Today on the Beyond Equality Ride we went to Oakwood, which is a Seventh Day Adventist-affiliated HBCU in Huntsville, AL. We were a part of a facilitated dialogue about LGBTQI people on campus with forty students, faculty, staff, and administration. The opportunity was presented in the spirit of dialogue, learning, and sharing stories.
Firstly I learned a lot about Seventh Day Adventism. The folks we met were incredibly smart. Their theology trickles down in practice. They believe, like I do, that God is love, but at the same time they are very socially conservative. Like, how they view gender roles as divinely ordained. I was told that the Aramaic word for “man” and “woman” join together and make the word for God. We started our event talking about the pronouns that we use for God – why are they all masculine? Why do we talk about God as if God was only able to be a single gender? We were met with immediate resistance, and had Matthew quoted at us.
Personally, as a student in divinity school, the Bible doesn't hold much power for me. My lived experience needs to inform what I know about God. I wouldn't shape God around this Bible that these white men created that is not my lived experience that was antithetical to my lived experience. If I could have, I would have run to The Color Purple as a sacred text as more authoritative for me during these conversations, because it speaks more explicitly to my lived experience as a queer Black woman.
But here, to my surprise, I found myself talking about the Bible anyway. Oakwood students were already there and ready to engage. It felt important to use the tools I had at my disposal – my years of training, alongside our Fellowship work, to really connect with the students.
In a space where people are saying “we're not doing anything wrong” to their LGBTQI communities, it was necessary to dig a little deeper than folks were initially comfortable with. While some of our Riders talked about ways that the campus body could support their LGBTQI population – holding space for a student dialogue, or establishing a GSA, or participating in an National Day of Action as a campus – we found that students really wanted to talk about their feelings and confusions surrounding gender and sexuality. It was enormously difficult to get the students fully back around to tangible things they could do to unapologetically support LGBTQI people.
Despite that, we gathered at the end of our time together and prayed, holding hands. The pastor, to our total shock and surprise, began our closing prayer with, “Dear Father – and Mother-- he who is also she, she who is also he, and they, and we...” That was when it finally came together for me. Not in the promise of a GSA, or the lip service this administrator made to us or to his students, but in the way that this man stood up in front of his community who holds him accountable and really reflected back what he had heard today. And I hope that really sticks.