A group of about 70 faculty members, students and members of a group that advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people met FridayÂ in the Bob and Shirley Hunter Welcome Center to discuss how the LGBTQ community is viewed at ACU and by Christians in general, as well as how LGBTQ people view Christianity.
Dr. Jack Reese, dean of the College of Biblical Studies, facilitated the afternoon conversation between students and faculty and members of the group Soulforce. The group visited the ACU campus Friday as part of the Soulforce Equality Ride. According to its Web site, Soulforce advocates “relentless nonviolent resistance against religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people.”
At the meeting Friday, Soulforce Equality Riders described instances when they had been hurt by their interactions with the church. They also asked for ACU community members to do more than just apologize for discrimination against gays and lesbians but to act to bring about reconciliation and affirm LGBTQ peers.
University policy prohibits “sexual immorality, including premarital sex (heterosexual and homosexual activity).” Most Christian religious groups, including Churches of Christ, teach against homosexuality based on passages in the Old and New Testament. However, Reese said that doesn’t mean Christians should ostracize gays and lesbians.
“It is not gospel that people be hurt and damaged and marginalized,” he said.
Many Soulforce members professed their Christian faith during the meeting. During the hour-and-a-half-long meeting, people spoke about misunderstandings and mistreatment on both sides.
Soulforce members said the “climate of silence” over LGBTQ issues needed to end for students to be able to better understand and unconditionally love their LGBTQ peers. Equality Rider Nick Miller stressed the importance of checking the language used when approaching an LGBTQ person, even when approaching someone out of love. He said phrases such as “Hate the sin; love the sinner,” imply a condition on love.
“Any time there’s a condition on that love, it’s not real love,” Miller said.
Several students also commented on how they thought LGBTQ issues were handled on ACU’s campus. Taylor Schmitt, freshman youth and family ministry major from San Antonio, said he wanted to better understand the university’s policies on gay and lesbian student relationships. Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, vice president for Student Life and dean of students, agreed the policy wasn’t clear.
Thompson went on to say he believes the university needs to approach and deal with these issues privately on an individual basis to protect the privacy of students and also honor the mission of ACU.
“For me, it is a sit-down talk with that particular student to figure out what is going on in their life,” Thompson said.Â “It is about trying to find out what is best for that student in their particular life.”
Thompson said there would be more discussions, including campuswide discussions, about ACU’s approach to the LGBTQ community after the Soulforce visit.
After the student-faculty discussion, Soulforce finished their visit by meeting with members of the administration about current ACU policies.