SPU’s Affiliation

Any AFMEI [American Free Methodist Educational Institutions] institution that alters their hiring policy to permit the hiring of individuals living a lifestyle inconsistent with the Free Methodist Book of Discipline’s teachings on sexual purity will be considered to have disaffiliated with the denomination and will not be considered for any level of affiliation as long as this hiring policy is in place.

Free Methodist Church Board of Administration, quoted in an email from SPU’s student government sent May 18, 2022

After careful consideration of multiple and complex concerns, the Board of Trustees has
reached the decision to retain Seattle Pacific University’s current Employee Lifestyle
Expectations regarding sexual conduct. . . .

Seattle Pacific remains committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for undergraduate and
graduate students, welcoming and supporting each student — including our LGBTQIA+
students — to support their academic pursuits, faith journeys, and life together. To that end,
we continue to strive to create a community where all receive support to thrive and to

SPU Board of Trustees email, “Board of Trustees reaches decision on Employee Lifestyle Expectations,” May 23, 2022

As a faculty member, I can tell you that the faculty will not be different tomorrow because of the Board’s decision; that you will be welcome in our classrooms and in our offices, and in our hearts, and that will not change. And it will not change that we will not give up. We do not have the right to give up, because you belong to us. I don’t know if you like that, but we claim you as ours. And we will do everything we can to do right by you.

a speech from Dr. Kevin Neuhouser to a rally against the Board’s decision on May 24, 2022; from @engaygetheculture on Instagram

Recent statements from the Free Methodist Church Board of Administration and SPU’s Board of Trustees, quoted above, confirm what I have heard for about half a year, which is that members of SPU’s board would rather let SPU die than hire LGBTQ people as faculty and change their Statement on Human Sexuality. To SPU’s board and to the Free Methodist Church, homosexuality, transness, gayness, queerness, lesbianism, nonbinaryness, etc. are states of living death. To admit open gay, queer, and trans people into positions of authority would be to allow a virus infect the corporate body.

For more than a millennium, Christians have conceived of sexual deviance as a particularly contagious kind of sin threatening the church, so this is no surprise. Punishments for these sins have varied from confession and absolution to hanging and burning to outing and discrediting to withholding sacraments to bullying and “exgay” therapy to the barring of dykes and fags from the priesthood and professorate. Due to the threat of queer contagion – more recently spoken of as recruitment and grooming – Christians hold a special fear of allowing queer people into positions of authority over children and the youth.

So, the Board’s refusal to hire gays and queers does indeed stem from a long Christian tradition, one of Christians portraying us as threats to children and youth. (See Mark D. Jordan’s books The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology and Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk About Homosexuality.) It is impossible to disentangle their insistence on keeping SPU’s discriminatory hiring policies from this Christian tradition, especially in this moment in which the right is passing legislation to keep discussion of gayness out of primary schools and to criminalize being trans. It is a systematic attempt to kill queerness through silence, and SPU’s trustees are prayerfully playing their part, tepidly taking their places next to Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Ron DeSantis.

The irony here is twofold.

  1. Queerness spreads in silence, shadows, under rocks, in margins, and in the bushes. Attempts to prohibit the spread of queers and queerness within the church through keeping us out of education and off of syllabi will always, always fail. What such attempts succeed at is making life more lonely and miserable for young LGBTQ people, leading to increased rates of depression and suicide amongst the very children and youth homophobes claim they are protecting.
  2. The Board says their refusal to hire LGBTQ people is consistent with a commitment to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

This second point raises a further irony. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) – as functioning in this statement – are not Christian terms. They are terms of liberal inclusion by which institutions incorporate and regulate difference without fundamentally changing the power structures of the institution. In On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Sara Ahmed has described statements such as this one by the Board as “non-performatives”, meaning that they do the very opposite of what they state. She writes, naming such commitments “can be a way of not bringing something into effect” (117). Here, naming the Board’s commitment to DEI is a way of not bringing into effect the space of thriving and belonging they claim to desire. In The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference, Roderick Ferguson has historicized the way American universities in the 20th century began “producing formulas for the incorporation rather than the absolute repudiation of difference, all the while refining and perfecting its practices of exclusion and regulation” (12). [See also Linn Tonstad’s Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics for how the logics of inclusion play out in the church and potential ways beyond it. For any SPUers wanting something to read while you occupy Demaray, if interested, send me an email and I’ll send some PDFs of some chapters!]

SPU’s Board is exercising an old homophobia in Christianized DEI drag, a deified DIY DEI, and based on the dispatches I see on Instagram, articles in the Falcon, and conversations I’ve had, SPU’s students and faculty are not buying it. Queer SPU students’ use of memes has been criticized by a professor involved in the Board’s LGBTQIA+ Work Group, but a number of the memes I’ve seen reflect a commitment to the liberatory practice of truth telling. And one truth the students are telling with clarity and precision, even through memes, is that a majority of SPU’s board members are homophobes.

Queer Christians seeking acceptance in the church and its institutions are often forced to tiptoe around homophobia. Or they are wooed and romanced by the promise of minor concessions into believing that they will be rewarded for not calling their oppressors what they are. And people like these Board Members deeply desire to be seen as loving Christians, caught tragically in the grip of Truth – not homophobic, just prayerfully deliberating something that is out of their hands. What is exhilarating about the state of resistance at SPU is not only the broad consensus between students, faculty, administration, and alumni that the Board’s Truth is in fact False – which is, by the way, extraordinarily heartening. What is exhilarating is that the students know full well that they will not be rewarded for playing into the Board’s charade of DEIification. The ground of contestation has now shifted: no longer can the fantasy of changing the Board’s heart provide any hope or sustenance for action; now, as posed by the Free Methodist Church’s Board of Administration, the matter is one of affiliation or disaffiliation.

Talking about the church is always tricky, because there is a) whatever one can say about the church as the Body of Christ, the church as a metaphysical, eucharistic, symbolic, ontological – what have you – institution, but in any given situation, there is also always b) the specific manifestation or manifestations of that body. In the case of SPU, there is the Christian Church as Body of Christ, there is the Free Methodist Church, and there are the various Christian traditions to which SPU faculty, students, administration, and alumni belong – all of which are part of the Christian Church as Body of Christ.

I attended SPU for four years and learned absolutely nothing about the Free Methodist Church – it wasn’t emphasized at any part of my education, which is intentional, as the model of education SPU has settled on is decidedly ecumenical. I did value the local Free Methodist Church that partners with SPU. The music department held performances and recitals there. Faculty held going away parties there. Students got married there. When the June 5th shooting occurred, the church opened its doors to hold our grieving community, and itself not far from the sight of the shooting, it truly shared in our grief. It held services, and it opened up spaces for students to study together. That was an incidence of a particular church being the Body of Christ and being a family.

The language of family and affiliation is important to SPU and to the church broadly. But there are two ideas of church-as-family at play in this dispute between the Boards and everyone else. The Free Methodist denominational leadership and SPU’s Board are modeling one version: a patriarchal model in which authority or the authority figure is the inheritor and guarantor of tradition who must defend tradition and the family from dangers like queer people. SPU’s two BoardFathers have handed down an ultimatum: affiliate or disaffiliate with the Free Methodist Church. “Respect our authority or leave.” This is the Boards’ gospel.

This model is the church as heterosexual family. It understands the purpose of Christian tradition as safeguarding a vision of the world rooted in the procreative sex between heterosexual, cisgender married men and women. The church preserves the heterosexual nuclear family; the heterosexual nuclear family reproduces the church. For straight cis people, the good news is inheritance of the church. For all others, the good news is “get your faggot ass out of my house.” This model of church has lost the eschatological element of Christian faith. The imaginable future is not the Kingdom of Heaven but grandchildren. It has made itself amenable (and has indeed produced) white Christian nationalism, although white people are not the only ones invested in it. Even if the Board would distance itself from white Christian nationalism, both are invested in sexuality as the site where the continuation of a specific cultural heritage is guaranteed, thus necessitating sexual purity. The logic is the same.

The second model is one displayed by Dr. Kevin Neuhouser in his megaphoned words to protesters a week ago. Speaking on behalf of the faculty, he said, “We do not have the right to give up, because you belong to us. I don’t know if you like that, but we claim you as ours. And we will do everything we can to do right by you.” Dr. Neuhouser – who I had as a professor a decade ago now – has been an advocate for queer students on campus for a long time. His “I don’t know if you like that” – which got the crowd laughing – may be a recognition that the language of belonging and claiming might feel imposing to some queer people, as those words have been so abused by Christians (see, again, the statement from SPU’s Board). But what he and other faculty and staff members have been modeling for years now (take for example this 2011 letter of SPU faculty support for queer students following then President Phil Eaton’s refusal to let Haven meet on campus) is how to be the church as a community of love within and against institutional and ecclesial strictures against love. How to be in solidarity. This is straining for truer relation within and against a context of exploitation, which – to be clear – is what the Board is defending in taking queer students’ money while refusing to hire queer professors.

What I hear in Dr. Neuhouser’s statement is something like the enactment of a new kind of family. The text I’m currently reading as I study for my second comprehensive exam in my theology doctoral program is John Zizioulas’s Being As Communion. Zizioulas makes a distinction between biological and ecclesial understandings of personhood, which he speaks of using the word hypostasis. Drawing on 1 Peter 1, he talks about new life in baptism: “As the conception and birth of a [person] constitute [their] biological hypostasis, so baptism leads to a new mode of existence, to a regeneration [], and consequently to a new ‘hypostasis'” (53). Baptism means freedom “from the relationship created by [one’s] biological identity. This means that henceforth [one] can love not because the laws of biology oblige [one] to do so… but unconstrained by the natural laws” (57). This approach to nature could be leveraged into a broader argument about the ok-ness of gay sex, but that’s not the argument I’m making. For Zizioulas, being free from biology means that one is free from exercising exclusion against others. Life in the church is marked by the eucharist, which, he says, “is first of all an assembly [], a community, a network of relations, in which [one] ‘subsists’ in a manner different from the biological as a member of a body which transcends every exclusiveness of a biological or social kind” (60). The church, if understandable as a family at all, is a different kind of family: one not bound by the logics of biology and reproduction, but rather, one in which we, all the baptized, are made siblings in Christ.

The Free Methodists and SPU’s Board of Trustees have made clear that the inclusion of LGBTQ people is not an option – their lip service to the thriving and belonging of gay/queer students is as laughable as it insulting. So, we turn again to what they do offer: the options the Free Methodist Church has given the faculty, administration, and students of SPU are affiliation with the FMC and subordination of LGBTQ students and faculty or disaffiliation from the FMC and the hiring of openly LGBTQ people.

SPU’s faculty is already vastly ecumenical, with all kinds of Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox professors, students, and staff members. They represent vastly different Christian views on baptism, the eucharist/communion, the trinity, abortion, sex within heterosexual marriage, gay marriage and relationships, etc. Students come from faith traditions besides Christianity and no faith tradition at all. So in one sense, disaffiliation with the Free Methodists would be a simple recognition of the school SPU already is. In another sense, it would be an arduous and difficult logistical happening, a very important element of this moment that I am not equipped to even begin considering here!

Whether or not disaffiliation is a possibility, questions to consider are: What is new life in Christ? What is the affiliation to which Jesus calls us? What is the church? Who and whose is the church? If the Boards’ gospel of “no gays or get out” isn’t compelling today, what is compelling?

Disaffiliation from the Free Methodists may be painful for many SPUers, but what is clear to me – and has been clear to me for years – is that SPU’s faculty have been seized by a profound love for their students. They are aware of their fundamental, baptismal affiliation with LGBTQ students and colleagues. And it is clear that SPU’s Board of Trustees has nothing meaningful to say to that powerful affiliation. They don’t understand it, because they are removed from all aspects of day-to-day life on campus.

A professor once told me that Seattle Pacific may have a unique place and role to play within the kingdom. It is well situated within the landscape of US-American evangelicalism. And this doesn’t sound like dreaming to me – I agree. As more and more Christians become convinced that gay and trans people ought to be able to hold positions of leadership in church spaces, that we ought to be able to teach, and that students – queers and nonqueers alike – would benefit from our teaching, there will be more and more Christians, including evangelicals, who will be looking for Christian universities that have the faculties (in both senses of the word) to think well about how the gospel is lived out in and reinterpreted in present circumstances.

What would it look like to start imagining Christian education from within the space of deep affiliation between SPU’s faculty and its queer students? A couple of obvious changes would be the removal of the Board, yes, the hiring of gay/queer people, and the elimination of the Statement of Human Sexuality. But that may just be a start. What kind of prayer, worship, theology, life together, could God be calling this small pocket of the kingdom toward? SPU is being baptized by fire. May it become more of what it already is.

to current LGBTQ SPU students

For LGBTQ students, being hurt and disappointed by the actions and inactions of the Board of Trustees is, regrettably, an SPU tradition.

I am an SPU graduate of 2015. The Board’s recent refusal to remove the Statement on Human Sexuality reactivates the shame and trauma of my own decade of closeted self-hatred, which a wonderful SPU counselor and many wonderful SPU professors helped transfigure into joy. When I came out publicly in a blog post my sophomore year (yes girl, a blog post), I was astonished by the support I was shown by my peers and professors and even by members of the administration. The tragedy is that so many members of SPU’s community have been ready to live into another world. But institutional change is slow, and the white cisheteropatriarchy dies hard, so the Board continues to tell SPU’s queer students and faculty that they belong not to SPU but to the outside culture that is to be engaged and the outside world that is to be changed—keeping the queers out, a missiology of conversion therapy.

For LGBTQ Christians and LGBTQ people who were Christians but have become too weary of Christianity’s phobias to continue to believe and practice, this is part of our inheritance. For me, and maybe for you, the Board’s decision compounds the pain of other recent decisions by Methodists and the denomination of my own upbringing, the Evangelical Covenant (Quest Church’s denomination), to refuse queer people full participation in the life of their communities.

Maybe some of you have queer mentors—I did not at SPU, precisely because the Statement on Human Sexuality is designed to keep us from learning about ourselves. So for those who don’t, here are some words on what else belongs to you in our queer inheritance.

If you’ve experienced acceptance at SPU that is dissonant with the Board’s decision, cherish that acceptance. The news that 75% of the faculty is supportive of eliminating the statement is good news. And I know people in the administration who are also fighting the decision. It doesn’t necessarily translate into being/feeling supported on an individual level, but I hope you’ve found your people. Trust that what love you’ve been shown by faculty and fellow students is real. Take what you can where you can to make your life livable. Finding love and pleasure despite and even within systems built to stomp out queerness is part of our inheritance. There are pockets of joy and resistance in even the most unlikely places. Revel in them, for they are a grace.

SPU separates itself from the culture and world it names in its mission statement, particularly in moments like this. There is beauty and goodness in that “culture” and “world,” just as there is danger, especially for LGBTQ people and people of color. If SPU is not the place where you find your queer kindred and the freedom to live your life, go fearlessly into that world. An awkward secret for Christians is that whenever we draw boundaries between ourselves and others, God is on the other side. God will meet you there in the people and bodies you’ve been told are unclean, including your own. Do not be naïve, but do not be afraid.

You may now feel as if the world is closing in around you. I hope not, but if so, let me remind you: it may not be at SPU, but there is a future for you. It will be difficult at times, but there is a future waiting to be inhabited by your unrepeatable presence. It’s another awkward truth for Christians: we spin many lies for each other, and we build structures of containment to control each other. We make it difficult for others to live, and you may feel that acutely now, because the “traditional sexual ethic” and SPU’s Statement that upholds it are two such structures. This language has been so abused, but there is a new life beyond this that awaits you, and it doesn’t resemble what you’ve been told to expect, but there is—there is freedom from the constraints that press down upon you even now, and that liberation is of God. The awkward truth for the Board is that the gospel means freedom from their attempts to stifle your life and joy. Your difference and the unnecessary pain you are being made to feel because of it—take them as an invitation into this new life, which may be found in resistance, there, at SPU, and in spaces beyond the Board’s imagination and reach. Embrace this new life now if you can.

I am currently a doctoral student in a theology department. I study theology, gay literature, and queer theory. It has been a hope of mine, one idea for my own future, that I might be able to return to SPU someday to teach these and other things to LGBTQ students (and cishets with ears to hear) in the context of the classroom. I’m holding out hope that the fearless work of ASSP, alumni, much of the faculty, and those within the administration trying to change policy will be brought to fruition. Until then, I hope that this letter might give you and any LGBTQ students to come a sense of the queer countertradition that is available to you, which may be found both within and beyond the Christian communities you know. There is more to life, more to God, more to you, than what the Board can offer or withhold—there is more joy, and they, idolizing their own experience and clinging to their sameness, will never know it. This excess of queer life is a grace, and it is your inheritance. Do not be afraid of it.

[this letter is also up alongside others at SPU’s fantastic student paper, The Falcon, available here]

a note regarding SPU’s recent refusal of employment to Mr. Rinedahl due to his homosexuality

I have sent this as an email to Dr. Dan Martin, president of SPU. I share it here to encourage others to reach out in support of Mr. Rinedahl and SPU’s LGBTQ community.

Dear Dr. (Dr. Dr.) Dan,

I hope you’ve been well through the chaos of this year.

I’m terrible at brief emails, so I apologize for that!

I’ve had a good few years, finishing my masters degree at Yale Divinity and starting the doctoral program of my dreams—working on gay literature and queer theory within a Christian theology program with some of my theological heroes for mentors. During my masters degree, I tried (and gradually succeeded at) broadening my repertoire from the wonderful close reading skills I learned from SPU’s English and U Scholars faculty into theory and theology, but the close reading I developed with the help of Drs. Reinsma, Chaney, and Thorpe and others remains at the heart of my work, making it interesting and (as I send off the proofs on my first article at a well-established journal) publishable. So, I remain grateful for my time at SPU and remember those years fondly, including all of my interactions with you.

When I left, I planned on doing a doctorate in English. Frankly, I was hoping to return to SPU’s English department some day to pour into students’ lives and help sharpen their minds, really, to open up possibilities within their lives as my horizons were expanded in college. When I came out at SPU, the faculty, staff, and my fellow students helped me make sense of faith anew, helping me to hold onto God as I and my faith grew and changed. On a very practical level, Dr. Keuss’s UScholars UFDN course introduced me to the Episcopal Church through St. Paul’s, Queen Anne, a re-homing that has served me well, as the denomination I grew up in, the Covenant, recently decided not to consider revisions of their own politics on sexuality.

Shifting to theology has been a natural progression, traceable back to my SPU honors thesis, and before that, my time at Oxford through BestSemester’s SCIO program. (I was invited to write a reflection some years ago on my wonderful time with SCIO for the CCCU’s magazine, so I wrote on the life-changing discovery of gay literature with Christian themes that the program facilitated, but it never saw the light of day, being perpetually delayed to the next issue. Anyway,) I was already thinking that getting a job as an out gay man writing on gay things would be a lot harder at an evangelical-adjacent Christian seminary or theology department than at an evangelical-adjacent English department when I saw the news about Jèaux Rinedahl and learned that gayness is a job liability even within nursing.

I don’t know who made that call or what that process looked like, and I understand that there are pressures related to donors and SPU’s Free Methodist affiliation. I also don’t think that changing everyone’s minds on the validity and holiness of gay sexuality and relationships is a likely path forward for SPU. But I do wonder why SPU’s generous ecumenism is extended to faculty across many lines of difference that are arguably more theologically central to the history of Christian life and thought and not across this particular line. My hunch is that, amongst the donors to whom everyone always directs the blame at moments like this, there is some fear of the culture SPU purports to engage and some distaste for elements of the world it empowers students to change, indeed, distaste for members of SPU’s own community—at least, that is what this news suggests. The famous mission commitment is thereby constricted. In the evangelical circles SPU runs in, it would be, admittedly, a bold move to abolish the statement of human sexuality or even to quietly but actually consider an openly gay person for full-time employment. But there are times when Christians should be bold, even if that means making decisions with difficult financial ramifications.

When I received the notification by mail in August of 2016 that I had been named one of SPU’s 125 Ones to Watch, I was incredibly heartened. The letter says that SPU is proud of me and that, in studying gay literature and Christianity, I’ve embraced its mission to engage the culture and change the world. You signed 125 of them, and I imagined that it must’ve given you hand cramps, but I’ve kept that letter in my desk drawer with other things that remind me that I am doing something right in the times when it feels like everything is going wrong. As the lesbian womanist theologian Dr. Emilie Townes said while visiting YDS some years ago, it is a mistake to depend on institutions for love and respect (a paraphrase). That is a lesson I have gradually learned.

This moment isn’t about me or my one-time dreams of employment there or anywhere—the academic job market is famously rough even at places that don’t discriminate against gay people. I write about myself because I felt accepted and was accepted at SPU, and as a student I established a rapport with various branches of the administration, a rapport that I hope meant something. I spent much time as a student volunteering to enthusiastically recommend the university to prospective students at admissions events and helping put on Let’s Talk About Sex, Faith, and Relationships, broadening the week’s discussion to include gay speakers. This letter comes from the resilience of my love for SPU’s faculty, students, alumni, and many of the staff members I got to know (including the lovely people in admissions).

As it is, SPU’s practical, on-the-ground theology of community life is incoherent, and it will remain so until the university’s whimsical ethos of inclusion is met with the fair treatment and literal valuing of its LGBTQ community members like Mr. Rinedahl. Literal valuing because this homophobic discrimination is economic in fruit and perhaps at root. I still believe that SPU can be the place of welcome it wants to be, not because I believe that those with power will make the choice I think is right (although I hope you all will), but because the Holy Spirit does not start something without seeing it to completion, and the Holy Spirit is and has been seeping through the cracks between those bricks on Queen Anne Hill, through the hearts and labor of faithful professors who for decades have cared for their queer students, through the staff members who work against the weight of institutional prohibition to ensure that their LGBTQ students know that they are held by the loving arms of God even in the darkest nights, and through LGBTQ employees, few and now fewer though they may be.

So, please change SPU’s hiring policies relevant to positions in which religion is not taught and to positions in which it is (a distinction that oddly demarcates whose faithful living matters), remove the Statement on Human Sexuality (rather than replacing it, which would create far more committee time for faculty who I’m sure are already tired), and hire Mr. Rinedahl full-time (if that is something he still wants). I’ve seen the official statement regarding his lawsuit. I would urge the university to resist hiding behind the global church to enforce homophobic policies, if that part of the statement is any preview of the coming response. It is a common move. It ultimately distracts from one’s own choices by pushing the blame for homophobia onto Black and brown majority-world peoples, and it obscures the history of the church’s colonization of sexual cultures found here and around the world only to use them as a convenient alibi. I genuinely look forward to dispatches from the conversation to come.

I blogged my way through my coming out at SPU. I stopped that practice, but I’m going to share this letter on my old blog to encourage other alumni to write in support of Mr. Rinedahl and also to show love and support to SPU’s current LGBTQ students, who must also be hurting.

Hoping you, your family, and the SPU community are healthy.

all my best,
Sam Ernest

for the Covenant Church in deliberation

Covenanters will be familiar with CHIC, Covenant High in Christ—the triennial event when youth from around the country and world descend upon a campus for a week of experience. In the day, volunteering opportunities, bible studies, worship and prayer, sessions on particular topics, meals and other events spread the youth and their leaders out over campus, grouped by congregation; every night, Mainstage gathers them all together for a performance from a well-known band, worship, and a sermon or talk.

At CHIC 2009, there was a night when a young and brazen preacher, who had grown his church from six to 60,000 or some unhelpful number, gave a sermon that took the time to condemn sex workers and trans people. This man, not a Covenant pastor, later made the news for a stadium service in which he planted people to answer the call to baptism, caught priming the pump of the waters of mercy and regeneration. His pulsating inspirational tracks now sometimes rotate through workout playlists on Spotify.

Speaker Lady Judy (then campus pastor of North Park University, Judy Peterson) spoke the next night, rebuked that man, and spoke of God’s love for sex workers and trans people.

Another night, Speaker Lady Judy invited those in attendance who felt the Holy Spirit calling them to ministry to move to the periphery of the stadium aisles, where pastors would be waiting to pray for them. I felt the call of the Holy Spirit, so I did that. The pastor at the end of my aisle laid hands on me and prayed that God would guide me and bless my ministry to come. That pastor was Gary Walter, then President of the Covenant Church.

It took me years to come out to myself and others as gay, and it took me years to leave the Covenant Church and become an Episcopalian. The parts of me that are uncomfortable as an Episcopalian are the parts of me that were formed by Swedish pietism, e.g., my desire for sermons to talk about the love of Jesus using the Bible as its text, with a ratio of that to anecdotes, New Yorker magazine references, sports metaphors, and poetry at about 95 to 5. That plus losing my physical sense of the intimacy of God, and bishops—adjustments, all.

I didn’t solely become an Episcopalian because the Episcopal Church knows what to do with LGBTQ people and the Covenant Church doesn’t. A sense of the historic Church, the reverence of the Eucharistic rites, the friendly Anglo-Catholicism of my local parish and its history of caring for people with HIV/AIDS—these were all factors. But the part of me most comfortable as an Episcopalian is the part of me that couldn’t exist in the church and life I was born into.

When I left in 2014, it looked like the Covenant Church could yet have a fruitful discussion about what sort of issue sexuality would be for the denomination. Would it break the small church in two as it did every other denomination that had the discussion, or would it find a way to do what the Covenant Church does best, and let it be decided across relationships forged in the intimacy of shared life and worship? When I left, it looked like such an approach was possible, but silence was the route chosen by the denomination’s leadership. The same silence that preserved me from knowing what homosexuality was, preventing me from recognizing myself and growing me up anxious and stunted. To be clear, silence on sexuality is pastoral abuse.

Had I not left in 2014 for my multiple reasons, I would have left this year or last year or the one before for the failure of the Covenant Church’s leadership to promote a conversation about sexuality in keeping with the Covenant Church’s heart and mission. I would have left when I saw they were consulting people like Preston Sprinkle, one of these charming heterosexual pastors upon whose heart the Lord has lain the burden of keeping the Church straight. I would have left when the credentials of two pastors were suspended last year for performing gay marriages. One was Speaker Lady Judy. The other—to my shock—was the pastor of the church I attended from 2003 to 2011, Steve Armfield. Pastor Steve never spoke about homosexuality from the pulpit, and rumor had it his son was gay, so when I heard he risked his credentials by doing his son’s wedding, in that moment, he was my pastor. Had I not left in 2014 for my multiple reasons and had leadership been prepared to speak about sexuality openly and with open hearts, I likely would’ve stayed.

I do not think that the Covenant Church should split over sexuality. The Covenant’s understanding of what it means to be a minister, its ecclesiology, its theology of marriage—not much would change substantially by including sexual minorities. Ordination is not a church-level decision, so were change to come, it would presumably have to be denomination-wide. With regards to marriage, churches could decide on their own whether or not blessing gay relationships is consistent with their faith. In the American church, marriage—gay and straight—is an idol. As the privileged mode of being not only a citizen but a member of Christ’s body, it has for some superseded baptism as a sacrament and rite of initiation. Marriage should not be given the power to pull asunder what God has joined together.

I still think sometimes about the irony of Gary Walter praying for my future ministry, given that he is someone who would have prevented me from carrying it out, as would this new president, John Wenrich, as would an apparently large portion of the Covenant Church. Whether or not I have been led by the Holy Spirit to the Covenant’s periphery or pushed there is hard to tell. Both, I think. Regardless, this is where I will study and work and carry out my ministry, in whatever form it may yet take. There is gay work to be done.

Senior Sermon, Wednesday of the First Week of Easter

My Senior Sermon for Berkeley Divinity School’s Evening Eucharist on 4/4/18, preached at Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School.

Psalm 118:19–24
Acts 3:1–10
Luke 24:13–35

When Jesus rises from the dead, there is to be no forgetting. Holy Week has passed, for now, and you can read its passing—the joy, relief, exhaustion—on the faces and in the Twitter feeds of those who have been particularly involved in its liturgies, which includes many in this room. If you are one whose spirit is greatly affected by the changing of the liturgical seasons, if you managed to keep a Lenten practice that ultimately stirred up new life, if the stripping of the altar strips bare your soul before God so it might bloom with the lilies of Easter, or if you’re simply one who attends church services regularly, you know that the stone has been rolled away and that the tomb is empty, smelling strangely of resurrection. And if you’re one who needs to be reminded frequently: The Lord is Risen.

And though we proclaim with one voice and with joy and certainty that Jesus rises from the dead, there is to be no forgetting of the weeks that have recently passed, of the sadness and uncertainty of Holy Week—at least not if you’re on the road to Emmaus. Though we are now a few days past Easter Sunday, our lesson tonight from the gospel of Luke happens on the same day that Jesus’s body is found to be missing. The atmosphere is still one of grief, disbelief, and disorientation. Add to that the common observation of commentators that, besides knowing that they are walking the seven-mile road apparently to eat a meal and then go back, we aren’t really sure who Cleopas and his friend are or where this Emmaus is. Cyril of Alexandria says the two are part of the group of seventy disciples that are appointed by Jesus in Luke 10 to go “in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1).

Cleopas and his friend aren’t really sure of some things either—namely who Jesus is. Because who they understand him to be is contingent on how they understand his crucifixion and the absence of his body and how they receive the message from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, mother of God, and the other women—their message that “two men in dazzling clothes” told them, “‘He is not here, but has risen’” (24:5). The two have a lot right—when Jesus appears to them, they narrate to him the string of events with some detail—but conclusions aren’t coming easily. In a poem by Spencer Reece (poet, priest, and Berkeley grad) called “The Road to Emmaus,” the poem’s speaker describes a postcard on the wall at the office of his spiritual director. Through a humble ekphrasis, the poem portrays the postcard’s depiction of the story as follows:

There it hung, askew in its golden drugstore frame.

It was the scene from the end of Luke, the two disciples,

one named Cleopas, the other anonymous

forever mumbling Christ’s name, and with them,

the resurrected Christ masquerading as a stranger.

They were on their way to that town, Emmaus,

seven miles out from Jerusalem,

gossiping about the impress of Christ’s vanishing—

they argued about whether to believe what they had seen;

they were restless, back and forth the debate went—

where there is estrangement there is little peace.

The estrangement of Holy Week—of being in the lurch between what has been hoped for and what will yet transpire—is not suddenly peacefully resolved when Jesus rises from the dead. Not, at least, for his disciples. St. Augustine interprets the discussion between the two of them and then with the hidden Lord as evidence of their loss of faith and hope. “They were walking along, dead, with Christ alive,” he writes, “They were walking along, dead, with life itself. Life was walking along with them, but in their hearts life had not yet been restored” (Sermon 235.2-3). The glorious turbulence of Christ’s resurrection occurs in the spaces where one’s hope has been disturbed and life has ended: in the tomb and in the heart, yes, and in the spaces in which we exact evil on each other—on stolen land, in the streets, in backyards; in broad day light, at night, under surveillance, and in secrecy; and in elementary schools, high schools, universities, and churches. The glorious turbulence of Christ’s resurrection occurs in the spaces where one’s hope has been tried and disfigured to the point at which what is hoped for becomes unforeseeable and unrecognizable, even when you are looking it in the face. In these spaces, we say, The Lord is Risen.

The estrangement and confusion of Holy Week may not resolve swiftly, but they do not, in the end, remain the inevitable to which we resign ourselves. What are we to do? When they had revealed their lack of clarity to him, the risen Lord told his disciples to pick up their Scripture and try reading it again. When they had reached their destination and their Lord, the stranger, made to move as if he would just keep going, though they still did not recognize him, his disciples said, “‘Stay with us…’ So he went in to stay with them,” becoming the host of their own dinner (24:29). It is then, when they, on something of a hunch, invite the stranger to stay, and it is then, on his own time and in his own way that the risen Lord becomes recognizable, in the breaking of bread. Before vanishing.

If his vanishing at the moment of recognition seems cruel or at least slippery, it is also essential to learning what Christ’s body in life, death, and resurrection is. In an essay called, “The Displaced Body of Jesus Christ,” Anglican theologian and priest Graham Ward traces what he calls the various displacements or transpositions of Christ’s body—in incarnation and circumcision, it is the male-identified Jew; in transfiguration, the Second Adam; in the Eucharist, bread, in all of its genderless glory; in crucifixion, “mere flesh, a consumable, a dead, unwanted, discardable thing”; in resurrection, “the plenitude of God’s presence” in the emptiness of the tomb, the unrecognizable body of Christ in the post-resurrection appearances, and the Gospel narrative itself; and finally, in ascension, the Church. So, when Jesus blesses the bread, breaks it, gives it to Cleopas and the other disciple, and then vanishes, Jesus is demonstrating and enacting that what the disciples were understanding as his absence is in fact a sign of the mystery of the presence of his resurrected body, in bread and in them, together with all the Church. It is not presumed, I think, that Cleopas and the other disciple were in the room at the last supper in the first place, so their recognition of Christ in the breaking of the bread suggests that part of what happens in the Eucharist’s incorporation of the Body of Christ is a sharing of memory and knowledge; to participate in the breaking of the bread is to know Christ.

Though the Good News of Easter, Christ’s resurrection, is difficult to swallow, the mystery does not, ultimately, prohibit the church from doing the work Jesus has given it to do, which is to say, despite the limitations of human knowledge, the Body of Christ is the Body of Christ, witnessing to Christ’s resurrection in what we do and how we do it and what we say and how we say it. In the commissioning of the seventy disciples in Luke 10, this means going out into the neighboring towns, sharing peace; “eat[ing] what is set before you; cur[ing] the sick who are there, and say[ing] to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” or “‘The Kingdom of God is at hand’” (10:5–9). And if their witness to Christ in actions and words is rejected, they are to declare, “‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near’” (10:11–12).

Years ago, I heard it preached, based on the story of Christ’s resurrection appearance to Doubting Thomas, that in the wake of the disappearance of Jesus’ body, the disciples were lost and confused to the point of not knowing what to believe in some sort of permanent way, as if doubt were the defining characteristic of the earliest church. The point of saying this, I believe, was to comfort those of us today who have difficulty leaving Holy Week and its suspension of hope behind, because believing in resurrection is, admittedly, difficult. After, I spoke with a friend and professor of Christian scripture who was furious, saying if the earliest followers of Christ weren’t completely confident in the good news of Christ’s resurrection, none of them would have gone out to preach and heal, none of them would have been martyred. Without the resurrection, there is no (are no) Acts of the Apostles.

So it is good to have the story of the road to Emmaus paired with our reading from Acts. In it, we find that the Body of Christ is the Body of Christ. On the way to temple to pray in the afternoon, Peter and John see someone at the Beautiful Gate who was something of a permanent fixture—a man who is identified by his presence day-to-day-to-day, asking for alms. To be the Body of Christ means to see people who sink into their surroundings, to break through the sort of everyday rituals that turn people into objects of glazed-over glances, to offer what healing we can through God’s power, and in so doing, to witness to the reality of resurrection that already is. So this is what Peter and John do; they become willing vessels of Christ’s power. The healing of the man who is identified so closely with his begging “at the Beautiful Gate of the temple” does not sever him from the place in which he is known but rather allows him to move within it differently—he enters the temple, praising God.

In the story of the road to Emmaus and in the story of the man who jumps up to walk, the new life in Christ’s resurrection brings about movement and exclamation in those it touches. When you experience and witness new life and Christ, you tell somebody. The man’s newfound walk turns quickly into jumping and leaping and praising God in the company of “all the people.” Within an hour of their arriving at Emmaus, Cleopas and friend leave town again to schlep the seven miles back to Jerusalem to the eleven disciples and echo the eleven’s own jubilant proclamations in saying, The Lord is Risen.

My suspicion is that there are people here who have experienced healing by the power of Christ’s resurrection in ways we fear would make others uncomfortable. May we continue to learn how to receive the gospel as it is enfleshed in the bodies of others even as we continue to learn how to share it as it is in enfleshed in our own. I also suspect that, though we are in the season of Easter, there are people here who feel estranged from God and others in ways that seem hopeless. May we know ourselves to be joined with the resurrected body of Christ in the breaking of bread, and may that be sufficient for us today. Finally, I know that we are all witnesses of the relentless onslaught of the deathly and quotidian violences of racism, xenophobia, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and the manifold other ways humans devise to assert our domination at another’s expense. May God grant us grace and strength to bear witness to the resurrection in our bodies and words in spaces distorted by death and violence. And if we are not welcomed there, may our witness to the resurrection be a protest.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

maundy thursday

for Morning Prayer at Berkeley Divinity School, 3/29/18

Psalm 102
1 Cor. 10:14-17; 11:27-32
Mark 14:12-25

“Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’”

If you were one of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Mark, like Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the sound of a bell, your ears would perk up when Jesus says, “Truly I tell you,” if you weren’t already listening intently. You would come to expect him to say something about the coming of the Kingdom or discipleship, or to say something to recognize the faithful gesture of someone you are used to overlooking—the poor widow who gives her two coins; the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with nard from an alabaster jar; when Jesus says, “Truly I tell you,” it is followed by something you won’t anticipate.

“One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” In response, the disciples each seem genuinely concerned about the possibility that they could be the one who in condemning Jesus condemns himself—“Surely, not I?” We know that the one who will betray Jesus is Judas Iscariot, but the disciples do not. We also know from the verses following this passage that not one but two disciples could be named: Jesus predicts that Peter’s firm resolve will melt when tried. But Mark says, “after giving thanks he gave [the cup] to them, and all of them drank from it.” Judas, Peter, all.

Although it reads seamlessly, the reading from 1 Corinthians omits a large chunk of text in which Paul warns against idolatry, laments women who pray without their head covering (and men with long hair), and parrots back reports he has heard about the church’s disunity. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” is soon followed by “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons,” and “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lords supper.” Because of these pitfalls, Paul bids the church to self-examination prior to participating in the bread and cup. Are you prepared?

The immediate context in which the Eucharist takes place is one of discord and confusion. Am I the one who betrays Jesus? Am I receiving the bread and cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner? These are questions we might sit with more often for the sake of ourselves, our communities, and our congregations, because they will point us to the fissures we have caused and point us to Christ. That the answers to these questions are all certainly “yes” for each of us does not negate the confusion and discomfort they may cause or the necessity of asking them. Holy Week offers jarring encounters in which the certainty of hope is suspended and comfort questioned, and we are left in the lurch. But even in the midst of this confusion, we are assured that we are one by the concrete presence of Jesus’ body and blood in our mouths and throats. That is our comfort.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

consider it archived

Dear Reader,

The posts in these dated clouds—essays, notes, poems, etc.—represent my thought and deeds from the end of high school through the beginning of grad school. Thank you so much for reading, and to many of you, thank you for being a part of my story. I will continue to write, but not in this venue. Follow me on Twitter for updates.

tack så mycket ❤

Narratival Power, Memory, and the Pipeline

It’s odd to think back to high school history class, learning about the founding of the United States—the bloody westward expansion—and thinking, surely at *this* moment the European colonists would have stopped to think and care about the native people they were destroying. No? What about at *this* moment? No? Then when? And this is, of course, assuming that you were taught something at all past the mythologized meal that has become (piously) Thanksgiving (who is giving thanks?), or more cute, “turkey day.” While I don’t remember everything from AP US History, I can’t claim complete ignorance—I remember the gist of things.

Fall semester of last year, in a class called Colonial and National: American Literature to 1830, a trope that surfaced in a few of the readings was that of the voluntarily receding or antisocial native.

A stanza of Philip Freneau:

From these fair plains, these rural seats,
So long concealed, so lately known,
The unsocial Indian far retreats,
To make some other clime his own,
When other streams, less pleasing flow,
And darker forests round him grow.

(From “On the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country,” 1784)

The speaker finds himself wandering across the American countryside, admiring its beauty, and seems to be thinking, huh, funny that someone would want to leave here. So he chalks it up to the streams, the flow, the forests, while at the same time calling the disappeared subject “unsocial,” and in doing so, (purposefully? subconsciously?) acknowledging that there is perhaps something else at play. What are the “other streams,” the “less pleasing flow,” the “darker forests” that surrounded the “unsocial Indian”? A better question might be, who are they? The poem is from 1784. Is Freneau’s memory so short?

Spring semester of last year, I worked with a local book bank that connects elementary and middle-school aged kids who are behind their grade’s reading requirements with tutors and an ample supply of free books. The several times a student called in sick or didn’t show, I perused the stacks and shelves, eventually finding myself in the history section for young readers. The book bank is run largely by the generosity of a hefty crew of volunteers, but this does mean that the intake screening for what books end up on the take-me-home shelves is somewhat varied. In addition to a book that painted a Black family as being just so happy to be picking cotton, there were several books that rehearsed the story of the courageous settlers fighting the savage natives for land that was clearly given to the settlers by God. While most of the books containing accounts between white colonizers and brown indigenous people were focused on North America, there was also a book about Captain Cook’s encounter with the “unfriendly” Maori people (“Firing over their heads did not make the natives less quarrelsome or more obliging. Cook learned this lesson one day when he ordered his men to discharge their muskets. The Maoris reacted so violently that the Englishmen had to shoot to kill in order to protect themselves.” Yes, how the Englishmen stood their ground.)

I flipped through their pages and took a mental note of their dates of publication (and sometimes a picture of a cover or excerpt) before throwing them into the recycling bin. Needless to stay, the staff was as disturbed by the books as I was. Although my sample size of books was relatively small for any sort of comprehensive analysis, there did seem to be a shift in children’s history books in the last couple decades of the twentieth century toward a hybrid subject position—toward trying to figure out how to reconcile some sort of patriotic account of the founding of this country (still sometimes verging on a nationalistic hagiography) with the fact that this country was founded through the genocide of native people. It makes for some awkward writing.

From The New England Indians by C. Keith Wilbur, first published in 1978:

The New England Indians have long been buried under a mass of indifference, prejudices, hearsay, Victorian ideas about ‘the noble red man,’ and guilt complexes over the racially downtrodden.

Later down the page:

When King Philip’s War in 1675 – 1676 effectively dissolved these New Englanders and their more primitive cultures, their nine thousand years of living gradually faded from memory.

They deserve a better fate.

Passing over the word “primitive” for the sake of time: yes, but what of this nine thousand years of living? Has it “gradually faded from memory”? Whose memory? I’m guessing not the memory of the survivors… so the memories of the white descendants of the settlers? Is our memory so short?

Memory is political because storytelling is political. When people speak of erasure, they are speaking of the ways in which the narratives we generate intentionally and unintentionally write peoples out of existence. And it is exactly this: the “unsocial Indian” drifts further and further beyond the Western horizon. Blip! Gone. Narratival genocide follows genocide.

The characters in the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline should by this point be familiar: a tribe of Native Americans and the United States government, specifically the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Standing Rock Sioux are trying to protect their home and native land with its sacred places and drinking water from the unrelenting drive of the US government to exploit land for profit.

What when the stealing of native land happens in the age of social media? What when there is no time to rewrite the history as one of voluntary recession? What when we see pictures on Facebook or Twitter of indigenous people protesting the theft of their land moments after the pictures are taken? Can we still claim to forget? Is our memory so short? Did our European forbears value the lives of the native peoples they destroyed? No? What about at *this* moment? They deserve a better fate.


image source: justseeds on instagram

Anonymity and Dissent

3/10: I have added some more thoughts below the essay as an addendum.


This post is a response to “Declaration of Dissent”  by a “we” who call themselves Friends of the First Amendment. The group is otherwise anonymous. The Declaration was published today in response to the ongoing dialogue about systematic racial injustice at Seattle Pacific University, particularly the SPU Unity Petition, formulated by the SPU Justice Coalition—a group of students who have disclosed their names and faces on their website. In what follows, I will focus mainly on rhetoric and some broad themes that struck me. I write, hopefully as always, out of love for SPU and for its students (including the Friends of the First Amendment), faculty, and staff, and in solidarity with the SPU Justice Coalition.

I have a number of concerns about the petition, beginning with the anonymity of its author(s). The name “Friends of the First Amendment” suggests that someone’s first-amendment rights would be violated by the measures listed in the Unity Petition. But the authors are exercising their freedom of speech in fear by remaining anonymous. You are allowed to dissent. In fact, I believe that the Unity Petition should be critiqued and discussed—critique leads to the sharpening of ideas and proposals. But there is a choice: put your name to your dissent or perform your own loss of rights. I worry that the choice for the latter was made out of fear of retaliation or fear of being held accountable. As I have mentioned, the SPU Justice Coalition has chosen to show and name themselves. If you have questions, you can find one of them on campus and say “hello.” In showing and naming themselves, they have also made themselves subject to confrontation, forfeiting the comfort of anonymity. So, consider this a formal challenge and encouragement, Friends. If you love the community you are addressing and truly wish to be part of a conversation, be not afraid: sign your name and make yourself visible and accountable. And allow comments on your blog. As it stands, you have left no means for those who would like to to engage with you in what you have called “this essential discussion.”

I don’t think that rights are really the concern of this Dissent (or not the only concern, at any rate). I would hazard that a major concern stems from agitation over the de-centering of whiteness. I noticed that none of the following words are found anywhere in the piece: Native American, White, Black, Brown, Asian, Hispanic, Latina, Latino, African American, Pacific Islander. “People of color” are spoken about a few times, but “diversity” is by far the word of choice. This is undoubtedly in order to mirror the language of the SPU Unity Petition, which also prefers “diversity” and “minority,” perhaps to place an emphasis on unity. But the same vocabulary falls on my ears differently when spoken from the mouth of a disembodied, anonymous, and presumably white “we” who seem to be for diversity as an educational principle but against any means of achieving it. The “we” also suggests that we should be pursuing “intellectual diversity” but does not seem to believe that expanding the number of faculty of color would increase “intellectual diversity” in an essential way—which it would.

In the places in which I grew up, we weren’t supposed to acknowledge that this person is white or that that person is Black. If anything, we could reference someone as being caucasian or African-American if we absolutely had to for some reason, but you would be embarrassed and perhaps nervous about that and would try to avoid it at all costs. The effect of this is to make race a topic of anxiety amongst white people and to make “Black” a word of embarrassment and shame. It also performs the deceptive white stance of color-blindness, from which one can ignore someone else’s experience of race by saying that race isn’t actually a thing that has any real consequences. So, perhaps this isn’t quite fair, but the combination of by-and-large color-blind language with the emphasis on “intellectual diversity” and the authors’ refusal to attach names and faces to their words struck me as an avoidance—the words being spoken are divorced from any particular embodiment, any particular lived experience.

In the vein of ignoring or disbelieving the experiences of people of color, the petition fails to take into account the hurt experienced by people of color due to our community’s failings surrounding race. As a people of faith, SPU should take very seriously the ways in which we have failed to love one another and, indeed, the ways in which we have harmed one another. The only nod I see to this in the text is a brief mention of oppression, but even then, the word is put in scare quotes: “President Martin has stated that the university will employ a Chief Diversity Officer with the purpose of representing students from non-majority identity groups and serving as a resource to alleviate ‘oppression.'” This is a calculated move to delegitimize the experiences of those who are oppressed. It betrays a disbelief in the stories of SPU’s people of color.

The word is used again in the context of anxiety over the implementation of an anonymous reporting system for what the Unity Petition calls “inappropriate behavior and speech.” The Dissent’s concern is that such a system would be used to “oppress unpopular, minority opinions on campus because it shifts the credibility of interpretation of statements to the ear of the beholder, which would be a completely subjective and immeasurable standard of discriminatory speech and behavior.” The phrase “inappropriate behavior and speech” is, I thought, fairly self-explanatory in the context of the petition, but would probably be too vague to be encoded in official policy as is and could thus be helpfully clarified (racist language and behavior, belittling of or downright rejection of minority perspectives, cultural appropriation, intimidation, etc.). But what is interesting to me about the passage from the Dissenters quoted above is how they cleverly reframe the discussion by labeling themselves as the minority and thus the ones in need of protection—the oppressed. The fact is, although they do not speak for the institution or its current leaders, the Dissenters seem to me to be writing from a place of privilege—attempting to discourage any sort of changes that would actually disturb the status quo.

The Dissenters also voice the concern that an anonymous reporting system would create a “safe space”—words not actually found in the SPU Unity Petition. The Dissenters:

However, we do not believe that such a space encourages persons to grow and to build meaningful relationships. We believe that the university is a place where students ought to learn how to face opposition with grace. This interpersonal skill allows individuals to cultivate patience and humility in order to develop more wholehearted relationships across one’s lifetime. Safe spaces undermine the development of this skill.

From what I can understand, the hope behind implementing the reporting system would be to hold people accountable for racist language and behavior. The sort of dialogue necessary to “build meaningful relationships” is not compatible with racism. And, frankly, the statement that “students ought to learn how to face opposition with grace” sounds a lot like a request for racial minorities to stop complaining about the oppression they experience. This is dangerous.

While there are more problematic aspects of the “Declaration of Dissent” (including its melodramatic or pompous title that seems to be intended to echo the Declaration of Independence), I shall leave my discussion there. I would be glad to learn that I am wrong about any assumptions that I make above about its authors. But I also hope that those who feel challenged by the empowerment of minorities—racial, sexual, etc.—might pause their dissent to sit, listen, and practice empathy. This cannot happen anonymously; it is only possible in community.


I want to address a presumption I make above. I presume in my essay, fairly or unfairly, that the authors of the Dissent are white or majority white. I do this because they resist the suggestions of the SPU Justice Coalition, which is largely comprised of people of color; because they choose to identify themselves as “Friends of the First Amendment,” which is reminiscent to me of the rhetoric of a certain conservative branch of white evangelicalism that approaches the founding documents of our nation with the same reverence with which it approaches the Bible; and because they hold to a certain mind/body dualism that assumes that one’s knowledge (or indeed knowledge in general) can be separated from one’s lived experience, a dualism that would seem useful to those who want to argue against the intentional hiring of people of color and argue that studying “Western” philosophy, theology, literature, etc. ought to be adequate for all (which has been referred to, I believe, as academic colonialism) in the name of resisting “an extreme homogeneity of perspective toward social justice questions,” as if it is the task of diversity and the job of people of color to orient others toward social justice. It just sounds white.

Would it make a difference if there are people of color amongst the Friends? I offer the following thoughts.

As a cisgender gay man—someone who is both a man and attracted to men—it is possible for me to be sexist. I could believe that women just don’t measure up to men in a variety of ways. I could believe that the male body is superior to the female body and that the female body, because I don’t desire it or understand it, is disgusting. Following from that, I could view lesbians with as much contempt as a straight man could have for me. Some gay men are indeed misogynists and even homophobes.

As a cisgender gay man who has experienced the overwhelming love of SPU’s community, I could listen to another queer person at SPU who has not experienced such warmth and wonder what is wrong with them. Surely they are doing something wrong. As someone who has attempted to work through the system to affect dialogue and change, I could look at someone who is more likely to protest and ask, “Do they not know how to act properly? What is wrong with them?” There are queer alumni, current students, and students who have left the school who have not felt as welcome as I did. I can either see their differences from me as a deficiency on their part and dismiss them, or I can listen and try to understand why other queer people might not feel the same way as I do and stand in solidarity with them.

I may be gay, but I am still white, middle-class, cisgender, male, outgoing, and from a theological tradition similar to SPU’s. While I am a sexual minority, I still benefit from many avenues of privilege.

As it is possible for a gay man such as myself to benefit from and be blinded by the heteropatriarchy, I believe it is possible for people of color to benefit from and be blinded by structures that promulgate whiteness and to stand up for those structures to protect their own place of relative privilege that comes through association with them. This is a complicated position to inhabit, and I will not pretend that I can fully understand it because I am not living it. I imagine it is actually a very difficult and frustrating position to be in, particularly because it produces tension with other people of color.

Would it make a difference if there are people of color amongst the Friends? I don’t think so. It doesn’t change the piece’s rhetorical or ideological stances, and it doesn’t change the fact that in-person, face-to-face dialogue must occur.

The Wilderness and the Eunuch: Baptism in Acts 8:26-40

[Below is an exegesis I wrote for my Theology and the New Testament class. I haven’t done much exegesis, so I’m not sure how exactly to do a normal one. Luckily, the assignment was to do “creative exegesis,” so I’m safe! Also, I’m sure what I have written here has been said before by others, so I offer this up to add my voice to an already singing choir.]

Reading the Acts of the Apostles for guidance on topics surrounding ecclesiology provides an interesting problem: how can a text about a time before there is an established Church and before that Church’s ritual practices are also established be used to inform the life and practice of Christians today, many of whom belong to denominations whose rituals are codified in orders of worship?[1] In the Acts, there is not a clear concept of the Trinity, and, as in the story of the eunuch in Acts 8:26-40, the Holy Spirit’s role in baptism does not always easily map onto current understandings that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the baptized through either baptism or confirmation. While, following denominational protocol, not everyone should or will baptize as Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, the story has some broader significance for baptismal practice: the wilderness is authorized as a location for mission and baptism, and baptism is open to all who believe, including those considered to be racially and sexually “other.”

The passage begins with an angel of the Lord’s prompting of Philip to “Get up and go” to a road that runs through the wilderness (NRSV Acts 8:26). The wilderness (ἔρημος) is also sometimes translated as “desert,” as in the Common English Bible; the word carries connotations both of extreme weather (little or no water) and of a lack of political or national affiliation—Peter and the eunuch meet in an uninhabitable geography. In Luke 4:1-2, following his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into ἐρημία to be tempted by the devil, and Jesus resists all of the devil’s attempts to seduce him into subordinating himself to the devil. The wilderness is thus also a potentially hostile place. And yet, it is here that the angel sends Peter to meet the eunuch, who is reading Isaiah. Upon Philip’s questioning as to whether he understands what he is reading, the eunuch replies, “‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’” (Acts 8:30-31). So Peter becomes his guide in the wilderness—a site of spiritual wandering—through Isaiah, through the gospel news, and to baptism. The eunuch spots water by their chariot deep enough for the two to go “into,” and he is baptized (8:36-8). Following this, the Spirit of the Lord whisks Peter away, leaving the eunuch to rejoice (8:39). The wilderness desert is shown to be a place where one may find guidance, instruction, and even the water necessary for baptism. The wilderness—a place formerly of solitude and temptation—is thus authorized by the Spirit as a place fit for initiation into Christian living.

The identity of whom Peter is led to by the Spirit is also significant. As the followers of Christ begin spreading the gospel throughout the region, the Spirit demonstrates that baptism is open to those of different political affiliation, geographic location, and sexual status. The name of the eunuch is never given, so the other identifiers given to him (Ethiopian eunuch, court official) act as a name—he is defined by difference. “Ethiopian” implies that the eunuch has dark skin.[2] The eunuch is “a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” and is “in charge of her entire treasury” (Acts 8:27). The eunuch holds a position of power in the regime of a foreign ruler. Both his skin and his position of power set him apart from the Jewish identity and heritage and from Peter and the other believers who shared all that they had (4:32-7). Perhaps most remarkably, the eunuch was travelling to worship in Jerusalem. Due to his status as a eunuch, he would not have been able to be a Jew or a Jewish convert (see the prohibitions against those with “crushed testicles” in Leviticus 21:20 and Deuteronomy 23:1). Due to the purity laws, eunuchs “provoked deep purity concerns over their lack of wholeness, completeness, and fittedness to the proper type and kind.”[3] Megan K. DeFranza writes, “from an ancient Hebrew perspective,” a perspective that carried on through the birth of early Christianity, eunuchs were the “epitome of ‘other’”: “ethnically other, religiously other, sexually other, and morally other,” in addition to being “other” with regards to gender.[4] Perhaps he was able to pass in Jerusalem, but, learned and literate as he is, he likely would have known the prohibitions against his presence. In baptism, then, the eunuch’s body, traditionally distrusted and despised, finds a place of welcome in the growing body of Christ.

In Acts 8:26-40, baptism is not explicitly a bestowal of the Holy Spirit through the medium of water and the laying on of hands. It is, however, prompted by an angel of the Lord and the Holy Spirit (8:26, 29). Through the baptism of the eunuch, that which was once “other” is ushered into the kingdom of God: the wilderness is drawn into the geography of God’s grace, the eunuch’s body into the body of Christ. This movement of welcoming, and in particular, welcoming the “other,” is still at the heart of Christian baptism.


[1] It is worth noting that there was then and is today a wide range of expressions of the Christian faith, making it difficult to speak of a singular “established Church” beyond the mystical sense of the unity of all followers of Christ as Christ’s body. So, perhaps it is better to ask, how can the practices of Christians before the pre-ecumenical and ecumenical councils inform the practice of Christians in post-Reformation denominations?

[2] See footnote to Acts 8:27 in the HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated.

[3] James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013): 191-2.

[4] Megan K. DeFranza, Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015): 78, 79.

[Featured image source here.]