I want to give a big shout-out to The New York Times for its persistent and intriguing coverage of Christian colleges and universities in the United States that are sifting and sorting their theological and ministry positions on homosexuality and gender expression. And I want to thank Times writer Mark Oppenheimer for specifically mentioning that my beloved Soulforce was again blamed by the conservative Cedarville University trustees for raising the question of whether a person can be Christian and gay on their campus. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, those of us at Soulforce feel like we have done a good day's work when people have to think about and talk about what it means to be gay and Christian.
Cedarville's Vice President for Student Life, Dr. Carl Ruby, was a gracious host when we visited the campus in 2007. Unlike some school leaders who arrange to have our Riders arrested for trespassing when they try to speak about the Bible and homosexuality, Dr. Ruby allowed us on campus, organized a series of chapel talks about homosexuality and encouraged students to welcome us with love. Though Dr. Ruby persists in his belief that the Bible condemns homosexual acts, he thought that our visit was an opportunity to teach Cedarville students how to gracefully engage those with whom they may disagree.
It is Cedarville's loss that Dr. Ruby resigned under pressure last month. He was like a refiner's fire on the campus, helping "faculty, students and trustees at Cedarville try to figure out what kind of Christians they are." Oppenheimer writes, "Are they sectarian or broad-minded? Fundamentalist or open? Republicans, or independent of political parties? Those who want a less fundamentalist, more open Cedarville believe that Dr. Ruby is a martyr to their cause."
Cedarville University, founded in 1887, was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, an insular fundamentalist organization that firmly legislated conduct of all kinds. Lately, though, liberalism has encroached upon their safe space. For example, some kinds of dancing are now allowed on campus. Some professors did not vote for Romney and told their students why not. And some resident theologians suggested that the creation story might not be literally true. But as Oppenheimer explains, "The departures of William Brown, the president, whose resignation is effective June 30, and of Dr. Ruby, are widely viewed as strengthening the hands of the most conservative trustees, fearful of a more open Cedarville."
Oppenheimer quotes the Rev. Chris Williamson, who resigned from the Cedarville board of trustees last month, as saying, "[The trustees] were threatened by Carl's approach not to theology but to ministry, in terms of his ministry to people struggling with gender identification, how he ministers to people on the margins." Dr. Ruby sounds just like Jesus to me, the radical includer.
For now, the conservative faction is having its way with Cedarville -- but not for long, I predict. Love trumps ignorance and exclusion. Dr. Ruby was a true educator and a compassionate Christian. He influenced students and faculty alike. He told them that he wanted them to be sincere engagers with the culture, just as Jesus instructed his disciples. If Cedarville wants to persist in its mission as a Christian institution, it will have to sort out what it means to really be Christian in the world. What does it mean to be trustworthy in the name of Christ?
I am grateful that Dr. Ruby was trustworthy in the ways that really matter. Rather than driving young people out of church and convincing them that God doesn't love them, he created a safe haven where they could be themselves and sort out their own beliefs without exclusion.
"In the end we all have to trust someone with our spirits and inner thoughts. Caution is wise is making this decision. A bad haircut grows out, but a broken spirit is slow to mend."
--Rev. Joshua Love, my son