Mary Beth Edelson’s 1977 poster “Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper” not only means to spread the word that there are, in fact, dozens of American women artists who have not yet become household names, but also to appropriate the sacred images of Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” by giving that point an in-your-face punch. For Edelson, the Catholic Church is largely responsible for the numerical disparity between male and female artists; and as such, Christ and His disciples are simply getting the rough treatment they so richly deserve. Thus, her painting substitutes the head of Georgia O’Keefe for that of Christ (one wonders if Ms. O’Keefe would have been flattered or appalled), sculptor Louise Nevelson for St. Andrew, and makes Judas conspicuous by his/her absence. “Organized religion’s penchant for cutting women out of positions of authority,” Ms. Edelson argues, implies that “women do not have direct access to the sacred,” and by extension to artistic representations of the Divine. Her poster is a willfully provocative effort to change this situation.

Edelson’s work is, in short, political to its teeth. But should that work be exhibited at our campus gallery, I would be among the first to defend the right of a legitimate sponsor to give her art wider exposure. I would, of course, also insist that those who choose to view the exhibit might well have a wide range of responses —everything from wild approval to a sense that Edelson is longer on feminist ideology than she is on aesthetics. But what if her send-up of “The Last Supper” were permanently mounted to the wall of a college’s Women’s Center, as it was at my school, Franklin and Marshall College? Would the same dynamic apply, or would a healthy regard for the feelings of others in the community take quite another turn? Put another way: Can one group’s path toward rightful celebration proceed over the back, and at the expense, of another?

The question, then, is a simple one: Do Christian sensitivities on college campuses count? Apparently they do not—at least at Franklin and Marshall, where I teach. Repeated efforts to explain why it is that Mary Beth Edelson’s rendition of “The Last Supper” is an affront to believing Christians met with polite, but persistent, stonewalling. At first, the center’s executive board made it clear that this was “their space” and they were simply not going to take marching orders from a man—even (or perhaps especially) if he is an Orthodox priest. Besides, this was a matter of First Amendment privilege, and anybody who thought otherwise was guilty of, well, censorship. Efforts to suggest that everything one has a “right” to do might not be right to do fell on deaf ears; and as the pressure mounted, the board considered asking the college president to issue a “cease-and-desist” order against Father Anthony Ugolnik, professor of English.

A small group of faculty members unpacked the problem in the pages of our college’s newspaper, urging that students think about the implications of turning Christians into a free-fire zone. At the very least, this struck many as yet another example of the double standard: what was unthinkable with regard to blacks or homosexuals or other protected groups (imagine the furor that would justifiably arise over a painting of Minister Louis Farrakhan altered so that he now sported a handkerchief head and Aunt Jemima apron) was defensible, under the First Amendment, when directed at Christians. Why? Partly because many faculty members harbor deep prejudices against believers (try to imagine how embarrassed such folks would be if Scripture were cited during a faculty meeting), and partly because the fanaticism of the Christian right is a handy source for generalized contempt. So great are these worries that, oddly enough, the college chaplain (Barbara Brummett) declined to support an effort to get Edelman’s offensive poster moved from its permanent mounting—all of which left others to wonder just what assault to her Christian faith might provoke a response.

For those who put their names—and probably their collegial reputations—on the line, the issue boiled down to this: the Women’s Center regularly invites members of the community to join them in a wide variety of programs. The signers made it clear that they applauded these efforts to bring a wider understanding of contemporary feminism to the community, just as they felt that raising public consciousness about the contributions of women was an altogether appropriate activity for a Women’s Center. What they couldn’t understand, however, is why the same people who would rightly deplore insensitivity directed toward women, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, or other groups should themselves offend Christians. What harm has the Christian community at Franklin and Marshall College done to them that would warrant such behavior?

The implications of this sad situation are, of course, not limited to the college where I teach, nor are they limited to Christians alone. I, for example, happen to be Jewish, and if history has taught the Jews anything, it is that when one group suffers at the hands of injustice, the Jews are not likely to be far behind. But the truth of the matter is that anyone who truly cares about the words we keep hearing on our campuses—diversity, caring, and tolerance—should be equally concerned. Unless, of course, Christian sensitivities don’t matter. I count myself among the believers, and, as such, I simply cannot believe that such an unworthy position is true.