Dear Friends of All Shall Be Well, my Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Last night, I was asked to speak at a meeting of Open Doors, ONU’s LGBT+ student organization. I was asked to give my perspective on the relationship of the LGBT+ community to the Church, to which I replied that I could only speak to my own experience of this, as it would be inappropriate for me to speak for all Christians. So, I did what I usually do in such circumstances–I told my story. My story is confessional in nature, largely because I come from a religious tradition that literally invented the phrase, “Confession is good for the soul.”
My story is one where I began with a very negative view of people who are different from me, particularly those who are part of the LGBT+ community. It wasn’t until I encountered people whom I knew and loved (including a good friend who chose to come out to me when we were in high school), that I began to see sexual orientation not as an “issue,” but as the people around me. Through a series of experiences early in my ministry, I came to the conclusion that God was calling me to be an ally for people who felt marginalized by the Church. As part of my chaplaincy at ONU, I have tried to create a safe space for all students to explore their inner selves, and to discover how God is working in their lives. This includes people of all sexual orientations.
After my initial comments, the floor was opened for questions. Students who attended the meeting were very respectful of one another, and of my comments, as we grappled with how to live together in community while we have different opinions about sexual orientation. As usual, I was impressed by the ability of ONU students to think in deep and creative ways. I also found myself being challenged by those who disagree with me, particularly in my view of how to interpret Scripture. But you know what? I think that’s a good thing. Disagreement doesn’t have to lead to disaster, and we don’t have to stop being in relationship with people just because we don’t think the same way. Overall, I found the evening to be encouraging, enlightening, and the start of a good conversation–one that I think this campus needs to continue having.
I chose to accept the invitation to speak at Open Doors for several reasons, but chief among those is the need to convey to this group that I am their chaplain, too. I’m not just the chaplain to the white, middle class, heterosexual Christian students who are just like me. I am the chaplain to the entire university. That makes me different from the pastor of a local church. I am called to provide spiritual care for people of all faith backgrounds and experiences, not just those of my own tradition. I provide for the spiritual care for students from a wide variety of traditions, and I try my best to connect the students at ONU to local worshiping communities with which they feel affinity. In the same way, I feel called to give spiritual care, and provide for the spiritual care for LGBT+ students, faculty and staff. I come from a perspective that God is a God of love and grace, and that it is not my place to judge whether a person is or is not a sinner before helping them to connect with God. That’s God’s job. Thank God! I wouldn’t want it!
There may be some people on campus or in the community who don’t think I should have spoken at the Open Doors meeting. To those persons, I say that I’m sorry you feel that way, and I encourage you to reach out to me in person to express your feelings. After all, I’m your chaplain, too. All are welcome in the Chaplain’s office, and always will be! I look forward to being in service with everyone in our campus community, and to many more years to come of fruitful campus chaplaincy. I hope that my role as chaplain will help others to explore their faith, and the faith of others, in a safe and welcoming environment, so that together, all of us can seek the answers to life’s deepest questions, and seek after the Divine in our lives.
In a spirit of peace,