A Christian college in Berrien Springs, Michigan is mired in controversy after administrators denied a request from a campus group to hold a bake sale for homeless LGBT youth, spurring students to turn their frustration into opportunity and raise thousands online instead.
The controversy began last September at Andrews University, a 3,500-student school affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, a conservative-leaning mainline Christian denomination. About midway through Fall semester, Aull4One, an unofficial pro-LGBT campus group that claims around 80 members, asked the administration if they could hold a bake sale to raise money for Project Fierce, an organization dedicated to assisting homeless LGBT youth. LGBT youth are disproportionately impacted by homelessness, often fleeing or being kicked out of homes where parents or guardians hold anti-gay religious beliefs.
But after six months of negotiations to get the event approved, Eliel Cruz, a co-founder and former president of Aull4One who identifies as both Christian and LGBT, received an email from school administrators denying the group’s request. Officials argued that donating to Project Fierce would “conflict with the missions of Andrews University,” primarily because the school is beholden to the views of the Seventh-day Adventist church, which is officially “opposed to homosexual practices and relationships.”
Administrators suggested students donate instead to Night Ministry, a nonprofit that serves a wide variety of Chicago’s homeless. But Eliel and the rest of Aull4One pushed back, noting that the ministry is not tailored to the specific needs of LGBT youth, and that using it would take the focus away from the unique struggles of LGBT people. (It is also unclear whether the administration was aware that Night Ministry regularly partners with Project Fierce.)
Aull4One suggested another organization that specifically targets LGBT youth, but the administration rejected that recommendation as well. Frustrated by months of effort, the students finally decided to take matters into their own hands: last week, the group launched its own online fundraiser for Project Fierce, saying the school’s repeated rebukes were “unethical and not at all Christ-like.”
The students were optimistic about the campaign, but say they were unprepared for what happened next: news of the campus controversy began to spread, with hundreds sharing their story on social media, funneling more and more visitors to the fundraising website. At present, the campaign has already raised almost $7,000 —“way more” than the group would have made on the original bake sale, according to Cruz.
But while the Internet’s compassionate response to the controversy is heartening to Cruz and other pro-LGBT students at Andrews, the college senior said many of his classmates remain “disappointed [and] upset” at their college’s leadership, in part because the issue of LGBT homelessness hits so close to home.
“There are at least 3 students that I know of that came to this campus homeless because of their LGBT identity, or left this campus [homeless] because of their LGBT identity,” he said. “That’s probably why this hurts more.”
The university has since issued a statement insisting they are not opposed to helping LGBT youth per se, but rather take issue with organizations that “advocate behaviors contrary to Adventist beliefs.” But members of AULL4One are unconvinced; in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page, leaders argued the school’s refusal to allow the bake sale flies in the face of the very faith they claim to uphold.
“While Andrews University has every right to deny any event on its campus, we believe this refusal is contradictory to Jesus’ repeated calls to help those in need,” the statement read.
Jonathan Doram, current president of AULL4One, echoed this frustration in a blog post written by Cruz for the Religion News Service.
“What bothers me is the placement of policy over actual human lives,” Doram said. “If Andrews University was truly intentional about helping LGBT homeless youth, the fundraiser would have started months ago.”
Cruz said talks are ongoing with the administration, but it remains unclear what the resolution will be. In the meantime, however, the students remain resolute in their defense of LGBT rights, but have opted for a Christ-like stance moving forward.
“We’re trying to work with the administration to find points of reconciliation,” Cruz said.
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2 Replies to “Christian College Tried To Stop Bake Sale For Homeless LGBT Youth, But They Raised Thousands Anyway”
I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and served at the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University for 25 years. I cannot speak for the church at large, or for anyone but myself for that matter, but I have my own opinion with respect to Andrews University’s recent decision not authorize an event to be held on campus to, in critics words, “sell cupcakes for homeless LGBT youth.” (To see the University’s official statement on this issue, follow this link: http://www.andrews.edu/agenda/event/36208.)
Most people who know me would consider me a loving person. I am an advocate for the poor and oppressed. I served for many years on the board of directors, and two years as president, of an interdenominational coalition of 64 churches that established a street ministry at a dangerous inner-city location in Benton Harbor, MI, and that has existed now for over 20 years. In more recent years I have been a member of Harbor of Hope, a small but growing church in the inner city of Benton Harbor, since its inception in 2004. I worship with the poor, pray for and with the poor, and do all I can to enter into their lives, their hopes and aspirations and trials. I help with their special challenges to the extent that I feel I can. I wholeheartedly believe in ministering to the least of these, and allowing myself to be equally ministered to by them; I have learned as much, and received as much, from them as I have given to them. I consider many of them heroes, doing the best they can with what they have been given in life, rarely receiving any inheritance or often even adequate material or emotional support from surviving family members. They are saddled with utility bills that are sometimes higher than my own though they often use less. They are often wrongly stereotyped as deserving of their conditions because “they are not willing to work” (a caricature in many instances). I am not calloused with respect to the poor and disenfranchised.
Nor am I unsympathetic toward LGBTQ issues. I have spent many hours listening to and talking with people within that community. While pastoring in Salt Lake City, I opened my home to a transsexual who was being tested at the University of Utah Hospital to see if he qualified as a candidate for a sex change by this conservative institution. He did. I listened by the hours to his story. We lost contact over the years, but I am certain that today she considers me a friend.
I have had extended discussions with another friend, both before and after he publically came out. We both shared deeply from our hearts, holding nothing back, with no accusations involved during our many conversations, trying to understand and learn from each other, affirming our love for each other. We participated in communion together; we washed each other’s feet (an SDA practice associated with the Lord’s Supper based on Jn 13:1-17). I know he considers me a friend. I have had other discussions on a less extended basis with others in the LGBT community, even before the current cultural acceptance of this lifestyle. I still have much to learn about these issues, but I have also learned much already through such experiences.
Here is how I personally and presently assess the issues involved from a global perspective, as a conservative believer in the inspiration of Scripture and while trying my best to understand, and be a friend to, all people. Humankind was created in the image of God as male and female. God established the first marriage between a male and female, the divine model for the human family. When sin entered the picture, everything about humanity was adversely affected, including human sexuality. The way things stand today, after many generations of sin’s effect on human sexuality, babies are born into this world on a spectrum. On the far left babies are born with hormones strongly matching their genitalia. Boys with high testosterone, big muscles, looking for a football field to play on or an engine to tinker with. On the far right girls are born flooded with female hormones, already wondering how their hair looks. Some babies are born today with the extreme effects of sin: babies with male genitalia (left of center on the spectrum), but with dominant female hormones (anywhere from slightly to extreme right of center). Conversely, others are born with female genitalia (right of center) but loaded with testosterone (slightly to extreme left of center). The majority of babies are born between the two extreme ends that spectrum, most I believe on the side of the spectrum that matches their genitalia. We are all born with adverse effects of sin in one way or another. In more extreme cases, some have been born without hands or arms or legs or a body organ. Similarly, some have, from birth, had their sexuality sufficiently affected to result in mild to severe gender-identity issues for them, being born with hormones matching better with the opposite end of the spectrum from where their genitalia would suggest. While these conditions are the result of sin, and come short of God’s ideal, they are not sinful choices that these innocent babies have made. Homosexual proclivity is not sin in itself. This understanding is admittedly very unscientific and overly simplistic. And even if it is on the right track, there are surely much better ways to say it than I have done in this, my first, feeble attempt at writing out what has taken me years of conversations and observations and processing to come to. It’s just the way I have tried to make sense of things from both a theological and a realistic perspective as I have listened to the stories people have told me, stories which I believe from people I care a lot about.
The church, and particularly the SDA church, has been called by God to stand for the ideal. That means we have been called to live in a world that has been ravaged by sin, yet to live as closely to God’s ideal as He enables us to. That we believe is our biblical mandate. Admittedly, we often do a sorry job of it. But that is our goal. I have looked at the Bible verses involved every way I can, and read books by pro-LGBTQ clergy, to see if I could find any wiggle room on these issues, but I honestly can’t find it. As far as lifestyle choices go, while the Bible does not condemn homosexual inclination, neither does it condone homosexual behavior. We believe this to be a moral issue because the Bible addresses it in that context.
I want to share a couple of stories that have helped shape my view toward the recent Andrews University decision not to allow officially sponsored fund raising on its campus for Project Fierce “to establish identity-affirming transitional housing” for LGBTQ youth in Chicago, the stated purpose of Project Fierce from its website.
I attended the two events last year (2014) on the AU campus which discussed LGBT issues to help us all better understand the complexities on all sides of the issues involved. During the student panel discussion a co-ed told her story of how she became a member of this community. I do not relate this story to judge it negatively or positively, but simply to report it as it has helped shape my own view on this issue. She told of an afternoon when she and a girlfriend were doing homework together at her home before her parents came home from work. At one point her girlfriend turned to her and said, “How would you react if I kissed you right now?” The girl on the panel said she was shocked, because such an idea had never occurred to her before. But it was the first step for her in a period of self-processing that eventually resulted in her becoming part of an LGBT community.
The second story was a personal experience I had as a boy, age 10 or so, which would date it a good ten years before the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. For religious reasons (our bodies being a temple the Holy Spirit to dwell in), SDA’s have been against the use of tobacco long before there was scientific confirmation of its harmful effects on health. Before we are baptized we vow not to use tobacco in any form. Growing up in the church I was instilled with this belief. One day I was with a group of neighborhood boys in our “fort” on the riverbank of the Soquel River that runs through Santa Cruz, CA. That day one of my friends proudly produced a pack of cigarettes and matches that he had taken from his parent’s stash, and began to pass them around. Immediately an alarm went off in my head, so much so that, in spite of the fact that I would be considered a “chicken” for not joining in this group activity, I got up and ran, literally ran, all the way home. There was no way I was going to jeopardize my eternal salvation by smoking a cigarette—a childish, legalistic notion I don’t believe was propounded by the church, and one that I grew out of as I matured. But its normative value nonetheless served as an internal warning and guidance system I have been grateful for ever since, on this and on many other lifestyle issues.
When I heard the AU coed share her first experience with gender-identity issues that eventually drew her into the LGBTQ community, it hit me that the church, by not always speaking as forthrightly on this issue, had failed to provide for her the internal warning system I had gained as a young boy. Because when her girlfriend asked her how she would react if she kissed her, a siren ought to have gone off in her head warning her of danger, and she should have gotten out of that situation asap. This coed was obviously not born hormonally on the extreme left end (the male end, as described above) of the spectrum. I have listened to too many stories of people who knew from childhood that they were different from their male or female peers. This AU coed did not have that kind of childhood experience. She may not have been born on the extreme right end (female end) of the spectrum either, I don’t know. But from a biblical perspective, our sexual orientation is not a choice, but an inheritance. That idea appears to be a countercultural one today. Modern culture seems to me more to encourage sexual experimentation in order to discover and establish one’s sexual orientation. That is a huge red flag from a biblical perspective.
I believe that God may very well save many people who have smoked all of their lives and died smoking. He may save people within the LGBTQ community. (I am aware that publically stating this belief may possibly alienate me from some very conservative members of my own faith community). Salvation issues must be settled between God and the individuals involved. Salvation is based on faith in the life and teachings of Jesus, a faith that also involves obedience. And while none of us will be saved by our obedience, we are saved for obedience, which involves allowing God to bring us as close to His ideal as possible while also showing love to, and truly loving, everyone , regardless of their beliefs and lifestyles. This love is not something we can generate on our own but is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our lives, writing God’s law on our hearts.
Seventh-day Adventists minister to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion or lifestyle. We operate the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) which ministers internationally to millions in the third world, regardless of their race, gender, creed or lifestyle. We have the most expansive Protestant hospital system in the world. Our hospitals turn away no one from receiving treatment that I am aware of; anyone who needs help is served. Most of our churches have community service centers to help the poor of every race, color, gender, creed or lifestyle.
Seventh-day Adventists established the very first smoking cessation program in the nation, and when the Surgeon General’s report came out Walter Cronkite anchored his CBS Evening News program from one of our programs. I long ago lost count of how many of those programs I personally conducted. Point being, we advocate abstinence from smoking but serve people who smoke. But we don’t try to make it easier for people to smoke, we try to help them stop, because we believe it’s in their best interest to stop. We would not support a cause to establish smoker-affirming transitional housing, if such a need existed. This would appear to us to be encouraging an unideal, even harmful, lifestyle, and would not be an act of love for smokers, but the very opposite. Neither do we judge smokers or others who live lifestyles other than those we consider ideal, even biblical: those issues are between themselves and God.
Based on its website description, Project Fierce’s stated mission is “to establish identity-affirming transitional housing.” Same-sex and cross-sex “Identity-affirmation” is not part of the mission of the SDA church. The “few Bible references” we have been criticized for relying on for our position on this issue are explicit and sufficient enough. In addition, there is a firm theological foundation for this belief in our understanding of the doctrine of creation and redemption. Equally clear from Scripture, however, is the mandate for Christians to lovingly serve everyone we can. Trying to strike the balance is not always easy and we do not claim that we always achieve it. We are definitely not against supporting housing for the homeless. Churches I have been a part on in my denomination have often provided temporary transitional housing for homeless people. But Project Fierce’s commitment has a more targeted objective which we choose allow others to take up and support. In my opinion, attempts to accuse the church of being unloving toward down and outers, or discriminating against people because they do not look like or live like us, is unfair. To accuse us of doing our best to live by the teachings of the Bible as we understand them, in all of their ramifications, would be more accurate.
To be sure, we don’t always get it right. But I for one do not want the church to be involved in any activity that might condone or encourage any of our youth to explore their sexual orientation based on cultural mores and cultural encouragement, that at times even borders on cultural pressure, and that comes short of God’s ideal. To do so, as innocent and laudable as “selling cupcakes to support a homeless shelter” may appear, may harmfully encourage gender confusion where it does not currently exist in many minds. In my opinion the decision made by AU to not authorize a campus-based event to support Project Fierce’s stated goal “to establish identity-affirming transitional housing” is the one most consistent with the mission of Andrews University and the Seventh-day Adventist Church at large, and therefore has my personal support.
To see the SDA Church’s position on homosexuality and same-sex untions follow these links: http://www.adventist.org/information/official-statements/statements/article/go/0/homosexuality/, and
thank yo for your comments. i’m glad you shared them with us.