Donning rainbow colors, a group of LGBTQ + undergraduates attended a Harvard College Faith and Action event last Friday to counter a message portrayed by the speaker that many of them deemed homophobic.
Titled “What is the Good News for my LGBTQ + Neighbors?”, HCFA’s worship event featured Tyler S. Parker ’17, a minister for the group who discussed his theological decision to remain celibate as someone attracted to people of the same sex. In dissent, more than 20 students attended the event and hosted a panel afterward to highlight LGBTQ + experiences diverging from Parker’s.
Abby D. McElroy ’24, who helped to organize the panel held after the event, said it was important to show there are spaces that fully support LGBTQ + Christians.
“This event is claiming to say this is the Christian good news. But actually, there’s so much Christian good news that fully affirms and so many Christian traditions that fully affirm and love queer people and queer identities and queer love, ”McElroy said. “We want to make sure that people know that, actually, a majority of Christians hold 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 any student can become a follower of Jesus.”
“We’re not perfect, but we’re trying hard to love others the way Jesus commands us in John 15: 12-13: ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends, ‘”they wrote.
Elizabeth S. Propst ’23, another panel organizer, said the LGBTQ + students’ display was meant to be “loving and compassionate” but also “dissenting.”
“We organized it with the intention not to be aggressive about disrupting their event, but to let them know that we are part of this campus,” Propst said. “Their actions have impacts on people and communities that can cause a lot of pain to people that maybe they are not interacting with on a regular basis.”
HCFA has been no stranger to controversy over the years.
In 2018, the group drew protest for hosting an event with Jackie Hill-Perry, an outspoken critic of homosexuality. HCFA was put on probation by the College less than a week later after pushing out a leader who was in a same-sex relationship.
Sarika Chawla ’23, who earlier this month denounced HCFA over a Lowell House email list, criticized the group for “tokenizing” its speaker at Friday’s event.
“This is a homophobic theology that HCFA is pushing,” Chawla said. “That [Parker] was told, essentially, in order to be gay, he must be single forever and not act on 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 embrace.”
“One thing I did say was that as a single and celibate queer Christian, I’m invited to explore all the ways to cultivate intimacy and chosen family with other humans beyond the norms of sex, romance, and marriage,” Parker wrote. “Queer authors have been urging queer folks to broaden their horizons for intimacy and family for decades, and I just translated that message for a Christian audience.”
“If platforming queer ideas is ‘homophobic,’ I have a different definition of the word,” he added.
Parker also wrote that being labeled as a “token” is an example of the way the “queer community often fails black folks in its use of racialized language.”
Following the HCFA worship service, students hosted a panel featuring four speakers who identify as LGBTQ + and Christian.
“It was really important to us to lift up voices of – in this case – Christian folks who fully affirm queerness and religion, and specifically the intersections of queerness and Christianity,” McElroy said. “It was a community space for folks to reflect together, and we really wanted to cultivate a space that would uplift the joyful intersections.”
Still, some attendees have called for the College to place HCFA on probation once again for spreading a message they believe is at odds with the ideals of an inclusive campus.
“The thing that I think HCFA should face sanctions for is the fact that it’s not a welcoming organization to queer people,” Kate H. Travis ’22 said. “There’s a scenario in which I might have been a part of HCFA if I had been welcomed into that community.”
Perez Diener and Wang wrote that sanctioning HCFA would be detrimental to freedom of religion at Harvard.
“We would be forced to deny what we believe the Bible says about sexuality in order to avoid probation – a chilling precedent for freedom of religion and thought at Harvard,” they wrote.
College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the possibility of sanctions from the Dean of Students Office in light of recent criticisms against HCFA.
While Brit G. Shrader ’24 disagreed with HCFA’s messaging, they said spaces for LGBTQ + Christian students – beyond HCFA – exist on campus.
“Your love is beautiful. It’s precious. And there are spaces on campus that aren’t HCFA and off campus that are completely queer and Christian, ”Schrader said. “There’s so many affirming, Christian spaces for queer folks – they’re on campus, and there’s space for you.”