Archive for the ‘churches’ Category

The Book of Birmingham: Adding Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the Bible   1 comment

Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an event

I would like to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963) added to all new Bibles.

I don’t propose this lightly.  Three times in the Bible, in three different places, listeners (and they wouldn’t have been readers) are exhorted not to add to, or take away, from specific books.  One is about Revelation, one is specifically to the Israelites in Deuteronomy to listen to the law, and the other is in Proverbs: “Every word of God is true….do not add to his words, lest you be proved a liar.”  I think it’s safe to say that I won’t propose adding any new words of God to the Bible.  I’m advocating something less radical.  If we can have letters from Paul, we can have letters from Martin.

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Why it’s important for a Catholic High School to have a Gay Straight Alliance   2 comments

This blog post is specifically related to events at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada in February of 2013.  Since that time, the Pope and the Catholic Church have slightly changed their policies on the treatment of LGBT people.  I also now work at a Catholic University which is not only tolerant of LGBT, but has a group on campus promoting and celebrating LGBT Pride.  Social Justice themes pervade the campus and provide the kind of haven that some LGBT were looking for in a Christian setting.  However, this essay, written in the heat of the controversy in Whitehorse still stands as a culmination of what I learned about asking for what you need in your high school.

Vanier Catholic Secondary School put on their school website in 2013 incendiary comments about LGBT.  “The 25-page policy, freely available on the Vanier website, supports the Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality numerous times, calling it “intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law.” Even unexpressed same-sex urges are considered a disorder and are described as a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”’ (Yukon News, Feb 27, 2013)

Students, waking up to their school’s blatant accusations about LGBT students, had every right to be afraid.

Canada had JUST passed a law requiring all schools to allow gay-straight alliances, and Vanier’s response was to buck the law on the grounds of Catholic teaching and write it on their school website to justify not complying with the law. This put students at risk.  By calling LGBT students “intrinsic moral evil”–their own students at Vanier—they were promoting hatred towards their students from other students.  I felt as a gay Christian (who happened to live next door to the school) that I had a moral obligation to suggest ways that students could still ask, strongly, for their GSA.  I used the techniques lived out in Martin Luther King’s life and the non-violent resistance techniques he taught others.  Vanier was breaking the law on religious grounds; and they were also condemning their own students on their website.  Herein lies the context for my blogpost.  This does not represent my views about Catholicism today as lived out at University of Dayton, but was certainly relevant for the place and time and Pope we had at that time.  Pope Francis would not make his appearance until March (a few weeks later) and would not promote more tolerance towards LGBT people until many months later. Understand that the Pope and church doctrine still do not accept same-sex marriage, but ask that LGBT people be treated with dignity.

Below is the original post.


The current mess at Vanier Catholic Secondary School is all of their own making. If students just stay quiet, I’m sure this will all pass and things will go back to normal. There will be a ruling that Vanier designates their document on the school’s website as a religious document. Yukon School policy will be laid beside it to tell gay students that they are great and that Yukon schools are not discriminating. That will “satisfy” the distance Yukon Education wants to have between Catholic dogma and school policy. Unfortunately, the heart of Yukon Education will remain hollow if the Catholic school does not create a gay-straight alliance as they are now required by law to do.

Why is this important?

If the Separation of Documents is the final goal, it leaves gay students (and straight students) vulnerable and in danger.

Anti-gay doctrine remains a part of Catholic teaching. As a Christian myself, I know this doctrine is not representative of Christianity as it is practiced in many major denominations. Lutherans and Presbyterians and Anglicans, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada all have come to a better translation of the Bible that preserves God’s moral teachings but accepts all people regardless of their sexuality. These denominations are just as faithful to God, have just as much moral integrity, and care just as much about their kids as conservative Catholics do. And I would argue, in this case, that they do that MORE than their conservative Catholic counterparts.

Loving your kid means protecting them from danger. Loving your kid means teaching them how to treat other people. Loving them means passing on your cultural and spiritual beliefs because they are important and lead to a better society.

This is why having a Gay-Straight Alliance inside a Catholic high school is so important. In a place where students cannot escape a religious teaching that demeans them there must be a haven, a safe place. Students are required by law to go to some school. We can’t stop home-schooling parents who have an anti-gay dogma attached to every lesson, but we can help students that are in public and private schools. Vanier is not entirely private since it receives public funding. Therefore the onus is on the government to protect the students.

They did that. With the recent government ruling requiring all schools to have a GSA if students request it, the federal government handed the students a huge shield of protection. Students have to ask for it. Vanier students did and they were not granted that shield. That’s a legal matter. However, if students only try once and are refused, they might not get the government stepping in. Unless they get lawyers involved nothing may happen. Students, you’re going to have to get Vanier to step in.

But wait, let me explain a bit more why this safe haven is important. Religion is not bad. Catholic teaching is not bad. God is not bad. We have some pretty good moral teachings inside the Catholic church and Vanier tries to look at the world through a Christian lens. It doesn’t always see it correctly. But it tries. I think a public school devoid of any spirituality, or the lack of recognition of the role spirituality and faith play in everyone’s daily life, does a disservice to kids too. I think a religious life is a thoughtful one. And one that teaches you how to live in a community.

So I don’t think gay kids should run from a Catholic school. I do think they have no idea how much power to change their school they have. Students on the inside are far more powerful than those of us on the outside. The school will not change without pressure from within as well as from without.

Gay kids need a safe space away from bad doctrine. If a gay kid is fed that he is “morally evil” as that document written by the bishop on the website said, they will do one of two things: internalize the hatred of themselves or never have a spiritual life or be interested in faith again.

Churches listen up. You’re in a pickle. You are going to run out of new members soon and will die off. Unless you embrace gays. They are your key to salvation. Ironic, isn’t it? For your faith to continue you must accept gays as they are. They will help you spread ye faith. If not, the way you treat them will pull folks to their side and everyone will leave you. They will brand you Westboro and do everything they can against you.

Students, here’s your power: read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”– there’s a link on my website here. I know it’s long but it details a form of nonviolent resistance that you can do inside the walls of your school.

My suggestions for you to get the changes you need to survive–and this just a GSA–are as follows:

1. Form your GSA. Do it at recess or in the halls or at lunch or in the locker room. Do it and don’t listen when adults try to stop you. Form your club.

2. Meet your club inside the school after school hours.

3. They will try to end it. What power do they have when you have the government of Canada behind you? Meet anyway. Be clever. Meet in multiple places. Resist them and be strong in your GSA.

4. Make positive gay posters and put them up. Let all students know that your GSA remains strong. And that gay students are loved and supported by God.

5. Be strong. These posters will be taken down. You will be threatened by the administration. They will try to find the ring leaders. Don’t tell them who’s in your GSA. Maybe everyone. They will suspend some of you. Go to your blogs and write about WHY you were suspended. You were suspended for asking for a GSA. This action is illegal under Canada Law. The school is aiming for trouble.

6. After some of you are suspended, the rest get to do a sit-in. Sit in the main lobby or the admin office. Just sit on the floor in the chairs and ask politely for a GSA. Make your presence known. You have to organise this sit in. You need thirty or forty students and they have to skip class to do it. They have to stay on the office for hours. It’s okay. Make signs, positive gay ones, and ones that ask for your GSA guaranteed under law. This will push them.

7. They will probably suspend a lot of you. Or they will call the cops. But I doubt the cops part. You are not breaking the law and they are. All of you should tweet about it while you are doing it. Create a Facebook page during the sit in. Let EVERYONE IN WHITEHORSE know you are doing it.

8. Vanier does not want continued bad publicity. But your pressure will force them into a decision. Either they will let you form a GSA or every parent in town will put more pressure on them. You will win. You will get your GSA.

9. Beware the half-measure. They might a) promise to consider it if you leave. They just want you gone. Sit still until the school allows the GSA. B) they’ll offer you a false version of GSA– One Heart, or some such crap which is still their dogma covered in a candy coating. Say no. You will call it a GSA and it will have positive messages about being gay. The only way you give in is when they let you have the safe haven. If One Heart is not a safe place for gays, it is not the GSA required by law and not a place where gays can feel proud of who they are. Doesn’t matter what it is called, it must promote pride. You get to write the rules.

10. There is power and safety in numbers. The more who join your cause inside the school the more good you can do. This is why YOUR GSA will actually be an Alliance of students. Because you will have fought together.

Gay students must have a safe place inside a Christian school to be gay. Or else it can kill them. Kill their faith. Kill their concepts of self and God. Eventually kill them. Straight students who get taught that it’s okay to deny students their Canadian rights, or push around a minority, or discriminate based on what they were told God thinks will do those things in society. They will lead workplaces and cities and our country. Schools can’t teach intolerance inside a democracy.

Students you have the right to safety. And you have the right to ask for your GSA and to get it. Now go and get what you need.

Don’t leave the school–transform it.


(postcard image by Joyce Majiski)

Posted March 7, 2013 by jstueart in churches, gay rights, opinion

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CBC’s DNTO to air my story on Coming Out to My Church for “Lost Causes,” Nov 3   Leave a comment

Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.

I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.

But they remembered my pitch.  And they sought me out.  Which is humbling, and cool.  We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes.  I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told.  I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”.  But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost?  I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change.  We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light.  This splits familes.  My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore.  I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it.  Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people.  Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink.  As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women.  And divorce.  Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore.  Christianity and Faith are not the problem.  Interpretation is.

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Geez #27 has two of my short pieces   Leave a comment

Thank you, Melanie, for accepting and working with me on two short pieces that tried to find a common theme.  I took a trip to see my birthmother, the spiritualist, and went to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College.  All in the same trip!  And man that was a trip!  I think the commonalities between how spiritualists look at communicating with Spirit, and how Christians communicate with the Holy Spirit and “inspiration” are fascinating.  And I’ll probably turn that into another piece one day.

For now, “As the Spirit Moves Me” and “Undercover at the Festival of Faith and Writing” are in Geez #27, forthcoming!

Posted July 4, 2012 by jstueart in churches, writing

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Marilynne Robinson, Hero   4 comments

Attending the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I was very happy to hear that Marilynne Robinson would be giving their keynote.  Each of her three novels are highly prized.  Ms. Robinson received a Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, Gilead.  Her first novel, Housekeeping, won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and was nominated for a Pulitzer.  Her latest novel, Home, was a finalist in the National Book Award, and won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

No slouch, Marilynne.

She’s written, as well, a number of nonfiction books of essays on culture and thought, most often about religion and faith.

She’s a Congregationalist with a bright Calvinist core.

She’s an amazing, award-winning writer–and has been motivational in speeches in the past.   Calvin College and the Festival of Faith and Writing invited her because a) she is a Calvinist, and b) she won a Pulitzer, and c) she won the Pulitzer for a book about a minister’s life.   She could motivate their writers.  And she had been a keynote speaker at the festival in 2006 as well as given an address then to the Calvin Seminary, which was hailed as magnificent.

But Marilynne is no trained monkey as some at Calvin College discovered the night of her keynote address.  She is a mama bear.

No doubt some folks there believed she would be addressing writing, or faith, and talk about craft.  The Festival is the premiere venue for writers of faith–the best writers, in the most literary style, and probably some of the more left-leaning thinkers in the Evangelical Christian writing world attend this event.  Writers in general tend to be progressive.  It’s hard to be a reader and be closed-minded.

Still, I think most at Calvin College didn’t know quite what to do with Marilynne’s address, “Casting out Fear.”

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Christians (wanting to) Talk about Sex: a conversation with John Estes and Amy Frykholm   1 comment

At the Festival of Faith and Writing today, two intrepid authors/speakers, John Estes and Amy Frykholm, offered a seminar called The Word Needs Flesh: Sex and Faith in Contemporary Writing. As you can imagine at a Christian conference, the room was packed. People stood along the walls; they sat on the floor.

How we Talk (badly) about Sex

Amy started by saying, “There’s a misunderstanding about sexuality in the church. As Christians, we’re really bad at having this conversation. So, we’re going to step out now and try–though we’re going to make some mistakes. But if we don’t start a conversation, we leave it to the Mark Driscolls.” This received long sighs and laughs of approval, with a tinge of fear. If we were ever going to hijack the conversation, it best be right here, right now.

Many of us in the room were still giggling at double entendres before the session began, but all were rapt at listening to Amy and John have the dialogue the church should be having. I won’t spoil anything by telling you the last thing anyone said in the room. An older woman, in her “seventh decade” so she felt a freedom to speak her mind. “I learn more outside the church than I ever have in it,” referring to all that she had heard today in this seminar. We found ourselves agreeing. How do we get this conversation in the church?

“Why are we so bad at this?” Amy started. We didn’t know. “Sex is part of our core being.” Still we had problems discussing sex unless it was to talk about it as the glorious bond of marriage or the ever present temptation that could destroy that marriage. We avoided it, perhaps, because it made us more like the animals than we wanted to be. Still, it was not a topic in churches very often–and we weren’t really talking about the joy of our sexuality. We acted like it was a weapon against us till the wedding bells rang.

John’s phrasing sometimes caught me off guard as he tried to find the words for it. “Our sex is a problem without a solution. The solutions offered by the church are wanting.” Here he referred to sex only inside marriage–but also something wider–the inability, even the avoidance of talking about sexuality positively. Though I didn’t like him referring to sex as a problem, I understood which perspective he was taking. The church’s position was that sex seemed to be treated as something OUTSIDE us, a separate thing.

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Gay at Calvin College   9 comments

I’m here at Calvin College attending the Festival of Faith and Writing, one of the most amazing, one of the best, writing conferences out there.  The quality of the speakers—Gary Schmidt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Marilynne Robinson–not to mention the different seminars I’ve already taken–gives depth and urgency to writers who hope to change the world.  I have never felt such deep emotional responses to these calls and challenges to be good writers and write good stories.  Calvin College does a great thing for writers of faith.

And yet…. I find myself, as I knew I would, disturbed by Calvin College’s policy towards GLBT students.  It’s an ethical dilemma.

Calvin’s stance on GLBT issues

To their credit, Calvin is far more liberal than most Christian colleges.  They do not run them off campus, as they did in my day.  So by that measure, I should be pleased.  I have read their FAQs on their policy towards homosexuality and GLBT students, and you can read it here:  Calvin’s FAQs about homosexuality.

You’ll notice that it’s very kind and generous.  It acknowledges that gays and lesbians are attracted to same sex people.

“While the orientation seems usually to lie outside the scope of an individual’s will, by God’s power and grace, behavior lies within it.

Calvin College is also concerned that homosexual members of our community are treated with respect, justice, grace and understanding in the Spirit of Christ. We recognize the complexity of current issues around homosexuality and desire to engage this conversation with courage, humility, prayerfulness and convicted civility.”  (I use the quotation marks here because my pic makes it difficult to know where the quote starts and ends.)

It’s that sexual behavior that seems so SEPARATE to Calvin; it’s almost ridiculous.  However, they want to frame a “conversation” in respectful terms.  Conversation, of course, means that both sides are listening.  But I appreciate their dedication to civility, a civility that they have the authority to enforce.

In the classroom, Calvin College notes that multiple perspectives may be explored by students:

In exploring the full range of human experience, faculty will certainly acquaint students with many perspectives that are inconsistent with the confessions, but will do so from a perspective of adherence to the confessions.

That policy– the adherence to confessions–can be found in the the newest document on academic freedom for professors and students.   Mentioned in these FAQs, it addresses how faculty should approach difficult topics.  The underlying conclusion, as you read here, is that the administration is not wrong, and that they are not the ones listening, but the ones correcting:

We have learned that the best outcomes for such conversations are those in which an inquirer later reports “I’m glad I asked. I really do see this now from another, more biblical, point of view,” or where the faculty or staff member reports “I’m glad you raised this. I hadn’t been aware of all the ramifications of my view, and I’ve now refined it to take other concerns into account,” or where both later say “we disagree, but we remain open to learning from each other” or “I realize that I need to learn more and think further about any position I advance.” Not every inquiry will end in this way. But we have learned to give such questions every chance to end with a positive outcome.

I like to point out that their “positive outcome” is one where there is learning on the inquirer’s side only.  However, Calvin’s new policies on homosexuality do protect gays and lesbians from negative slurs, prejudice, etc.— however, they don’t realize the institutionalized creation of prejudice they engender by their different treatment of gays and lesbians.  Watch the FAQs carefully:

[SAGA–Sexuality Awareness, Gender Acceptance] is not a ‘student organization,’ but a group of students with a counselor mentor from the Broene Counseling Center, who seek to educate others at Calvin about the challenges faced by homosexual students.

Gays are given groups within the auspices of counseling.  “These are not student organizations” the policy says emphatically, thereby denying them student rights.  They are, instead, places of refuge for gays and lesbians and places where they can, apparently, come to terms with the fact that God wants them to remain celibate–and teach others how to treat them better because of their “challenges”.  *note the student response below for a great insight into SAGA and Calvin College that I didn’t know, and am very pleased to hear.  While policy may be against gays at Calvin, the people there aren’t.

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