Room for All (RfA), a non-profit organization whose mission is “To support, educate and advocate for the welcome and full affirmation of people of all sexual identities and gender expressions in the Reformed Church in America, (RCA)” will be holding a symposium entitled “Building an Inclusive Community: Scripture, Science, and Story” on Saturday, Nov. 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Blue Mountain Emporium.
RfA was founded in 2005. The Board of Directors is comprised of active and supporting RCA church members and leaders involved in an effort to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people and their allies across the RCA. They strive to teach about issues of sexuality and gender in relation to the Christian life and campaign for a radically inclusive, welcome and affirmative experience for the entire spectrum of God’s children.
Two feature speakers will present at the symposium — Matthew Vines, the author of “God and the Gay Christian” and Dr. David Myers, author of “What God has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage.”
A few members of L.E.A.P. (Love. Education. Acceptance. Pride), a “group of LGBT people and their allies” made up primarily of current and past Northwestern students, faculty and staff, attended a conference put on by RfA last October. While there, they met some members of the organization. RfA’s college engagement committee later contacted the L.E.A.P. students and advisors, and the two groups worked together to bring the event to town.
President Greg Christy sent a letter to Marilyn Paarlberg, Executive Director and Robert Mutch, Chair of RfA, declining permission to hold their symposium on NW’s campus.
The letter of refusal was sent on the basis of incongruent mission statements and a conflict of interpretation of scripture on human sexuality. RfA’s vision statement reads: “Compelled by the inclusive love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, RfA envisions the day when people of all sexual identities and gender expressions are fully affirmed in the life and ministry of the RCA.”
However, NW bases its view on its “Vision for Learning”; this guide for education at NW contradicts RfA’s position. NW’s statement is as follows: “Consistent with the position of the RCA, the college lifts up the Christian ideal of marriage between a man and a woman and contends that all sexual intimacy shall be within the bounds of such marriage.”
NW expects that students adhere to these lifestyle expectations; both heterosexual and LGBTQ students are expected to refrain from any sexual activity outside the parameters of Christian marriage.
No promotion will be occurring on campus, due to conflicting viewpoints.
When asked to explain why NW reached the conclusion it did, Christy said, “This is a very sensitive topic and there’s going to be an obvious tension. But we’re doing it with the view to really take the Scriptures seriously and to adjust our lives to what the Scriptures tell us. We believe that any sexual intimacy should be between the bounds of marriage between man and woman. That’s been our position for many years.”
Dean of Students Julie Elliott agreed.
“The primary decision came down to that our fundamental position of sexuality is incongruent with RfA’s,” Elliott said. “NW’s policy is not just NW’s policy, it’s the RCA’s policy as well, and that relationship is very important to us.”
Although NW has held these beliefs for years, some students remain skeptical of the decision.
Some students have expressed the opinion that the public would have a negative response to NW agreeing to host RfA, which could lead to economic issues caused by a decrease in donors and students deciding to leave.
“I understand why NW made the decision, but my hope is that NW recognizes the importance of the issue and that their stance has an effect on people,” said Carly Rozeboom, a social work major. “I would encourage them to be courageous. It’s part of our own mission statement.”
There is also a larger question to be asked: Should conversation pertaining to this issue be encouraged on campus? Sociology professor Scott Monsma is an advocate for this conversation.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this,” Monsma said. “If part of the Reformed view is working in the world, we should be able to talk about it. That doesn’t mean we need to come to a consensus, but in some way we need to be able to process the issue.”
Both Christy and Elliott agreed that the issue should be talked about.
In response to those students who are in favor of the event and are in opposition to NW’s decision, President Christy said, “We want students who are heterosexual, gay or lesbian to know that we as a college love them, and we want them to be part of the college community. But we as a Christian college, do have a particular position held for many years based on our best interpretation of Scripture. We’re trying to be full of both and as loving and kind in the most constructive way we can.”
Christy also offers an open door to anyone wanting to have a discussion on the issue.
“It’s not an easy thing to discuss,” Christy said. “We don’t pretend to have all the answers. It’s a journey.”
Anyone interested in attending the event, send an email to RDMutch@roomforall.com for free registration. For more information visit RFA’s website: www.roomforall.com.