Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stops #4 and #5: NC – Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Campbell University

The Equality Ride left Alabama and headed north on our zig-zagging route to Raleigh, North Carolina, where two schools awaited.

The first, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is located about thirty minutes outside the city and is famous for its “Bible based teaching,” emphasizing that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. We were technically allowed onto campus at SEBTS – we rolled up in our big queer bus, got off, were escorted by security guards conspicuously holding handcuffs to chapel, and then escorted back to our bus shortly afterward.

The chapel service itself was a bit of a show, with a preacher that stared at our group while speaking in coded language about sexual sin and the deceitful nature of the tongue (as well as reinforcing that a woman’s role is in the kitchen – and I'm not overstating here). We were able to meet and interact with students for about 20 minutes after the service before being reminded by security that we had to go, and those conversations were earnest, if predictable:

Student: We’re all sinners, but the Bible is very clear about this.
Me: We’re all equal, and people are suffering because the church is doing this wrong. I have prayed a lot about this, and feel at peace knowing I am loved just as I am. What do you think it’s like for LGBTQ students at this school? How will you treat LGBTQ members of your future ministries?
Student: We’re all sinners, and homosexuals are just like alcoholics and prostitutes. Pray harder!

Through a vigil just off campus and a community picnic nearby, we were able to meet with more students and have more of the same conversations. Finally, as we were packing up at the end of the picnic, I spoke with frustration and urgency to one of the students. “Look, everyone today has told me they acknowledge the church has failed, but no one can tell me anything else to do except keep telling the gays about our sin. Forget about our sin for once – why don’t you focus on the church for once? That’s your community, that’s where you have influence, that’s what you can do. What can you do in the church?” He had no answer. I felt defeated.

The second school was Campbell University, about 15 minutes west of Raleigh. We were allowed on for a full day of dialogue and were assured by students and administration alike that we would have a very different experience there than at SEBTS. Indeed we did: through morning presentations, campus tours, a meeting with campus representatives, a catered lunch with real Southern fried chicken, an afternoon panel discussion, and a surprisingly affirming chapel service, our day was chock full of activity.

And yet, something was off. Whereas a campus event discussing homosexuality and the Bible had attracted over 200 students just a few weeks before (which the school had put on in preparation for our visit), our events managed less than 100 each. Although the school paper had several articles in it denouncing our arrival, every person we met greeted us with a smile. Despite being the first day back after spring break, the campus was a ghost town as we walked through it. And large portions of our official “dialogue” involved receiving lectures on the school’s new construction and the history of the mascot. At the end of the day:

Administrator: Did you feel welcomed? Did you enjoy the fried chicken? Isn’t the campus lovely?
Us: Thank you for the meal, but what happens after we leave? What about your LGBTQ students?
Administrator: Oh, I’m so glad you felt comfortable.

So yes, we had different experiences at SEBTS and Campbell. At SEBTS, we were given the school’s honest answers to our questions. The students said hurtful things, but at least they listened and really wanted to talk. Campbell was all smiles and handshakes, evasive answers to direct questions and a schedule of activities that ensured most students couldn’t come.

Which do you think was more authentic? Which do you think actually listened?

As they stand, both schools remain unsafe spaces for LGBTQ students who desperately need affirmation. I can only hope that the sparks of conversation we had at both places will encourage further discussion and community mobilizing in the months and years to come

Evidence of progress already though: a few students are working on creating a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) at Campbell. Support their efforts by signing and forwarding their petition. You can make a difference!

Next up: Daytona Beach, Florida.


  1. I was watching a live concert of Rich Mullins this past weekend and he was talking about the judgmental nature of many Christians and he said, "They're not bad people, they're just wrong." When I was the age of the folks you're encountering I would have said the same things they are now. My world was very small and there were only two colors. During that time several people tried to talk to me about a lot of things I believed and I am sure they left w/ a similar frustration that you're experiencing. I remember many of those folks today and their patience made it possible for that seed they planted to grow years later. I hope, when you might wonder if this is all worth the effort, that you'll think back on people in your life who, unbeknown to them, gave you a word that grew as you traversed down the path of your life. You are wonderful Stuart and I love you very much! - Roy

  2. I agree with what Roy said, Stuart - you may have planted a seed in some of those students' minds.

    Even if it's only one, I'd say that's spectacular!

  3. You were right about not being able to see on the bus.... campbell is about 45 min EAST of raleigh, haha. Obviously that doesn't matter, just wanted to give you a hard time since we are both directionally challenged (haha).

    It was great to see you while you were here.
    keep fighting.

    Joshua 1:9

  4. I agree with Roy as well. I think your time spent at SEBTS will have a lot more future impact than seems likely at this point. You have no idea who's watching you, who's listening to you, and seeing you all stand up and stand firm may have just reached the one person who needed it most.

  5. Thanks for the update, Stuart. Adding another voice to the concept of planting seeds that sprout later. You never know who will take what you say to heart and have it start new trains of thought later on.

    One suggestion after reading about the constant refrain of "we're all sinners." What about putting together a short skit of how their "dialogue" of "we're all sinners" comes across to listeners? Could lead with a question such as "ever wonder why more LGBT people don't listen to you?"

    You could have one person recite John 3:16-17 in a quiet voice even as a group of others chant, shout, rant: "we're all sinners," "you're an abomination," "that's evil," "you're going to hell," "you're immoral." You could have all the shouters suddenly be still so the voice of John 3 could be heard; or, you could silence the voices one by one as the John 3 voice confronts each shouter one-on-one until there is just the John 3 voice.

    That could give a stark image of what the anti's "dialogue" sounds like. Just an idea you might toss around.

    You're in my continued prayers.

    Lots of love,