On March 26, Soulforce's Equality Ride visited my alma mater, Southern Nazarene University. I did an advance for the Oklahoma Gazette about it, and I covered the riders last time they were in the state in 2006. I don't have much of an opinion about the tactics, except that I think they might make it possible for a few kids on campuses to feel normal in the midst of cultures that insist there is something wrong with their same-sex orientation. I'm pretty certain that schools that are adamantly evangelical and fundamentalist aren't going to be swayed by gay Christians who want changes to handbooks and a safe area like a GSA or GLA set up on campus. Jason Conner, a co-director of Equality Ride, told me that Dan Boone, president of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, told him that the school had never kicked anyone out for being LGBTQ, and while that's admirable if true, it hardly rises to the level of open tolerance of LBGTQ people, nor does it come close to identifying them as confessing Christians. That being said, these are courageous, committed young people, and I salute their willingness to engage the "opposition" in open dialog when possible and with nonviolent resistance when not.
Dr. Loren Gresham, president of Southern Nazarene and a notoriously bad tipper (sir, they know who you are, so why not move that percentage up to 20?), sent a letter to interested parties following Equality Ride's visit. Here's the full text:
Dear Friends and Family of SNU: It has been a week now since the visit of the Soulforce Equality Ride group to our campus. I wanted to thank you for your interest in, and prayers for, the visit and for those who worked very hard to make it a time of dialogue and learning. I am sincerely grateful.
There has been no time in my memory that we have felt the prayerful support of our regional church and alumni as we did prior to and during the visit. Parents of our students added their support through emails, phone calls, and letters of support. All of this helped to make it a time of serious conversation, without the media spotlight that has accompanied many such visits where denial of access to campuses has resulted in negative attention to universities and to the cause of Christ.
In almost every way the visit was a non-event. Our hosting of the time was well planned and the dialogue generally respectful. With such fundamental disagreements about core theological beliefs regarding human sexuality between ourselves and the visitors, it was clear that their desire to change our student handbook to their liking and to convince the university to create a club for homosexuals on campus would yield no results about which they would feel good. The representatives of SNU were crystal clear on our denominational and university stand on the issues discussed. So in some ways it was a failed effort from the outset.
A positive outcome for some of our students was a fresh understanding of the clear stand we have on homosexuality. From the two chapels by our VP for Spiritual Development that focused on biblical and university positions prior to the visit, plus a chapel speaker from Moody Bible Institute who had himself emerged out of the homosexual lifestyle to wholeness in Christ, there was opportunity for the campus leadership to state without ambiguity who we are and what we believe related to the subject. One student in an email addressed to Dr. Brad Strawn after the session open to the students later stated: "I went to the meeting...with an on-the-fence perspective on homosexuality, the church, and my own belief system. And I left with a strengthened faith and confidence in Nazarene theology concerning the issue I had not felt before. I am extremely proud of the university I attend." This same sense was communicated to me by several students, a result that we could have hoped for in all the students who chose to attend.
While we are glad the visit is over, we need not assume that the pressures on our students from the GLBTQ agenda will subside. The confusion being generated by this segment of our society far exceeds all studies of their actual numbers of adherents. May God enable us to be careful and clear in articulating our understandings of Scripture on the subject of homosexuality, while simultaneously extending respect for all those created in the image of God.
A final word of thanks to the planners of the visit from our end: Drs. Scott and Brad Strawn, VPs of Student Development and Spiritual Development, led the team. They were joined by Dr. Hal Cauthron, Chair of the School of Theology and Ministry, and Dr. Terry Toler, VP for University Advancement and Church Relations. Dr. Tim Crutcher, Professor of Theology, was part of the SNU panel for the Forum and did a superb job representing our position on the issues discussed. To all of these I say thank you and God bless you.
In the middle of this Holy Week we look forward to the hope of the Resurrection with sincere gratitude and praise!
Loren P. Gresham, PhD,
Can we unpack a few things? How was the visit a non-event? What does that mean? Do you mean that the media didn't make a huge issue of it and embarrass the school? Well, that's because you locked the media out of the event. Do you mean there were no arrests on campus? That's a good thing, and it's largely because you agreed to meet with them. However, I do wonder what it could have hurt to allow the public, including the media, to watch sincere Christians dialog constructively. What were you afraid of, sir?
I'm not sure human sexuality is a core theological belief, but more on that another time. However, I do think Soulforce's request for a safe space on campus could only help SNU and other schools deal with the real issues that LGBTQ kids face. Hell, you might even help a student or parent or professor. You think you have no gay kids or professors on campus? Have you visited the music department?
A failed effort from the outset? Scratching head...
This is my favorite for a couple reasons: "...a chapel speaker from Moody Bible Institute who had himself emerged out of the homosexual lifestyle to wholeness in Christ..." First, what the hell is a speaker from Moody doing at a Nazarene school? Moody? Their doctrinal requirements make clear that it is a fundamentalist school. Why in the world would you have a fundamentalist, Baptist representative speaking in chapel at a Wesleyan school? Do you even understand your heritage? Do you suppose your faculty could qualify to teach at Moody based on those requirements? Also, how is a gay student not whole in Christ? That seems an assumption you've made. Additionally, trotting out a fake ex-gay speaker to talk about wholeness in Christ is absurd. There are so many things wrong with that. Do you think human sexuality is a simple binary? Do you think that saying I'm ex-gay makes me ex-gay? I've met the ex-gay ministers, and they seem pretty damn gay still. Why is SNU participating in the abusive practice of ex-gay ministry?
GLBTQ agenda? It seems you're listening to the wrong news sources, sir. What is the GLBTQ agenda? Who drew it up? Where can I find the documents? Would you please stop using empty signifiers to score political points with your conservative donors? Please.
Sounds like you could have benefited from a sincere, open, and thorough discussion, sir. It's a shame it was a non-event and a failure from the outset. I wonder how that happened...I wonder how your gay students feel about that characterization.