University of Kansas Forums Discuss ‘Queering Christianity’

by Alexandra DeSanctis - University of Notre Dame on March 11, 2014

“There is nothing wrong with being queer and Christian.”

That’s the premise behind “Queering Christianity,” the overarching Ecumenical Campus Ministries’ Faith Forum topic broached during a series of events at the University of Kansas throughout this school year.

“This Faith Forum has been an important opportunity for me and many others to learn what a Christianity that is accepting of all God’s children might look like in today’s world,” said senior Sean Weston, co-coordinator for Faith Forum, in an interview with The College Fix.

Events this semester included: “Do I Trust God Enough? A transgender woman’s journey of faith,” a speech given by Stephanie Mott, founder and executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project.

KU graduate student Garrett Fugate also recently gave a talk titled “A Queer Search for God: ‘Otherness’ as a way to find God, a Muslim perspective.”

Last September, the series kicked off with “Crossing Boundaries and Breaking Rules: Queerness as Christian Practice,” described on the university’s website as an exploration of “what it means to follow Jesus by challenging all kinds of social expectations.”

“Christian faith is often seen as against anybody who is not straight or who doesn’t conform to strict roles in society,” the event description states. “We will be hearing stories from people who have realized in their faith journeys that there is nothing wrong with being queer and Christian.”

These events provided a platform for students to discuss controversial questions regarding religion and sexual orientation, Weston said. They served “as a conversation about how Christianity can be understood as a way to care for one another and work for social justice in society,” he said.

The Faith Forum at KU is a program of Ecumenical Campus Ministries. According to the group’s website, “the Faith Forum aspires to the practice of listening to others, regardless of differences” through weekly dinners with a speaker and discussion.

It adds that its mission is to provide a welcome and neutral space “to cultivate open hearts, minds, and spirits; to carry out difficult dialogues that can help build bridges between different peoples, experiences, religions, and world views; and to build foundations of love and understanding that welcomes a call to compassion and justice while affirming an interdependence with each other and the earth.”

ECM programs are focused around six areas of ministry: vocation and career; sexuality; global and environmental justice; faith dynamics; cross-cultural awareness; and hospitality.

The annual Faith Forum is planned by a few students, this year by co-coordinators Weston and Cassie Osei, along with KU’s campus minister, Rev. Dwight Welch.

The leaders of Faith Forum said they see their work as questioning and challenging social norms in the same way that Jesus did.

The theme for this school year was chosen to be provocative, but according to Weston there has not been any noticeable backlash.

“This does not mean that everybody is ‘okay’ with it, however,” Weston told the Fix.  “Some of our attendees are people who struggle to understand how they believe Christianity and queerness interact.”

Weston said that, since the 1960s, ECM’s leaders have strived to affirm all people regardless of sexual orientation.

“This openness to all people is an essential part of ECM’s mission, as well as the mission of many of our partner congregations,” he said.

Faith Forum is intentionally inclusive and provides an atmosphere where people of different beliefs can ask questions together without fear of reprisal, he added.

“We try not to tell people what to believe,” Weston said, “and we welcome all people into a dialogue, not a debate. I believe that the diversity in our group is a gift from God.”

Lectures for the rest of the semester will focus on topics such as disaster relief, the environment, and religious studies.

“We hope that, by coming together as a community, we can be people who make the world a more just and compassionate place,” Weston said.

College Fix contributor Alexandra DeSanctis is a student at Notre Dame.

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