My Faith and Ashland University’s Proposed Social Issue Policy

I am neither gay nor bisexual, nor am I a self-described Christian. When I was younger, I tried very hard to be a Christian. It seemed on the outside to be an irrefutably good idea. It didn’t take.

Christ’s compassion and self-sacrifice to protect humanity from his previously angry and vengeful nature as the Old Testament God was a powerful concession of fallibility and remorse. After all, Christianity recognizes that Christ is first positioned as the son of God, then He is revealed as God Himself. If God can admit fallibility and change His perspective, how can you not? The verification of Christ’s divine nature is quite the third act reveal. I mean… wow.

I found this idea to be fascinating, as even from a purely secular perspective you have to be pretty impressed with that premise. God decides to see and experience humanity not from on high, but on Earth. To walk among, understand, and indeed be rejected and punished by humanity. God, as Christ, affirms as a human that humanity should be forgiven for its imperfections and welcomed into Heaven if they can walk alongside, acknowledging their imperfection and seeking better. Christ brought to the world love as a unifying force that could cut through every petty grievance and show a healthier path through empathy and compassion and charity.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, the faith was corrupted by the practice of it. In church as a young Christian, I was in love with the idea of Christianity. I looked to those around me for behavior to model on, for a genuine sense of fellowship and found that my relationship with God did not comport with the common posture.

Those in my church were firm that they should attend church and as soon as they were done with services, shrug off their focus of meditating on faith and instead invest themselves on the cultural component of life within the congregation. Indeed, people found it easy to pivot from worship directly into petty gossip, boasting of riches and worst of all, arrogant judgment of others in the congregation. None of these cultural weaknesses comported with the Christ I had grown to love.

Everywhere I looked to try to find a closer relationship with God, I found only fallible human beings. And indeed, even the New Testament itself is the purported word of God as interpreted by those fallible humans around Christ.

For example, Paul (uniquely relevant to this story because of his solid monopoly on the subject of homosexuality in the New Testament) was certainly not Christ nor even an early adopter. He seems determined to push his own spin, and doesn’t even try to validate his editorializing by attribution to Christ. Tellingly, he was a bandwagon jumper who had previously persecuted Christ’s followers. Faced with obsolescence he rolled with the new, having gotten a late-breaking communique from God and no doubt bringing his clout in Old Testament thinking into the now-acknowledged new era.

Paul aside, even the version of the Bible I was given to read was itself a translation commissioned by a politician (King James) who certainly had a few perspectives sewn into the margins. How was I to determine what was God/Christ’s will and what was manipulation of that relationship for political ends?

Ultimately, in trying to reckon with the disconnect between the Word and the congregation, I found my answer in what is, to me, Christ’s ultimate mic drop. As I experienced it, humanity that walked alongside Christ was indeed imperfect. I was told to love them and forgive them and most important, judge not lest I be judged. The Word was not one of social order, but instead about perfecting my own personal tether to God. So while I walked away from Christianity with a profound gift, I knew in my heart that I needed to walk away from the identity of Christianity as it was something that I could not identify with. The congregation was not Christ and to preserve what I valued, it needed to be independent of the congregation. I was 11 years old at the time.

Faith became quite a portable concern after that. I was free to compare my experience with those in other faiths and found a very unifying core. We speak to God with different languages in the form of organized faiths but all people of faith seek the Audience. Indeed, while I was on my subsequent spiritual travels, I came to question what the nature of divinity even meant. In my heart, I could not align the feeling of humility and commonality with the universe with ritualized religion at all. It had outgrown the model of religion itself.

I would tell you that I am not an atheist, but am decidedly an agnostic. I do not know what exists outside of our physical plain, but there is in my heart an irrefutable sense that something else does exist. I do not care for opinions about that sense as those opinions are not relevant to me. Who are these people to judge my relationship to God or whatever it is I feel kinship to? After all, it might very well be their own God and ultimately, my soul is my own responsibility.

So given the awareness that I am potentially being observed and judged on that plain, what do I do with myself in response? I practice empathy and compassion and charity in service to humanity. I seek to promote the preservation of all creation through environmental advocacy. I would not call my position Christianity, but where my personal tether to whatever is looking over would regard it is concerned, I don’t feel Christ would have much of a problem with the way I live my life. My soul is my concern and I am doing my best to manage it. I do not feel my existence is secular, but I acknowledge that it does not look like anyone’s traditional faith. I do not accept rejection from people who think of themselves as Christians. It is not their judgement to make, as according to their sacred Text, that job is already spoken for.

My decision to come to Ashland University to teach has all of that as context. Upon viewing the job listing that ultimately offered what was to become my position here, I was immediately dismissive. “They would never want me. I’m certain I wouldn’t fit their thresholds for faith.” But being interested in the unique qualities of the position that was on offer, I decided to apply and learned so much once a conversation with the university began.

I learned about the Brethren Church and its unique position on faith. I was reminded that Christianity is not monolithic and that the Brethren welcome mutual dialogue from different perspectives on faith, including atheism and agnosticism. I was reminded that while the university was founded by the Brethren, it was one foot in the secular and the two perspectives maintain a healthy relationship with each other in the vast body of people who make up its administration, faculty, staff, and student body. It has been overtly stated in the past that Ashland University is not a Christian university. This document states that it is unilaterally, without debate among its community. Who draws that line?

So it comes to pass that when I read the proposed Social Issue Policy, an as-yet unadopted proposal before the Board of Trustees, designed to invalidate and ghettoize an otherwise chartered, recognized student organization, it did not comport with what I have come to understand as the “unique Christian identity” of the university. While I have not been overtly looking for a spiritual home, per se, I had come to think of Ashland University as a place where my unique perspective on faith was welcome and akin.

There has been much difficulty at trying to discern who the exact author of the document is. In a paranoid and offensive presentation before the Faculty Senate, President Carlos Campo didn’t overtly deny being its author, but he didn’t seem at all interested in taking ownership of it either. Whomever the author is, he seems quite attached to the premise that to recognize the organization is to take a liberal political position that he does not quite think is befitting of the university.

Worse, the author of this document seeks the cowardly cover of anonymity, presumably because they are incapable of standing by it and defending it. Perhaps they know that to do so would hold up their own morality to inspection by all. The Board of Trustees has welcomed a dialogue about the document, but it does not seem to want to publically take ownership of its premises and defend its thinking here, if indeed, this document represents a unified position of said body.

Recognition of the existence and basic humanity of any people is not a political stance, though denying it has tragically become an obsession of the common conservative perspective. Recognition is the basic respect that any acknowledged group of humanity is due and to deny it to our sincere and vulnerable LGBTQ students is patently, undeniably villainous. These students are as much Ashland University as the most wealthy or religiously-aligned member of the Board of Trustees. Just as any may come to the table and align themselves with Christ, any may come to the university and align themselves with Ashland. All should be recognized and respected. This policy exists for no other reason than to discriminate against a particular group in the student body.

Beyond the petty, pathetic, political posturing that this policy implies, there are greater, more overt sins buried within its implications. It leverages the individual’s basic desire to love and be loved in return as a sinful act against God, and indeed tries to speak for God to purport that God rejects them. Who is to judge the currency of their capacity for love? Who is to sit in judgement of their faith? Am I to understand they will sit in judgement of mine next? It seems that there are implications within the document that they will do just that. Should I regard it as a threat?

At best, this document serves to sever access to God those who do not fit a certain model of faith, which is decidedly antithetical to the Brethren way.

Tellingly, there are advocates at this university aligned with this document that have also aligned themselves with the practice of conversion therapy under the misguided premise that the only appropriate posture to take with homosexuality is to save them from themselves. In reality, conversion therapy is targeted, focused harassment, meant to Jedi mind trick homosexuals into choosing to deny their natural inclinations. Conversion therapy does not work and is banned in much of this nation. It is, at best, aberrant hokum dressed up as ministry that often results in suicide for those it purports to help. This policy is one and the same, only just slightly less aggressive.

Gay people cannot be convinced to be heterosexual any more than straight people can be convinced to become homosexual. The unique distinction their supposed sin represents is no different from that of heterosexuals and if they weren’t ghettoized to begin with the distinction wouldn’t exist at all. The practice itself is built on the ignorant premise that gay people are cajoled or convinced to become gay by some perverted agent who tempts erstwhile heterosexuals from their otherwise straight and narrow paths.

Just as Old Testament thinking forbade the supposedly sinful consumption of dangerous meats before the age of refrigeration, or circumcision came to be thought of as a practice of enslavement in the New Testament, we recognize that our understanding of human nature is capable of evolution. Much of the secular world has come to recognize that. Intransigent, obstinate members of our university would do well to recognize that the younger generations of this university have long moved on from their outdated and ill-informed perspective on what it means to be Christian, even if you accept that as the identity of this university. The Board of Trustees would do well to make way for Ashland to become what it is destined to become, as the next generation holds equal claim to what it means to be an Ashland Eagle. Especially so when they identify themselves as Eagles for Pride.

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