Dressed in rainbow colors, a group of LGBTQ+ students attended a Harvard College Faith and Action event last Friday to counter a speaker’s message that many felt was homophobic.
Titled “What’s the Good News for My LGBTQ+ Neighbors?” the HCFA worship event featured Tyler S. Parker ’17, a minister of the group, who discussed his theological decision to remain celibate as he differentiated himself from people of the same kind sex attracted. In contrast, more than 20 students attended the event and then hosted a panel to highlight LGBTQ+ experiences different from Parker’s.
Abby D. McElroy ’24, who helped organize the panel held after the event, said it was important to show that there are spaces that fully support LGBTQ+ Christians.
“This event claims to say that this is the Christian good news. But actually there is so much good Christian news that fully affirms and loves queer people and queer identities and queer love, and so much Christian tradition that fully affirms and loves queer people and queer love,” McElroy said. “We want to make sure people know that the majority of Christians have a very different view.”
In a statement to The Crimson, HCFA co-presidents Katherine Wang ’23 and Felix D. Perez Diener ’23 wrote that HCFA aims to be “a place where every student can become a follower of Jesus”.
“We are not perfect, but we try hard to love others as Jesus commanded us in John 15:12-13: ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has none than that of laying down one’s life for one’s friends,'” they wrote.
Elizabeth S. Propst ’23, another panel organizer, said the LGBTQ+ students’ presentation should be “loving and compassionate,” but also “different-minded.”
“We organized it with the intention of not aggressively disrupting their event, but to let them know that we are part of this campus,” Propst said. “Their actions have an impact on people and communities that can cause a lot of pain to people with whom they may not interact regularly.”
HCFA has been no stranger to controversy over the years.
In 2018, the group protested hosting an event with Jackie Hill-Perry, an outspoken critic of homosexuality. HCFA was placed on probation by the college less than a week later after a leader who was in a same-sex relationship was forced out.
Sarika Chawla ’23, who denounced HCFA via a Lowell House email list earlier this month, criticized the group for “tokenizing” its spokesperson at Friday’s event.
“This is homophobic theology that drives HCFA,” Chawla said. “That [Parker] Essentially, being told that in order to be gay he had to be single forever and didn’t have to act out his queerness was particularly heartbreaking.”
In a statement to The Crimson, Parker wrote that he “was careful to only encourage students to use Scripture to discern what Jesus might call them to accept.”
“One thing I said was that as a single and celibate queer Christian, I am invited to explore all avenues to nurturing intimacy and a chosen family with other people beyond the norms of sex, romance and marriage,” wrote parkers “Queer writers have been urging queer people to broaden their horizons for intimacy and family for decades, and I just translated that message for a Christian audience.”
“If platforms for queer ideas are ‘homophobic,’ I have a different definition of the word,” he added.
Parker also wrote that the “token” label is an example of how the “queer community often fails black people in the use of racist language.”
After the HCFA service, the students hosted a panel with four speakers who identify as LGBTQ+ and Christian.
“It was really important to us to raise the voices of – in this case – Christian people who fully affirm queerness and religion and especially the intersections of queerness and Christianity,” said McElroy. “It was a communal space for people to think together, and we really wanted to create a space that would highlight the happy crossroads.”
Still, some participants have called on the college to put HCFA on probation again for spreading a message they believe is at odds with the ideals of an inclusive campus.
“I think HCFA faces sanctions for not being a welcoming organization for queer people,” Kate H. told Travis ’22. “There is a scenario where I would have been a part of HCFA if I had been welcomed into this community.”
Perez Diener and Wang wrote that sanctioning HCFA would be detrimental to religious freedom at Harvard.
“We would be forced to deny what we believe the Bible says about sex to avoid parole — a startling precedent for freedom of religion and thought at Harvard,” they wrote.
College spokesman Aaron M. Goldman did not respond to repeated requests from the Dean of Students Office for comment on the possibility of sanctions in light of recent criticism of HCFA.
While Brit G. Shrader ’24 disagreed with HCFA’s messages, they said that spaces for LGBTQ+ Christian students — beyond HCFA — exist on campus.
“Your love is beautiful. It’s precious. And there are areas on campus that aren’t HCFA and off campus that are totally queer and Christian,” Schrader said. “There are so many positive, Christian places for queer people — they’re on campus and there’s room for you.”