You Belong Here If You Want To
On August 24th, 2017, President Bruce McLarty gave a touching chapel talk. And I don’t mean that ironically, or cruelly. It was one of lessons that you don’t forget after its given (unlike many chapel talks I’ve heard throughout the years). Dr. McLarty was very sincere in telling the student body that they all belonged at Harding, despite their different backgrounds.
Dr. McLarty began listing different factors that have made students feel out of place at Harding through the years. Broken homes, trauma, academic ability, race/ethnicity/nationality, financial situations, and religious background were among the many that were specifically mentioned. As someone who has been through broken homes, trauma, and financial struggles, I was very attuned to what Dr. McLarty was saying. With each example, he would repeat, “You belong here… if you want to,” As he continued talking, I waited for an example that I knew would never come. Sexual orientation and gender. Not that I expected him to condone or affirm the LGBTQ+ community (phew, imagine the backlash), but I at least thought that we would get an honorable mention.
I would like to think it was implied. Kinda like a J.K. Rowling and Dumbledore type situation. It isn’t real representation, but hey, it’s something!
I would like to think it was implied. But when you list different minorities of people that not only feel alienated by society, but by the church, that at least the queer student body would be addressed in some way.
But the truth is, the administration and board do not think we belong at Harding. We are not welcomed, and we never have been. At least that’s what their policies and attitudes say. And it’s not for lack of want on our part. We want to belong here. The wonderful things you love about Harding are the same wonderful things we love. But when you are constantly ignored and dismissed as even existing at the University, you start to doubt that message.
We want to belong.
But the university, unlike the example of Christ we are trying to follow, has certain guidelines to be included into the Christian community. You’re gay? Go to conversion therapy or be alone. You believe that members of the LGBTQ+ community don’t have to remain celibate to go to Heaven? You’re wrong, and your voice doesn’t matter. Be quiet, you’re making people uncomfortable.
It feels as if there is no place for the queer student at Harding University, even one who loves God with all their heart. We either must shut up, be alone, convert, or go to Hell in the eyes of the University. We get told the same things over and over when we complain. “Well, you signed the contract!” That’s true, we did, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to make the university a more loving and accepting place for all its members.
In Bible classes, I have heard the other side of the argument presented for accepting and affirming queer Christians only once. The remainder of the classes have condemned and confirmed that queer people do not have a place in the Christian community. If not blatant condemnation, then the heteronormative attitude that they aren’t speaking about anyone in the class. Many people think the term “gay Christian” is an oxymoron, but we have the same right to have relationship with God as you do. After all, isn’t relationship the most important thing to God?
Don’t get me wrong, I really like Dr. McLarty. He is fun and kind, and I have no doubt that he truly cares about people. To an extent, his hands are tied on these policies. The administrators, board members, and donors are a perfect storm of silence and repression. Dr. McLarty is, however, the face of this University. Part of me feels remorseful that he will be having to deal with the kickback of this publication. However, part of me doesn’t.
We sing “Just as I Am” in chapel, but we aren’t accepted just as we are. We’re accepted just as you want us to be.
We sing “The Greatest Commands” in chapel, and as the four parts join together in the end, we sing, “God is love.” God is love, but all we hear are crickets from a University who claims to love God and others regardless of their beliefs.
We want to belong, Dr. McLarty. But does your University allow us to?