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An Open Letter to Fuller Seminary Expressing My Sadness and Disappointment For The Expulsion of a Lesbian Student

Recently, I learned with a deep sadness, after reading the LA Times article, that Joanna Maxon was expelled because of her same-sex marital status. I was surprised this was the position the Seminary took, not because it isn’t known that it has anti-LGBTQ stances, but because the action against a student in this way seems outside of the Gospel of Grace as I know it; moreover, this action does not reflect what I know Fuller to be capable of. As an alumnus of the Seminary, I feel compelled to write to say how disappointed I am in this decision and, more basically, that such a policy even exists. I plead with you to change this policy, and welcome a new era of theological reflection that includes all of God’s people.

I made my own journey from an anti-LGBTQ stance to one of affirmation and inclusion, performing the first same-sex wedding in my Quaker Yearly Meeting, being fired from an Evangelical seminary for advocating on the behalf of a transgendered student, and doing my dissertation research on the first queer-led Christian Quaker church in history. Within a few years of beginning my studies in 2003, I built on the tools I learned from the Fuller Seminary faculty, moving to a position of being open to and affirming of all who fall outside of heteronormative and cis-gendered identities. I know that I am not the only student, staff, and faculty member who has made similar moves as a result of being at Fuller and experiencing God’s grace there.

And yet, here we are, taking a stance against a student and expelling her because of what is a rebarbative policy. Policy can be changed. And when it goes against what is right and good in the eyes of God, policy should be broken. We have come to a time in history in which positioning ourselves on the side of heteronormativity and patriarchy causes deep spiritual violence. As Christians we must always stand on the side of love. Historically, Fuller has had a commitment to love, holding a position within the theological world that is broad and deep, welcoming of diverse experiences, languages, and convictions. It is a space where students are given the freedom to explore God, biblical teachings, divergent theologies, and contemporary spiritualities within a container that remains committed to Jesus. This Generous Orthodoxy is how I understand what it means to stand on the side of love above the law. I benefited from this experience and I wish that others, such as Joanna Maxon can as well, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, ability, and class. If you want to apprentice yourself to the Christian tradition Fuller should be a place where this can happen.

There are so many of us that want this for Ms. Maxon and others who are now threatened by this kind of policy and the sentiment that underwrites it. I want these students to know that there are those who support them and believe that actions like these do not reflect the God we know.

My hope is that Fuller will overtime eradicate these policies that do not reflect the teachings of the gospels, the table fellowship of Jesus, and the realities of God at work in our culture and world today.

My hope is that Fuller could witness to the Gospel in how it treats its own student body and community.

My hope is that Fuller can challenge Christian supremacy in a world that has suffered enough spiritual violence at the hands of Christians.

Know that I, for one, support the seminary in undergoing the work of God in this way and I know that I am not alone in this.

Prayers for growth and grace in this movement,

C. Wess Daniels, Ph.D.

William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

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Soulforce Bible Study

I know that many of you who read this blog have interest in learning more about the bible from a liberatory / inclusive / radical framework. I cannot recommend the work of Soulforce enough in this vain. Their work is to challenge “Sabotage Christian Supremacy” and they do this as Christians and other folks who are drawn to spiritual work but may not identify as Christians. I have known about the work of Soulforce for some time and am inspired by what they do.

That is why I am sharing this with you:

Starting in July they are hosting an online “Vacation Bible School” specifically for LGBTQI and questioning students ages 18-24.

Register for free here: http://www.soulforce.org/vacation-bible-school

They write:

Our theme this summer is The Wild and Magical World of God’s Good Creation!

In order to prioritize youth-only space, we are hosting two sessions, one for youth* ages 18-24, and one for folks 25+

When: Tuesdays & Thursdays in July-
July 6 to July 27th (7 sessions):
Youth*: 1pm EST / 10am PST (90-min)
Folks 25+: 7PM EST / 4PM PST (60-min)

*This curriculum is specifically tailored for LGBTQI students attending Christian colleges, but all LGBTQI and questioning youth ages 18-24 are welcome in this space.

Join us as we create spiritual community together that is based on the Biblical principles of life, abundance, and liberation.

Register here: http://www.soulforce.org/vacation-bible-school

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Re-Reading the Bible with Peterson Toscano

Last week we had the privilege of hosting Peggy Senger Morrison (more on her coming) and Peterson Toscano, a comedian, biblical scholar, performer and LGBTQ advocate, at Guilford College this past week. Peterson became a Quaker after spending 17 years “conversion therapy trying to de-gay himself.” When he tells the story he often ends with talking about how wonderous a failure all of that was and how surviving all of that as a gay man has changed his life and ministry forever. 

Because of his Evangelical background, Peterson knows his bible very well. And even though he experienced a lot of pain through the ex-gay movement and how the Bible was used against him, he has retained a love for Scripture. It is this love for Scripture that felt important to draw your attention to today. Peterson’s work around the Bible is inspiring, intellectually rigourous, and creative. 

On Friday, I invited Peterson to come speak to my contextual theology class about gender roles in the Bible. Not only did he engage the students through very active “bibliodrama” as he calls it, having the class act out parts of the Bible to help them “get into the story,” but he talked positively about different people in the Bible who transcended or transgressed gender norms in their time and context. His main focus for our class was on the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8, a story about a person who transcended both gender and class norms and who is a central character in the life of the early Church. It was clear to me that Peterson’s approach of reenactmenting Scripture and reading it off-center is what T. Vail Palmer, Jr. calls, an “Empathetic” reading of the Bible, two tactics that really open up possibilities for experiencing the story in new and really powerful ways.

Peteron’s new DVD, “Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible” is perfect for a church or meeting wanting to have a bible study around different ways of reading the Bible and I cannot recommend it enough. 

You can learn more about Peterson on his website.

Here is more info about the DVD Transfigurations.

Here is a blog post from Peterson on the Ethiopian Eunuch

And if you are interested, I’d encourage you to search around on YouTube for some of the videos of Peterson leading Bible studies.