I changed my mind.


This week, the UMC denomination that I serve in voted to strengthen its stance on “self-avowed homosexuals.” And I was disappointed. Broken.

But I haven’t always been this way.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, and although it was conservative, the message that rang was “Jesus loves you!” I grew up hearing it constantly, which is what drew me to the church: hearing that Jesus loved me was needed in my life.

It wasn’t until my last few years of high school I heard “Jesus loves you, except…” We had a new pastor, and although my previous pastors probably had the same beliefs, this pastor was more vocal about who Jesus had beef with. And the people who Jesus has the most beef with, according to many Christians, are those living in sexual sin, especially the homosexuals.

When I went to college, I signed a contract that, among other things, said I couldn’t partake in, and I quote: “pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, and homosexual relations.” I always thought that was an odd way to say it — like, implying that gay people can’t have sex, or even if you like, kiss another person of the same gender, you’re out.

There were a few people from my college who hid their sexuality, one of my childhood friends included. And I remember praying the gay away because I was worried about their salvation.

My college was protested against by an organization called SoulForce. They went on an “equality ride” around the country to different colleges that had anti-LGBTQ doctrine, like mine. At the time, I still agreed with the “traditional” stance on marriage, but I also knew that these people deserved a friend. Being the only girl who wanted to be a pastor and not marry a pastor at a Southern Baptist college meant I had some enemies of my own. I knew what it was like to be told “Jesus loves you, except…” So, I signed up to be a student ambassador for the university.

The Equality Ride changed my life, but it didn’t change my mind. I did become curious, though, especially about a trans woman named “Mia TuMutch.” She gave herself that last name/stage name because she’d always been told that she’s “too much.” And I have too (literally a trigger of mine). I attached myself to her, and listened. We became friends on Facebook, and I’ve watched her journey unfold into now working in politics and with trans youth. She always inspired me, even before I agreed with her.

After college, I found myself in a pickle. I had been fortunate enough to find work in a Southern Baptist church for my first Youth Director job, but it became clear that I wasn’t going to find another opportunity like that as a woman. So, I began looking outside of my denomination.

When I was hired at St. Luke’s UMC, one of the questions they asked me from the very first interview was how I would deal with LGBTQ youth. I was honest: I wasn’t sure how I felt theologically about homosexuality. But what I knew was this: teenagers are always shifting, always changing, on the never-ending hunt to find themselves. And I promised the hiring team that no matter who that teen was, I would love them and welcome them. That’s all I had — not theological answers, just love.

And I was hired.

Three months in, I heard my first pro-LGBTQ sermon. Also, let’s pause: I was also meeting my first woman pastors. So, like, I was in quite the whirlwind.

After I heard our senior pastor preach a sermon on how biblical interpretation leads us to believe that being gay is not a sin, I was shook. I went to my boss’s office the next day and wept. I confessed that I wasn’t as progressive as I thought I was, and I was worried I’d be fired because I didn’t have the same Biblical interpretation on this subject as the church. But my boss asked me: how are you going to treat our kids? And I said — with love and acceptance. And my boss told me that was all that mattered. I was worried I’d be fired, and he told me that I technically was in line with the Book of Discipline, and couldn’t get fired for that.

This was five years ago.

A few months later, we hired our first “out” gay employee. She was loud, she was proud.

And she was kind.

She was an ordained pastor in another denomination, but took a break to serve our church in a non-pastoral role.

Until one day, in Staff Chapel, our Senior Pastor asked her to assist with Communion.

Growing up, Communion Lord’s Supper was a time between you and the Lord. You took this time to repent and to check your heart. We were taught that if you had unrepentant sin, that you should go correct it before taking Lord’s Supper. It was a big deal — a time to pray and get real with the Lord.

As she was going around the circle, serving each staff member by name, I began to panic.

How could I take Communion from a sinner?

And that is when I changed my mind. I looked at this woman’s actions and words and recognized that she worked harder at her relationship with Christ than I did. I realized the fruit in her life was evident. And that’s when I decided that it must be okay to be gay and a Christian.

So I drank the kool-aid. Well, holy grape juice.

This was just four years ago.

In the last four years since, God has just gifted me with members of the LGBTQ community who have helped me grow my understanding and my heart. I “came out” as LGBTQ-inclusive just three years ago when writing an article for a prominent youth ministry site — the first positive article on the topic they’d ever had.

And to be honest, I’ve remained fairly silent since. But I won’t be silent any more.

To be silent would be to deny my trans cousin of the truth I’ve known since we were little. To be silent would be unfair to my friends who braved Baptist College, despite signing a contract that said they were unnatural. To be silent would be to disrespect the promise of unconditional love I’ve given so many students. And to be silent would crush one of my dearest friends, who came out to me on her couch two years ago, who I helped build her dating profile and personally swiped right on her girlfriend, and who is now in seminary.

I’m really heart-broken by what happened in General Conference last week. Like, shaking-sleepless-sick-shocked broken. I am dreading church tomorrow for the first time in 5 years. I am especially dreading telling our 8th graders that the letters they wrote to our delegates asking for more progressive doctrine failed. I don’t want to admit that we failed them.

But I have hope: 9 years ago, I thought everyone who wasn’t a Southern Baptist was going to hell. Today, I study the fruit from everyone I meet and judge them based on that, not their labels. 5 years ago, I sought refuge to lead in a church. Today, I admire the faith of gay Christians who fight to do the same. 4 years ago, I changed my mind. Today, I choose to speak my mind.


What are You Fishing For?

christianity, church, Culture, Evangelicalism, lessons, lgbtq, politics, Theology

When Jesus first called his disciples, they were fishing. Jesus performed the miracle of filling their nets, proving that he was able to provide for their physical (and even financial) needs. Then Jesus said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you a fisher of men.”

These men followed Jesus on a three-year long journey. During this journey, Jesus performed many more miracles and even equipped the disciples to perform miracles of their own. They fed crowds, healed the sick, partied with the poor, and ate with sinners. Slowly, they discovered that Jesus was the Son of God, and Jesus equipped them to truly be “fishers of men.”

But when Jesus died, what happened?

In John chapter 21, Peter says to the disciples, “I’m going fishing.” And the rest of the disciples go with him. Even though Jesus has appeared to them twice thus far after his resurrection, they go back to life as if the last three years didn’t happen. They go fishing. For fish.

And so Jesus does his classic “Jesus thing,” paralleling that first time he calls them. 100 yards from shore, the fog-hidden Jesus tells them to cast their nets out on the other side. The disciples miraculously fill their nets and are unable to haul it to shore.

And Peter does his classic “Peter thing,” and jumps into the sea because he knows that Jesus is alive indeed. Jesus makes Peter go grab the net (because of course Peter left the disciples to do it), and there are 153 fish inside this net. A net that didn’t break.

Scholars say that at the time, there were only 153 species of fish known in the world.

Biblical scholars say that this net–the net that didn’t break–is representative of the Church. The 153 fish represent the different types of people in the world. When the disciples were trying to go back to just “fishing for fish,” Jesus had bigger plans to show them why they are to continue “fishing for men.”

The net is big enough for everybody. No longer is the net confined to one type of person. Everybody is allowed.

What does this mean for the Church today?

Who are the fish that we are excluding from the net, that perhaps need the safety and comfort of the net? Why are we creating an “insiders vs outsiders” mentality in the church, when all of us were made in the precious image of God? We all deserve the net equally, and the fisherman shouldn’t discriminate from who he allows to be a part of the Church.

What is the baggage that we think will exclude us from the net? You see, the net can hold it all without breaking. It can hold all of your doubts, insecurities, sins, shortcomings, failures, successes, and anything else. Being a certain type of fish doesn’t get you tossed back into the sea.

Why are we not united like the net? One net, 153 fish. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the one net that can hold it all and won’t break. This is the one net that can hold you, me, your crazy uncle, and the person in the office next to you, the rude lady who flipped you off in traffic, your ex-boothang, that person on Facebook who has political views that make you want to hurl, your neighbor whose family looks different from yours, your landlord, and Taco Bell employees at 3am.

I’m so thankful to be a part of a congregation that acknowledges that we are all so incredibly different, but it’s one Kingdom that holds us all.

What are you fishing for? Are you freely fishing for men, all men? Or are you acting as if the resurrection never happened, and you’re back to exclusively fishing for fish?

What #OC14 Taught Me

christianity, junior high ministry, leadership, lgbtq, Ministry, youth ministry

I went to Orange for the first time last week, making that my third ministry conference experience in the last 14 months! Here comes Middle School Campference this fall! :)

Here is the 900-word summary of what I learned:

Youth Ministry is about the Family.

Doug Fields said, “You may be a children’s or youth worker, but you’re also doing marriage ministry.”

Let’s get real: Programs compete with the family. My junior high Sunday nights do nothing to serve the family; it just takes students away from their one family night. If I care about my students, then I care about the time they spend with their families; therefore I need to make sure they get as much time there as possible.

When there’s an issue in the church, we try to answer it with programs.  Heather Zempel said, “Programs to not disciple people. People disciple people.”  She also said, “Instead of finding people to serve structures, find structures that serve people.”

In Reggie Joiner’s breakout, he gave two pointers for ministers in their 20s that I keep thinking about. The first is applicable here: Be intentional about keeping things simple. Yearly decide what to stop in order to do other things better. That doesn’t mean to just get rid of something that’s not working. True leadership comes when you prune strong stuff to make the weak show its potential.

Tension is GOOD.

Reggie gave a message that made my SBC brain officially reconcile with my new UMC ministry.

There are all of these tensions: “I believe that the Bible is God’s word and authoritative” no longer has to compete with “This person needs love.” Reggie Joiner said (something like), “If your beliefs are hurting people, then it is time to reevaluate your beliefs.” He also said, “Kids should feel safe enough to process their doubt so they can own their faith.”

Truth no longer competes with Grace. The Church no longer has to compete with the World. Faith no longer has to compete with Doubt. They can work together, constantly be in tension with one another, and that’s beautiful. You can know God with all your heart, and he can still be a huge mystery. You no longer have to pick one or another; there is no sacrifice in living with tension.

“Say yes to beliefs that matter. Say yes to people who matter more.

“Say yes to the uncomfortable moments to see lives changed.”

Volunteers need to be owners, not renters.

Reggie Joiner said in a breakout that one of the keys to having a ministry that disciples kids instead of babysitting them is having weekly volunteers who are invested. Having rotating volunteers does nothing for ministry. He said, “You may be teaching kids truth each week with a different leader, but you’re not discipling them.”  He also pointed out that leaders may not understand the need to be there each week because they don’t understand the importance. He said, “People don’t commit to weekly because we haven’t invited them to commit to something significant.”  Our family pastor who was with us, David Williamson, added in our staff discussion: “Are you asking for less of a commitment from volunteers than you expect from attending families?” Brilliant. So brilliant. I plan to blog about this in abundance.

Sue Miller then used an analogy in her breakout about how volunteers need to be owners, and not renters. Owners see a problem in their home and they fix it. Renters call the landlord and expect them to fix it.  We have to convince our volunteers to commit to and sign the mortgage, and be realistic that it may cost them something. They need to learn that it is THEIR house and THEIR ministry…and that they are on a team of people who feel the same. Sue said, “It’s easy to leave a task, but few will leave a family…When volunteers rent, they don’t get deep enough to join a family.”

Jeff Henderson said something that will preach all day, “You will never experience what the church can do for you until you see what the church can do through you.”

We can talk about homosexuality.

Andy Stanley gave the most loving, inclusive talk on same-sex attraction I have ever heard. No matter where your stance is on the subject theologically, it is difficult to argue with Andy on his approach to talking with middle schoolers. Andy said that his church has adopted this statement: “We believe the church should be the safest place to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.”

Andy reminded us that the answers we give to our kids are the answers that they will have with them for the rest of their lives… Jeff Henderson said that “sometimes ministry gets in the way of ministering.” Sometimes we have to put our personal beliefs on hold to love a kid where they’re at. But especially with junior highers, we don’t need to get into theology. We need to get into Grace. We need to get into Love. And we need to get into the Truth that Jesus loves us right where we’re at. That’ll preach!

One last thought from Jon Acuff: “God will never be handcuffed by the failures nor unleashed by the successes of your ministry.”

And from Mark Batterson: “In an argument with God you need to lose so that you can win.” Because “sometimes God shows up, and sometimes God shows off.”

What did you guys learn at Orange? My head is spinning. :)

Don’t just "understand" the other side, EMPATHIZE.

america, Blogs about Heather, christianity, church, faith, freedom, leadership, lgbtq, love, sin, social activism, theology, unchurched
I have half a dozen or so documents in my laptop right now of “potential blogposts” of different rants and ramblings about politics; from Chick-Fil-A to the ability for a Christian to vote different political parties to my stance on gay marriage, I have been wanting to speak out for a while now.  But I have held back.  Why?  Because there are others who can say it better.  Because I’m no expert.  Because I’m still learning.

That is what I want to emphasize today in my all-encompassing post on politics, ethics, and anything else that seems to matter these days.  I am extremely irritated with the election, as both “sides” of the United States are exposing their dirty ignorance and disregard for people who do not agree with them.  It is this mentality of, “If a person does not agree with my political stance, which is the only way, then their entire character must be attacked publicly.”  One day I posted on Facebook, “I think it says a lot about President Obama’s character for him to visit Joplin a year after the tornado came through.”  I wasn’t making a political statement, just a statement of appreciation for the remembrance of a small town near me that had been devastated by a storm.  One parent of one of my youth wrote, “I think we should all worry about Heather’s character.”  Then a full-fledged debate began on my status about gay marriage, Obama being a dirty Muslim from Kenya, etc.  One of my friends wrote, “Shame on all of you.  This status wasn’t about any of that.”  And it wasn’t, but to many Christian brothers and sisters that I respect, a politician that they don’t agree with can’t have any redeeming qualities.

I think it’s extremely dangerous to claim to hold absolute knowledge of any subject.  I’m sure some of you are shocked, as I am a Christian and you probably are too; how can I say that I don’t know undoubtedly that God exists?  Simply, if I knew it wouldn’t be called faith.  I know it in my heart, but empirically I do not know that.  I’m not a skeptic, and I’m not saying that if I don’t know things, that I can’t express my opinions on them; in fact my faith in God precedes all other faiths I have and consequentially demands me to express that faith.  The point I’m trying to make is:  It is extremely important to be empathetic to opinions that differ from your own, for you do not know your opinions to be fact.  In fact, it becomes dangerous when you claim to know it all and aren’t empathetic.

Why?  Because once you claim to hold the key to knowledge on a particular subject, you get arrogant.  You push people away from you with your words and your attitude.  For example:  Those Christians who are outspoken about gay marriage push people who agree with it away; it scars the LGBTQQ community and its allies and pushes people away from the Christ who ate meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the self-righteous.  Christians (and everyone else) definitely have the right to discuss their opinions and alleged knowledge on a subject; but if we aren’t empathetic of the other side, we can and will push them away.  I took some time trying to understand the LGBTQQ community a few years ago when a group came to my conservative Christian university to speak out against our allegedly persecuting contract that we had to sign in order to be a student there.  Instead of pushing my doctrine, I took the time to listen; a time of learning and growth.  Once I heard the stories of how they’ve been treated by people inside the Church, I began to understand that it’s not necessarily my place to indoctrinate a homosexual upon meeting them (and that’s just the beginning of that journey).  It went without being said what I believed.  I spent time trying to be empathetic, not with the sole goal of strengthening my argument, but because there were things on the other side of the debate that I never even considered.  And my opinion, although not perfected today, has come a long way.

I think this is also apparent in the Neo-Calvinist movement within the SBC, trying to take it back to its supposed Calvinistic roots and forcing churches to adhere to them and teach them as if it’s an essential truth in order to believe in God.  Every time I found out someone that I knew was a Calvinist, I would judge them.  I am currently very sympathetic to Calvinism, but took a long time telling anybody; I was fearful that I would be labeled as an arrogant, close-minded reformer like many of the Neo-Calvinist leaders are looked at. Also, I’m not 100% sure on any of it.  I once thought I was when I was anti-Calvinist, and then I read scriptures and listened to people and changed my mind.  I might change my mind again.  But more importantly, why is it necessary to be sure on this topic?  It cheapens God’s sovereignty in my claim that I am all-knowing on any subject.  When we become face-to-face before God, we’re going to learn that a lot of our political, ethical, and even religious beliefs were wrong (I honestly can’t wait for God to go, “Heather, remember how you were so arrogant about __? Well, you were wrong, and there’s grace for you because I was more important to you than even that.”).

This goes beyond politics and quarrels within the Church.  This comes to our everyday life.  It is well-heard, “Before you judge someone, walk in their shoes.”  I think it’s dangerous to form an opinion, and especially to claim knowledge of a subject, without hearing all sides.  More than hearing them, but understanding them (taking their place and walking in their shoes).  Understanding a side different than yours takes more than reading a few books or listening to a few podcasts.  It takes learning from people, talking with people.  This should be especially true within the church.  We are to be in community with one another, and it strongly discredits Christ’s love for the Church when we break off communion with one another on topics that we haven’t taken the time to understand.  Maybe that person is a Calvinist because they don’t believe they could have found God without Him choosing them.  Maybe that woman hates hymns because she didn’t make it past 8th grade and has a small vocabulary.  Maybe that man isn’t a fan of small groups because his last one gossiped the entire time.  Maybe that man doesn’t come to church on Sundays because the only job he can find works those days.  Maybe that woman is pro-choice because her sister could have died in a pregnancy.  Maybe that Christian man is a Democrat because the fight against social injustice overrides the need to ban gay marriage.  Maybe that lady is for gay marriage because she separates legal marriage from covenant relationships.  Instead of judging people, understand them.  You don’t have to agree, but you don’t even need to tell them that either (with proper discourse, that will naturally come in a non-pushy way).  You just need to see people the way Jesus sees them: broken, fallen, and beautiful.  Christ sees you that way too.  You are just as much His bride as the rest of the Church; in fact, you are His bride together and that entails the need for empathy.  And at the end of the day, if you still disagree with them, that doesn’t mean their entire character should be shattered, especially if they are a follower of Christ; if you agree on the essential truths of salvation, then you are still a part of the Church and should edify one another.

Occasionally, you are going to run into a person who says while debating with you, “I’m listening to you, but I’ve heard this all before.  I’ve thought through this topic and have my opinion.”  This translates, “I’m listening to your comments, but I already know all there is to know on the subject and there is no new information you can give me.  There is no point in debating me, because I won’t change my mind but will debunk all your arguments in the most mocking way I can.”  THIS. IS. DANGEROUS.  I can’t tell you how much I have thought through, prayed through, and talked through different topics.  I may have strong opinions on subjects, but the day I claim to have it all together: please take me out of the local church before I infect people with my arrogant ignorance. Can you tell I am hurting right now?  Yes.  Because I used to be the person who was arrogant to think that they knew it all and only struck up debates to be the smart conqueror of them.  Because right now, people are discrediting me for being provocative in thinking and trying to be the “Devil’s Advocate” and understand both sides of issues.  But primarily because in a world where we have tragedies such as mass murders, children starving, public shootings, and great moments of glory like the young people beast-moding the Olympics; we are more concerned about our disagreement with a single politician or company that supports an ethic stance that differs from ours than for understanding our brothers and sisters.

ps, as I finish this post, I’m like “what do I even name this?!” hah.

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

christianity, lgbtq, sin

Christians use this phrase all the time. Non-Christians hate it. Why? Because for some people, a Christian’s definition of sin is not their definition of sin. And that “sin” defines that person.

Not following? I’ll give you an example. Some of you may know that this last spring, a group called Soulforce came to my school (and it changed my life, read about the experience here). They are a group of LGBTQs and allies. For a queer person, to say that you hate their sin offends them, because you are saying that the very essence of them, the very thing that they feel defines them best, is hated by you. So to them, you are saying, “I love you, but I hate the very thing that defines you.” If you were to tell me, “I love you, but I hate that you are a Christian and I find Christ repulsing” I wouldn’t be able to be your friend. Why? Because I feel like you not only hate my Christ, but you hate the very thing that defines me, which in turn means you hate ME.

I think the phrase can be useful, just not with non-Christians. After talking with Soulforce, I realized that using this phrase with people who don’t have a relationship with Christ can do more harm than good.

But is the phrase useless? NO! Yet I think we need to remember what this phrase means. I think it’s a good summary of Ephesians 6:12.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Our fight isn’t against flesh and blood. It isn’t against sinners, pagans, non-Christians, etc. It is against the sin itself–the ROOT of the sin. That root is Satan and the “spiritual forces of wickedness”, the “darkness” that is in our world. That’s why we need to make war against those darknesses. We don’t make war by picketing, slandering sinners, and by telling people we hate what they are doing. We make war through prayer, through spreading the Gospel, and through love.

It can be a good reminder to yourself to hate the sin, meaning the darknesses behind it. But never tell a sinner you hate their sin, because that can keep them away from the light.

My long-awaited post on SoulForce

Here it is, the long-awaited post about SoulForce Equality Ride. I have been writing this blog since before they even came! This will discuss who SoulForce is, the preparations made for their arrival, the events of the day, the controversial outcome, and my thoughts. This is one long post :)

In case you don’t know what it is, the Equality Ride is a division of SoulForce, and their mission is to go around the country in a huge megabus “in pursuit of justice for transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people through engagement of action. This year’s ride will stop at 16 campuses in the Northeast, South, and Midwest–all with policies that are discriminatory to LGBTQ students. The ride in 2010 places a special focus on community work and will engage with campuses and their surronding communities. We will partner in volunteer work, host organizing forums, link students with communitiy members, and support existing justice work.”

They chose my school, Southwest Baptist University, because we have policies that they feel are discriminatory to LGBTQ students. According to page 7 of our Student Handbook, “Scripture teaches that heterosexual union is the only acceptable expression of sexuality and must be reserved for marriage and insists on sexual abstinence for those who are unmarried…All members of the University family should abstain from unbiblical sexual practices and from behavior which may lead to a violation of God’s standards on sexual activities.” When you are planning on coming to SBU, you sign a contract that says you will abstain from “premarital sex, extramarital sex, and homosexual behavior.” The contract also has other rules you are to follow as well (look at page 6 of the contract). If you don’t follow the contract, you are subject for dismissal. Rob Harris, the Dean of Students, told some faculty and students that in his five years as Dean, nobody has been dismissed for homosexuality. I, personally, stand by SBU’s view of sexuality as I believe that it is what Scripture teaches. I think that the policy is fair, as it doesn’t just target specific sins, it covers a lot more as well (read the student handbook for more).

SBU prepared for this visit for months. The Administrators did a lot of research, a lot of work, and a lot of praying. There were three panel discussions put forth open for all students on campus: (1) What the Bible says about homosexuality, (2) Homosexuality related to behavioral sciences, and (3) Interacting and conversing with individuals who have a different worldview. All of the sessions were extremely informative, extremely challenging, and just plain good!

SBU also asked for student hosts to hand out with the Riders all day. They talked to other universities who had done this, as well as plan an itinerary. The day went smoothly for all the other campuses, so SBU imitated this model. I automatically wanted to be a host because I think that I am one of the most least-judging and most easy-going people on campus. I had a lot of homosexual friends in high school, and I had a lot of questions about it in general. Plus, if I want to be a youth minister, I need to learn as much as I can about as many different things as I can, especially different worldviews. So that was my thinking :)

My biggest worry going into the actual day was the conservative people on campus who had never met a homosexual before. In my high school, as I mentioned previously, we had a good number of open homosexuals. I had good practice of treating them like everyone else because it was just normal for me. Very early in the school year, I went to Springfield with a friend from high school and a good friend I had made here. We were meeting up with two friends from high school, one who was openly gay. My friend here had never met a gay man before, which blew my mind! So if there was one person who had never met a gay man (or at least an open one) before college, there is no telling how many more there were. She didn’t know how to act or what to say, but I assured her that he is just like her–normal. I think it was a big learning experience for her. But I was very afraid that many people here wouldn’t know what to say or would say something rude out of ignorance. That is why there were sessions to educate. Days in advance people were increasing these fears, as there were a few students who said things out of ignorance…but don’t worry, you can be assured that I set them straight.

Okay, so we’re finally to Wednesday, the big day. That morning all of the hosts met bright and early at 8:15 in the Administration building. We prayed, and then met the Riders (who were 10 minutes early! Which made me happy–more talk time before I had to go to class!). I was one of the people who jumped into shaking hands, talking, and learning names. I had read and prayed over their profiles located on the SoulForce website before they came so that I would know a little bit about them before we met.

We talked a bit, mostly just open conversations getting to know each other. I had to go to class, so I’m not sure what happened in the board meeting.

After class there was chapel (missions week!). We had worship, and then this in-your-face speaker gave a message. I didn’t entirely agree with him, but that happens a lot. After chapel, all of the Riders were crying, hugging each other, and looked very upset. I was so confused. We went out of the Forum (quad) and the Riders got the opportunity to talk to students. Isaiah talked to the Stahl Twins and I about why we wanted to be hosts. Then she asked us what we thought about the speaker. She said that the speaker highly upset her. He spoke about missions, but she looked at it as our school is trying to go into countries and Americanize them. She was really upset that our university thought we could just go into any country we want and shove the Bible down their throats without regard to their culture. I explained to her that our school is very missions-oriented, and that it is something we are passionate about (after all, we are #1 in the country for sending out mission teams!). The purpose of Intercultural Studies (Missions) Major is to educate future missionaries on how to meet different cultures where they are and give them the Gospel in a way that meets their needs. After I finished explaining it, I guess she realized she was wrong, because she asked me where the bathroom was.

When I got back, I saw Sabrina talking to a few of the football players. I saw them sitting on the sidelines earlier when I was talking to Isaiah, and I was surprised they were there. Athletes very rarely come to events on our campus. I later found out that she was talking to them about the diversity on campus (more on that later).

Next, we had lunch. We went to our private dining facility, where lunch was closed to only student and faculty hosts. The purpose of this, I think, was to have more honest conversation and less distractions (and so we could have good food!). I immediately began talking to Mia, a transgender woman (meaning she was born a man and now is living her life as a woman). She explained what transgender and transsexual mean. I ate lunch with her, another rider named Heather (who had a cute purse and was just plain adorable), Brandi (one of my closest friends), Kara (who lives across the hall from me), and Ms. Brashears (a counselor at school). Mia had very honest conversation with us, as did Heather. Heather asked Ms. B about this scenario: If a student came to Ms. B, saying they want to change from the homosexual lifestyle, what would be Ms. B’s reaction? Ms. B said that she would talk to them about where this attraction came from, where the decision to change came from, and help that person work through it. Heather hated that answer (which I thought was a very good one), and proclaimed that that person could not change who they were, so why would Ms. B participate in trying to change them? There were so many programs that were ruining lives and causing suicides from forcing gays to change. Ms. B pointed out that in the scenario, the person wanted to change. She believed that if a person wanted to change, they could change, no matter what it was they wanted to change. Heather was very adamant in saying that Ms. B was wrong. I thought the whole conversation was ridiculous, and that Heather was very forceful with her opinions. Mia, Brandi, and I just started having our own conversation about Mia’s life as a transgender. She informed me on a lot of things that I was ignorant about, not by my choosing. I learned a lot from her. I also had the opportunity to meet Brian, whose profile I read and was impressed with. He was a very solid guy, and had a lot of interesting things to say, a lot of which I agreed with. He told me I was cute :). I could tell that by this time, people were comfortable talking to each other, and that Mia and possibly Brian were both comfortable with me.

Next we had discussion with faculty. One thing by this time I noticed was that we were taking the long way around campus. I knew that there was a person who has handicapped and in a wheel chair, but all of the riders were taking the handicapped route around campus, even when Colin wasn’t around. I realized that the Riders were family, and I had great respect for them. I also realized that SBU is not very easily handicapped-accessible, that in order to get places you had to walk completely out of the way in some cases.

Discussion was easy-going again, at least on my part. I loved talking to Mia. I realized, though, that other riders were comforting each other through out the day. From mingling with others, I saw the sensitivities of some of the riders when dealing with students, so I didn’t think anything big out of them comforting each other. Obviously, we disagree on things, and that can be stressful. So I didn’t think anything big of it.

We went to the panel next…probably the most stressful part of the day. There were 5 Riders on panel (Stuart, Brian, Jess, Lindsay, and Andrew), along with 3 of our faculty {Dr. Manis (phiolosophy), Dr. Reeves (new testament and Dean of the College of Theology), Ms. Langford (Honors Program Director)},and 2 students (Lydia Nebel and Mallory Roth).

The questions were reviewed before asking. Both sides participated in each question. In the end, there were a few frustrating results. Stuart said that he could never be friends with someone who didn’t affirm his homosexuality and didn’t agree with his views. To him, that is how you love someone–you affirm everything about them. Langford disagreed, saying that when you love someone, you don’t always have to agree with everything they do. In fact, you should be able to discuss the things you disagree on with the people you love. The Equality Riders defined oppression as basically disagreement–people who disagree with homosexuality are oppressors.

I was really excited that Brian was one of the panelists because his profile made him sound super intelligent about the Bible. However he didn’t say much of intellectual merit, but was very emotional about the whole situation. I sat there and cried whenever he spoke. Looking back, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to talk to him about anything intellectual. But he definitely made me emotional about the oppression that the queer community has been put through.

Another big moment was when Jess said, “God made me exactly the way I am.” Her point was that God made her in His image, that she is perfect just the way she is. Manis pointed out that none of us are perfect, that none of us are the way that God wants us to be. We are all sinful, so to say that God affirms us in our sin is wrong. Also, the riders seem to find their identity in this sin, but if one is a Christian, they should find their identity in Christ, not their sin. In the end, it all came down to the same disagreement: The Riders do not find homosexuality a sin, even if they are a Christian. SBU says that the Bible specifically calls out homosexuality (or homoeroticism) a sin.

After that we said our goodbyes, and as I held back my tears I hugged Mia. I started crying, and I had to go back to my room because I just couldn’t watch the bus leave. I lied on my bed in my room for three hours, numb. I cried and prayed and asked God a lot of questions. The people I met that day had a lot of hurt bottled up inside of them. They were honest with us, and vulnerable. I questioned God about homosexuality, but mostly I just lied there with His arms wrapped around me. I posted on the Equality Ride’s Facebook Page:

Heather Lea Campbell

Heather Lea Campbell You guys DEEPLY touched me today at SBU. I thank you for the opportunity to have dialog about things that I as well as others were ignorant about. I also would like to thank you for your vulnerability with us; for sharing your stories with us as well as your beliefs that are different from ours. I applaud your bravery and courage on this Equality Ride. I hope that you will gain the love and respect of more people in the campuses to follow as you did mine.

Wed at 6:02pm · · · Report

I finally decided to get up, make some sweet tea, and move on with my life somewhere around 7:30ish. I went to the bathroom for some water and I hear Kellie and Natalie talking. They asked me how I thought the day went, and I said well. They asked me if I knew about the protest. I was confused…WHAT protest? They continued to tell me the following: We were told we were the worst school they had ever been to. The Riders called Kurt Caddy (head of missions) racist. They verbally attacked Rob Harris. Over the next day I learned more and more. A rider posted a blog posted about the whole thing. We were attacked about a lot of different things. I don’t encourage you to read it, but if you would like to, go ahead. I can barely think or look at it anymore. It made me absolutely sick to my stomach.

Some other riders posted things all over their facebooks:
“Jaxon Feels like I’m at church camp… So weird, makes me concerned for these students!!!”
“Despina experienced highly spiritual violence today at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri….. actually experienced what the students are experiencing for the 4 years in this University every day…. i heard everything today…….my prayers and thoughts are with all these students that suffer in silence and suppress their feelings and their identity…..”
“Mac is listening to love songs and trying to let all of the spiritual violence he endured today drain out of his heart…”
“Isaiah’s soul feels uneasy. Southwestern Baptist was the most spiritually violent school we have encountered yet. I am broken.”
“Mia had a crazy day today at SBU…I am uber tired now, but much work to be done.”
I’m very good at getting information that I want off of Facebook…but we know this ;)

Well, that is all of the information. And I’m processing. Here are my thoughts:
I am deeply sad. I have a deep place in my heart for social rights and activism, and this group is a poor example of one. Their message was one of love, and taught against oppression. Their definition of oppression is disagreement. If I disagree with you, then that is oppressing you. Webster defines oppression as an “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” In the end, they oppressed SBU. They used their authority as an activist group to force themselves on our campus and tell their opinions of us as a university. They would have came whether we let them or not. They showed no mercy in giving us their opinion of us. They didn’t care about what we had to say, wouldn’t process it, and at the end of the day told us we couldn’t be friends because we didn’t agree. They looked at everything with tinted glasses–if you are wearing blue glasses, everything you see will be tinted blue. They were extra-sensitive coming to campus. They were looking for specific things, and saw them. I really do think that they believe what they are saying about our campus, don’t get me wrong. But they sought out the things on campus that they claim. Just like when you read the Bible, if you are wearing those tinted glasses, you can make the Bible justify what you believe. The solution is to take off your glasses, and try to understand what the author is trying to say, what the true message is. SBU took of their glasses for SoulForce. Students and Faculty took the day to educate themselves, to understand SoulForce’s message. We did not force our opinions, we learned about theirs. And at the end of the day, we didn’t agree. I think what frustrated the Riders the most is that although we disagreed, SBU showed them love. This does not line up with their view of “love”–that we must affirm their acts. So they retaliated. Lydia and I talked about how sometimes we get sooo angry when we are expecting someone to be mad at us for something we did, but they love us. We hate that! So then we try to pick at them. SoulForce did that to us.

Should we disregard everything they said? Heck no! There are lessons to be learned from all of this, there is growing that has and is still taking place on our campus. I understand that we are a conservative college whose students as a whole need to learn more about different cultures and get out of the ignorant bubble that they have grown up in. But that doesn’t mean that we struggle with sexism, ableism, racism, etc. There just needs to be more education and growing experiences. Everybody on campus can sit there and complain about what the Riders said, but nobody wants to think critically about it. At this point, my motto kind of rings in my head–“Never complain about something unless you are willing to change it.”

I think that SoulForce’s visit helped the education. SoulForce may have negated their message of love and justice with their protest/vigile. However, we should take away from this the need to educate ignorance and create “safe places” for discussion about all kinds of issues.

**The purpose of this blog post is NOT to diss the SoulForce Equality Ride. It is to educate outsiders of what happened here at SBU. This has been a big event in my life, and I need to express what happened in my own way. I am still processing a lot of things that happened, but I feel like I’m finally at a point where I can post this. Again, if you are reading this and going, “Man, that group sucks!”, quit. And look at the things in your life that make you suck more. I want to grow from this, but I want others to as well. Also, I want to thank those who have been constantly affirming me in the last few weeks. You guys have really helped me in my processing.