Malone students, Mount Union students and members of the Canton community gathered at New Vision United Church of Christ on March 29 to hear about how to make the church more loving. Specifically, the event focused on how LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Christians can make progress for the church.
The March 29 event was the second night of events hosted by Safe Space, a support group for LGBT students at Malone. On March 28, a community and campus dialogue was held at New Vision.
Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network (GCN), led the March 29 event. The event was part of a 20 college tour across the nation for this academic year that facilitates campus dialogue about LGBT issues and ways to help Christians learn to become more loving toward LGBT. The tour was funded by a grant through the ARCUS foundation, which focuses on social justice issues.
Originally, secular schools were the primary focus, but Lee began to hear from Christian schools and thus began including them in the tour as well.
Senior psychology major Sam Taylor, who contacted Lee about leading the event, was pleased with the turnout.
“It was exactly what I had hoped and what I had wanted,” Taylor said. “It was the power of love and hope and progress coming together from all different walks and Christian backgrounds.”
Taylor added that the issue of acceptance of LGBTQ in Christian churches cannot be ignored any longer.
“I would like to see acknowledgement of LGBTQ students and their allies on campus,” Taylor said. “I would like to see a thorough understanding that spans the campus that people would be able to see with their own eyes rather than allow preconceptions to block that off.”
Prior to the event, students could take a survey on Facebook that asked questions regarding their views of LGBT Christians and the church. Lee presented the audience with statistics from this survey as well as general information to aid with the discussion of LGBT Christians. Lee defined “side A Christians” as those who feel that gender doesn’t matter in relationships and he defined “side B Christians” as those who feel that sex should be between a man and a woman only.
Lee also gave five tips for having conversations within the Church about LGBT issues. These tips ranged from deciding what to ask for, dealing with others’ worldviews, addressing misconceptions, defining terminology and sharing stories instead of arguments.
Lee stated that the event went well and that the audience was enthusiastic.
“One of the things that really impressed me was that we had so many folks were able to be so respectful of people who disagreed with their opinions and theological views,” Lee said. “That’s something that you don’t see everywhere. A lot of times it’s hard for people to be in the same room with people who disagree with them.”
Lee said that he hopes for the conversation to continue between side A and side B Christians. He believes that along with prayer, schools can work toward having conversations and relationships with LGBT students.
“My hope is that these conversations will develop into relationships and more opportunities for LGBT students to be more honest about what they are going through so that whether students, faculty or administration are side A or side B, there will be no question that they can love and support the LGBT students on campus,” Lee said.
Senior psychology major Stacy Studer attended the event and found Lee’s tips to be useful when having conversation with other students, especially the idea to share stories.
“Compared to a lot of Christian schools, [Malone] is definitely a lot more accepting,” Studer said. “I know at a lot of Christian schools this wouldn’t happen at all. But I think that there is definitely a lot of room for improvement and I think that there are a lot of people who aren’t accepting at all and aren’t willing to open their minds.”
Studer said that she feels that more churches will eventually become more progressive with the issue of LGBT Christians.
“I think it will be slow, like it has been,” Studer said. “Once people start to realize that God loves everyone, I can see that happening around me and in other churches. Even at Malone, it’s more of an accepting place than it was four years ago when I started here. I think eventually but I think it’s going to take time.”
Studer feels that Safe Space should have a place on campus for students.
“People could learn to put aside their thoughts and biases and learn to accept people for who they are,” Studer said.
In terms of progress, Taylor hopes for “universal understanding” among the Malone community. He hopes that students who didn’t come to the event will hear about it from students who did attend and thus create conversation about LGBTQ.
At the end of the event, all attendees held hands and formed a circle, sharing words of encouragement and hope with one another.