Prior to Turning Point USA Nashville’s Debate Watch Party on Thursday, Belmont University’s College of Theology Assistant Professor David Dark criticized Rocketown for allowing conservatives to speak there.
In a Facebook post, Dark asked his peers to persuade Rocketown to “rethink the decision to host an event like this.”
Rocketown is a non-profit that markets itself as a faith-based outreach facility geared toward youth. It also functions as an entertainment venue.
In his post, Dark insinuated that money and power prompted Rocketown to host the event.
“… I worry that the people [Michael W. Smith] listens to who would advise against this have been drowned out by other (perhaps wealthier) associates.”
The watch party was planned and hosted by senior Belmont student and Turning Point USA Nashville President Jeffrey Seraphine. As The Tennessee Star reported previously, Seraphine and other students came up with the idea for a watch party less than a month before the final presidential debate.
Speakers at the event were a slew of leading conservative personalities: John Rich, Tomi Lahren, Kelly Shackelford, Ryan Fournier, Victoria Robinson, Dr. Ming Wang, and Dr. Carol Swain.
Topics of their speeches included religious liberty, pro-life, freedom of speech, community, and the reality of the American dream.
In the comments, Dark referred to the event as a “white supremacist death cult front.”
Dark shared in an interview with The Star that he didn’t intend for his comments to bring anyone down – especially not Smith, Lahren, or Rich. Instead, he said that he disagreed with Rocketown hosting such a partisan event with pro-Trump Republicans during this pandemic.
“I don’t think of myself as a partisan person, but in the case of the election of Donald Trump – about four years ago we learned via the Access Hollywood Reporting that Donald Trump is an unrepentant sexual assailant. It’s also the case in the Republican Party, in recent years, seems to be banking on white supremacist terror and COVID denial. And, you know, as a Nashville resident it is my business if it was a super-spreader event.”
Dark added that he disagreed with Rocketown’s choice to allow an event featuring Rich due to a community controversy centered around the firing of a staff member.
“Again, because I admire Rocketown and Michael W. Smith, I would prefer the brand Rocketown steer clear of that kind of event. It’s also a fact that John Rich essentially got Brittany Paschall – the former academic dean of Lipscomb Academy, a thinker, an educator, a woman of color – fired because of her insistence on addressing white fragility and white supremacy in Nashville. He’s not just a country singer, he’s also someone who went after a thoughtful woman at Lipscomb.”
Paschall formerly served as the Lipscomb Academy Dean of Intercultural Development. She led the charge in academy discussion on racism and white privilege. To date, Lipscomb hasn’t issued an explanation for Paschall’s firing.
Following initial coverage of the story by Nashville Scene linking Rich to Paschall’s release from the academy, Rich’s publicist gave the outlet an audio recording of the singer defending Paschall’s right to speech during a town hall at the school.
“You can’t be hating on Brittany Paschall. Because Brittany Paschall has a constitutional right to think what she wants to think, be who she wants to be and support who she wants to support, just like all of us do.”
Rich also released a statement that he never called for Paschall to be fired. Rather, the singer expressed disappointment with social justice curriculum offered by the academy.
In a follow-up interview, Seraphine told The Star that Dr. Dark’s assertions weren’t supported by the facts of the evening or the history of the venue.
“I am all for civil discourse. People disagreeing about politics and doing so civilly is what makes this country amazing! Here’s where I have a problem with professor Dark’s statements. He takes issue with Rocketown hosting a ‘partisan’ event. Well, Rocketown has hosted many Democratic individuals over the years, including Mike Bloomberg this summer. Did conservatives ‘cancel’ them because of this? No.”
Seraphine added that the watch party wasn’t a super-spreader event, according to reports he received from the Metro Health Department inspector that attended the event. He stated that he’d received emails from Metro indicating that the event complied fully with health department guidelines.
“I consider the speakers that we had patriots and advocates for limited government and conservatism. Clearly, Professor Dark would rather rally the troops to stop those voices from being heard. I think we can disagree on our politics without lighting signal flares to cancel Rocketown.”
Lauren Strand, a Belmont senior who attended the event, shared that she was disheartened by Dark’s stance.
“Professor Dark, a theology professor, feels the need to shame a completely student-run conservative organization for exercising our freedom of speech. Isn’t that what college is all about, though? The freedom to exchange ideas? Apparently that is not the case with Professor Dark. It seems as if he is wanting to suppress free speech, and his intolerance on the matter is very disappointing.”
– – –