’s talk prompted three student government leaders to email the student body, using the Student Activities Office email address, the following week.

President Lauren Rowley, Vice President Tyler Waaler and Shields, the diversity official, said they “felt it necessary to respond to the offensive rhetoric from the speaker at this event.”

Bomberger “compromised” the mission of Wheaton and failed to meet the expectations of its Community Covenant, to “pursue unity and embrace ethnic diversity as part of God’s design for humanity and practice racial reconciliation as one of his redemptive purposes in Christ,” they wrote.

The student officials did not mention that Bomberger is black. They did not respond to Fix attempts to contact them through email and Facebook.

In a Wednesday post for his nonprofit, Bomberger said two Student Activities Office staff members, Peter Hansen (left) and Crystal Cartwright, “reportedly” helped the student government leaders send the “dishonest, campus-wide email.” Only one of the people involved with the email, Shields, attended his lecture, Bomberger wrote.

The post gives additional context for why leaders were upset with him. Bomberger said the Black Lives Matter movement promotes “the negation of fathers” and “radical LGBTQ ideology,” and does not call for “racial reconciliation,” all of which are “hostile to Christianity.”

He said people on social media are inventing things he said, including “no one cares what the KKK believes,” “racism doesn’t exist anymore” and “women should think twice about reporting sexual assault.” Shields also claimed without evidence “there was a lynching in Mississippi last week,” according to Bomberger.

“There are a select number of students” including Shields who have made false statements about “my character,” Bomberger told The Fix in an email. He said Hansen, the Student Activities Office staffer, called a meeting the day after the event, where Shields (below) claimed that Bomberger said “it doesn’t matter what the KKK believes.”

Bomberger said another student, only identified as “Steven,” invented the remark attributed to him that “racism doesn’t exist anymore.”

“The part they are most upset about are words I have never spoken,” he said in a phone call: “They are making up things that I have said that are just blatant lies.”

MORE: Black genocide fulfills racists’ goals

Student government email ‘teeters on the edge of slander and libel’

Bomberger sent the three student government leaders his own email Nov. 24, asking whether it was true that only Shields attended his event, as “several students” had told him.

He accused them of “intentionally mislead[ing]” the student body by failing to tell students what he said that was “offensive” and claiming without evidence that “many” nonwhite members of the community felt “unsafe” because of him.

Bomberger accused them of sins of omission, including that he’s black and that the audience had nearly an hour to question him, from the stage and in the crowd, after his lecture.

He also noted their email to the student body failed to say the event was sponsored by the College Republicans, whose top two officials are Hispanic and Asian: “Are they not members of your community?” (The student government email referred to a “special interest club.”)

Bomberger alluded to Wheaton’s 2017 hosting of George Yancy (below), an Emory University philosophy professor who has told “White America” to “accept the racism within yourself.”

If Wheaton wants someone to “repeat the destructive narratives” of speakers such as Yancy, “I’m not the person to do that,” he wrote.

MORE: Yancy says whites inherently racist, men inherently sexist

The end of the email is apparently what set off the Wheaton administration. Bomberger said the student government email “teeters on the edge of slander and libel, which The Radiance Foundation never takes lightly”:

We will pursue a discussion with with your school’s administration/leadership and our attorneys at which time we will decide whether or not to take legal action against this defamation.

LaTonya Taylor, Wheaton’s director of media relations, told the Christian Post the college reached out to the Bombergers because “the Radiance Foundation e-mailed a threat to sue three college students” and a second email “addressing several employees.” A few college employees were blind-carbon-copied on the first email, she said.

Taylor also said it was the Bombergers who canceled the call because the school wouldn’t let their board member join.

“Wheaton is now saying we are threatening to sue three students,” Bomberger said in a phone call: “That is a blatant lie.”

He explained in an email that his letter was “addressed to the three students because only they signed their names, despite administration officials’ help.” The school would be the legal target, not the students.

MORE: PP ejects pro-life student from campus event for … ‘safety’

Vice President of Student Development Paul Chelsen (right) did not respond to “very pointed questions” in an email days later, he said. Bomberger provided The Fix the Nov. 30 email, which was sent by his wife.

It asked if Chelsen approved the student government email since it’s under his “purview,” and how “something that one-sided and inaccurate” got sent with no vetting.

“It’s been 10 days since that SGA email was sent out, and 6 days since Ryan sent his response,” Bethany Bomberger wrote: “We know there have been multiple meetings on campus, faculty, staff and students who have been upset by how this was handled, and nothing but silence from Wheaton’s administration.”

She cast aspersions on the evangelical school’s failure to take a “Matthew 18:15-17 approach” by first approaching her husband privately to discuss concerns with his lecture.

His “heart is not for any legal action,” Bomberger told The Fix, and if he sues, it would be to “force an apology” from the administration:

to have them admit they played a role in crafting and sending out the initial email denouncing me, the College Republicans, and the presentation, and to cease issuing public statements that are blatantly untrue.

‘The emotional is placed above the evidential, and it leads to destructive consequences’

A Fix request to the student government’s email account was redirected to Taylor, the spokesperson. The student government did not respond to a second email asking for its comments specifically.

“While some students found Mr. Bomberger’s ideas noncontroversial, others were concerned by his statements during and after the presentation and Q&A,” Taylor wrote in an email.

She said students relayed their concerns to student government leaders, though Taylor did not elaborate how many students complained or what their complaints were.

“I’m disappointed by the school’s response because I do not believe Wheaton College wants to restrict students from taking part in open dialogue,” Philip Ziesemer, founder of the Wheaton College Republicans, wrote in Bomberger’s post for the Radiance Foundation.

“I wish the school would have responded by encouraging students to think critically, discuss the message from both sides, and challenge themselves on the content presented,” Ziesemer concluded.

Bomberger marveled to The Fix how unusual Wheaton’s reaction was to his lecture. Even Harvard, which had “the most vocal opposition … did not react like this.”

There’s a “tremendous outpouring of people who are upset at how Wheaton has handled all of this,” he said, pointing to social media comments and voicemails.

“They’ve confused capitulation for compassion” and sacrificed the truth in their “relentless pursuit of ‘diversity,’” Bomberger wrote in an email: “The emotional is placed above the evidential, and it leads to destructive consequences like people feeling ‘unsafe’ because someone doesn’t agree with their opinions.”

He concluded in a phone call: “In the end, the thing that upsets me the most is it is no longer about the slaughter of innocent human lives.”

MORE: University employee investigated for alleged assault of pro-lifers

IMAGES: Ryan Bomberger, Wheaton College, Sammie Shields/LinkedIn

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About the Author
Lexi Lonas -- Penn State Altoona