While most people are out shopping or enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, I’m trying to finally find the words of gratitude for an unlooked for moment of healing and reconciliation.
If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to go take a look at the comments left on my last post from Nov. 16. Julia Smith, program coordinator at Student Life and director of the Sexuality Series at Calvin College, left some very heartfelt, honest, and perceptive thoughts that, frankly, took me aback.
Years removed from “Memogate” (a nickname I’m hereby disavowing for its crass intonations), I expected that this was something I had gotten over. In the ensuing e-mail exchange between Julia and myself, however, I came to realize how much hurt and resentment I was still carrying around.
As you may see documented in past writing in the Chimes and message board discussions, the response towards the LGBT community’s outrage was pretty condescending. Though they too were indignant, some in the faculty told us to settle down and let them sort it out because it was nothing to do with us, it was purely a question of academic freedom. Let the adults handle this one, kids. Meanwhile, the administration insisted that nothing had changed and that we were simply clarifying and reaffirming our stance in regards to homosexuality.
As I read back through the words I wrote in September of that year, my own anger surprises me.
If we wish to move forward together, then we must act visibly together from the top of the administration all the way down to the student body. Panels on academic freedom are not enough; running the Synod’s prayer for reconciliation into the ground with overuse only exacerbates the issue after a point. Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi’s words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” might be a place to start as we think about practically living out our call to reconciliation rather than just praying it once or twice every year. Rather than simply clarifying the Memo, a public apology to an already ostracized minority and a public reaffirmation to strive for a more hospitable campus could be in order — if such a commitment still stands.
To move on, we must remember the grievance. To rejoice in the new direction we are taking, we must acknowledge where we’ve been. And I do believe that we’re headed in a new direction.
Just a brief aside that I would like to make clear:
Although Julia took it upon herself to apologize, I have never held her responsible for the actions taken by the Calvin administration. She was a bystander in what took place. I find it all the more humbling that she took it upon herself to intervene here where there was no need on her part, and I take inspiration in her actions as an example of what it means to take part in that great Reformed tradition of the renewal of God’s creation. She’s showing us a beautiful example of what it means to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for renewed hope, new beginnings, and new friendships in unexpected places. Though there’s work to be done, I’m grateful for a bright future for members of the LGBT community at Calvin College and the progress that’s being made year-by-year, one conversation at a time, through the diligence of some remarkable students and dedicated folks in the faculty and administration. I’m grateful for the power of one voice speaking out in truth and love.
Julia, you are an inspiration for us all in your desire to heal, your desire to learn, your desire to undo injustice.