By Diana Leyva
A Monday night chapel service about sexuality caused swift and strong reaction on campus and on social media from students and alumni.
On Monday Oct. 25, Trevecca hosted an openly gay speaker, Pieter Valk, during its 6 p.m. chapel service.
Valk is the executive director of EQUIP, a non profit Christian consulting ministry whose mission is to “help churches become places where LGBT+ Christians could belong and thrive according to a traditional sexual ethic.”
During the service Valk discussed the different standards to which gay and straight people are held, said homosexuality is a result of the fall, and shared his story of struggling with his own sexuality and therefore committing himself to a life of singleness and celibacy.
The beliefs shared by Valk were closely aligned with the standards set forth in the Church of The Nazarene manual, which states: “Because we believe that it is God’s intention for our sexuality to be lived out in the covenantal union between one woman and one man, we believe the practice of same-sex sexual intimacy is contrary to God’s will for human sexuality. While a person’s homosexual or bi-sexual attraction may have complex and differing origins, and the implication of this call to sexual purity is costly, we believe the grace of God is sufficient for such a calling. We recognize the shared responsibility of the body of Christ to be a welcoming, forgiving, and loving community where hospitality, encouragement, transformation, and accountability are available to all.”
But the service, unlike others, was not streamed.
University President Dan Boone said the chapel was intentionally not broadcasted be cause of its sensitive nature.
“If you put it [the chapel] out on social media, what you do is you invite a world that is angered on both sides to jump into the middle of that conversation, and all of a sudden you’re not having a Trevecca community conversation, you’re actually arguing with the whole world. What I’ve learned from personal experience is that the conversation that we’re trying to have in our community gets hijacked by angry people from outside our community,” he said.
Monday was not Valk’s first time speaking at Trevecca. Years ago he also spoke during chapel although the response was not nearly the same.
Monday’s chapel caused rapid and mixed responses.
Boone received phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and screenshots from Christians who were angered the university had a gay speaker in chapel, as well as Christians who were angered Trevecca did not take a more progressive position on human sexuality.
Following the service a Pride flag was mounted on the statue of Jesus on campus only to be taken down moments after, but not before social media could be flooded with pictures.
An abundance of students used social media to express their beliefs and concerns.
Many students voiced their opinions on an anonymous forum, tnu_confessionz and posted things such as, “If you don’t like Trevecca and the Christian values it upholds then leave!” and, “GAY IS NOT OK IF U FOLLOW JESUS”.
Boone said those types of statements are not helpful at any level, and wishes that those students would instead sit down and have a conversation with students of a different sexual orientation than them, rather than to post anonymous comments.
“There are some immature students who believe that they can wrap themselves in the cloth of Jesus and be judgmental in that way and they’re wrong,” he said.
Other students showed solidarity and created artwork, shared articles and photographs, and posted various resources for anyone identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Many LGBTQ+ students on social media used the phrase, “Bad theology kills,” and called on their peers to be allies and advocate for them.
Junior Delaine Bowers identifies as a lesbian and said she does not feel safe being who she is.
“We are gaslighted with promises of progression and listening. Trevecca is a conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist institution that uses liberal buzzwords to hide their ideology,” she said in an Instagram post.
Junior Hamzah Abo-Hashema believes that people have the right to be upset, but at the same time if the beliefs that a Christian school upholds conflicts with one’s own there’s nothing that can be done, he said.
“A lot of Christians believe homosexuality is wrong but that doesn’t mean they don’t agree with who you are,” he said.
Sophomore Vincent Malone said he personally accepts people in his life who identify as gay, but does not see a logical reason for placing a Pride flag on a statue of Jesus.
“You can’t use a greater power or entity or something as sensitive as religion to make your argument valid,” he said.
Senior Madison Malone identifies as bisexual. Growing up in a religious household she knew her faith community did not agree with the core part of who she was, and viewed attending Trevecca as a way to hold on to the last bit of faith she had.
And while Malone has found safety and solidarity within her close friendships and certain areas within the Trevecca community, she does not believe the university as a whole promotes that same level of inclusivity.
“If I’m being honest, the way I have been treated on campus as a queer student has pushed me further away from the church than I have ever been before,” she said.
Malone said she is upset Monday night’s chapel enabled anti LGBTQ+ students to feel comfortable promoting hatred and believes the university could be better by addressing and condemning the behavior from those students.
“I think what most queer students want is an apology and a statement affirming our hurt, anger, and pain towards the way we have been treated … A lot of us are exhausted having to constantly defend ourselves and fighting to be seen as people who are deserving of respect,” she said.
University response from faculty and student leaders came quickly.
University Chaplain, Erik Gernand, said the goal for Monday night’s chapel was to have a conversation with a leader in the field of aiding churches to become more welcoming for the LGBTQ+ community while still upholding Nazarene ethics regarding sexuality.
“It’s difficult to hold the two realities in tension at a place like Trevecca – where the Nazarene faith calls us to a traditional understanding of sexuality as God’s best for our lives, while also sharing our genuine and heartfelt love for students who believe differently. Where we fall short in holding those two things faithfully at the same time, I am deeply sorry,” said Gernand on Oct. 26 via Instagram stories.
ASB Chaplain Carolyn Johnson said on Instagram that the chapel planning team held a meeting to discuss ways to move forward more carefully and with more intentionality.
“This matter is weighing heavily because our people are important, their experiences are important, and we are beginning/continuing to have conversations that have not always been initiated. I am thankful for ways that we are growing in having conversations and I am lamenting the ways that this service was harmful instead of helpful. The way we listen to and treat each other in these moments matters,” she said.
Additionally, the Center for Student Development shared a list of contacts for students to reach out to and SGA is planning a Town Hall to discuss the issue more.
Boone said he is aware that the church across the decades has not done a good job of caring for those in the LGBTQ+ community, and while he believes it is possible to have an inclusive and welcoming community, the university must still uphold it’s Nazarene beliefs.
He said what happened in Monday night’s chapel was an attempt to help the entire Trevecca community understand what a gay student faces in terms of judgment from a Christian community, and the speaker just so happened to hold a traditional Christian sexual ethic.
“If we hear biblical understandings that are offensive to us, I don’t think that’s an act of violence in any way. I think it’s one person sharing with another person what they most deeply believe,” he said. “We [Trevecca] have always made space for dissenting theological opinions, our people are welcome to hold them. But it does not excuse us from declaring publicly, ‘This is what we believe in. This is how we read the scriptures’ because we are an expression of the Church of the Nazarene and we seek to say that in the context of love, hospitality and grace, and then to enter conversation with those who might differ.”