By Amy Taylor
A small group of students walked out of a February chapel service at Trevecca because they felt they were being falsely accused of racism and terrorism.
More than 70 students have since become fans of a Facebook group advocating that the speaker not be invited back to campus.
Reverend Gwendolyn Felder-Brown, the pastor of Ernest Newman United Methodist Church in Nashville and the united campus minister of the Wesley Foundation at Fisk University, was asked by the Office of the Chaplain at Trevecca to speak during chapel on February 25, 2010.
Heather Daugherty, Director of Church Services, has known Felder-Brown for about a year and served on the board with Felder-Brown at the Academy of Young Preachers. She invited Felder-Brown partially because it was black history month and partially because the Office of the Chaplain often asks religious members of the community to speak in chapel, Daugherty said.
Felder-Brown’s message during chapel was that of overcoming hatred with love. She began her message by singing the song “Jesus Loves Me,” and she followed that by reading a passage from the book of Luke that says, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you.”
However, some students did not receive Felder-Brown’s message as one of love.
“There was a tone about her entire presentation that was real, like, judgmental,” Kevin Schuck, a junior at Trevecca, said.
Felder-Brown discussed some topics that caused controversy among students.
“It appears easy for humanity, when confronted with bombed buildings and people dying, to rationalize falsifying information of weapons of mass destruction, to take up arms, to go to war, occupy a nation and its people, bombing their buildings, killing their people who had absolutely nothing to do with hurting or harming you. Label them terrorists. Say you were terrorized by them, when in reality, you are the terrorist,” Felder-Brown said in her sermon.
Felder-Brown’s basic meaning was that the U.S. military, along with Americans in general, were terrorists for going to war, some students said.
Students also felt that Felder-Brown, a black woman, accused them of racism.
Felder-Brown discussed the way in which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others against segregation overcame hatred with love during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, this nation has “regressed instead of progressed,” she said.
Felder-Brown also discussed health care.
“The census bureau reflects well over thirteen million children under the age of 18 without health care. We have millions of children scattered all over this wealthy nation without basic medical care and, in my opinion, a divided legislative body in Washington who would rather let those unnamed, destitute children suffer and go without healthcare—not because they do not want them to have it but because they refuse to support an African American President and allow his President administration to accomplish anything,” Felder-Brown said in her sermon.
Some students took this as Brown saying that Americans who do not support the health care bill are only doing so because our President is black.
“Even if she didn’t come right out and say ‘you’re racist’ there was still a tone throughout the entire thing that was judgmental,” Schuck said.
In response to Felder-Brown’s sermon, Lyle Blanco, ASB Director of Student Services, created a Facebook group called “Never have GWEN FELDER-BROWN back for chapel.”
Blanco felt that speaking about politics from the pulpit, calling people terrorists and racists, and being unfair to faculty members by saying that faculty make sure they are secure before the students are was unnecessary, he said.
The Facebook group was created the day Felder-Brown spoke in chapel, and it now has 78 members.
“[The Facebook group] in no way reflects the University, and we’re allowed to have our own opinions,” Blanco said.
Daugherty said that she hasn’t actually heard anything from students directly.
“I’ve heard lots of rumblings, but no one’s actually talked with me,” she said.
Daugherty believes Felder-Brown’s message was misinterpreted.
“I think she touched on some hot button issues that people are passionate about. If you weren’t listening closely, her words could be misconstrued,” Daugherty said.
Felder-Brown has yet to return a phone call to be interviewed, but the message she was trying to get across to students was that love conquers all, Felder-Brown said in her sermon.
“All I’m here to advocate to you today is love is what we need,” Felder-Brown said toward the end of her sermon in chapel.
Some students heard this message and did not feel that Felder-Brown was judging them.
“I think she was misinterpreted. Black people went through a lot, and you can’t pretend like it didn’t happen. She wasn’t saying, ‘you people did this.’ Her main point was that in the worst, most horrible things that happen to you, you can still overcome that with love. I don’t think she was saying anything else other than that,” Heather Millington, a student at Trevecca, said.