Students organize prayer gathering for LGBTQ+ community members in wake of APU’s code of conduct restoration

More than 100 students gathered at the steps outside Felix Event Center after morning chapel on Monday, Oct. 1, to participate in a collective prayer for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. The number doubled as students left chapel and lingered before going to class.

The event was organized by several students in support of the LGBTQ+ community. The students engaged the group in prayer and worship songs. The group held flags and wore LGBTQ+ pins in solidarity with those who have been affected by the trustees’ decision.

Students gathered in prayer in the courtyard of West campus. Photo courtesy of Micaela Ricaforte.

Earlier in the 2018-19 school year, the APU administration board removed language from their student code of conduct prohibiting public LGBTQ+ relationships. The Board of Trustees sent an email on Sept. 28 alerting their decision to restore the code of conduct to its previous state.

The Board of Trustees remains unequivocally biblical and orthodox in their evangelical Christian identity, according to Associate Director of Public Relations Rachel White.

Philosophy professor Terri Merrick, Ph.D., said she spent Sunday night comforting students and LGBTQ+ community members who have been affected by the recent reinstatement of language in APU’s student code of conduct that prohibits public LGBTQ+ relationships.

“[Students] were hurt, they were angry, and they felt betrayed by the administration,” Merrick said. “But their response, across the board, was to say ‘we need to make sure we show love to these folks, and we need to follow Jesus.’”

Seminary professor Rob Muthiah, Ph.D., prayed over the gathered crowd.

“We pray for this university, we pray for the spirit of this university, we pray for the leaders, for our faculty and staff, but right now I especially want to pray for the students of this university. That each one here would know that they are loved, that they are respected, and that they have support,” Muthiah prayed. “As followers of Christ, we should hold firmly to the love that Jesus has called us to, because if we don’t do that, we’re undercutting the very gospel that we attest to.”

Muthiah said that as a faculty member, he felt conflicted about showing up at the prayer group.

“I think that, first and foremost, I felt like we got a segment of our student body that’s hurting, and if I can do some little thing to lessen that hurt, that’s important [for] me to do,” Muthiah said. “I’m under no [illusion]  that I can change anything or shield them, and I was conflicted in all kinds of [ways] about being here, but I felt like Jesus empathized with the people who were hurting. My immediate concern is, how do I love my brothers and sisters?”

Courtney Fredericks, student life intern and co-leader of the LGBTQ+ group formerly known as Haven, said that as of right now, the future of the queer community on campus is unsure.

“We don’t know what the trustees’ decision means for students who are openly in relationships, as of yet. We are no longer allowed to call [our group] a ‘pilot program,’ and we’re not allowed to call it ‘Haven’ anymore,” Fredericks said. “Until we find a new name, we can’t advertise and we can’t use the Facebook page. I would imagine that the reasons they would give is that in the past, Haven had a negative connotation with the members being more oppositional. But we’re still here, having weekly Tuesday night meetings, and we’re here for you.”

In addition to the protest, students gathered on both East and West campuses on Sunday evening to fill footpaths and walkways with chalk drawings and quotes such as ‘policies don’t change identity,’ ‘God’s love is not exclusive’ and ‘you are all made in the image of God.’

Camryn Childs, a senior psychology major, explained one of the phrases frequently used in the chalk messages and on social media.

“The hashtag we had going was ‘#trustissues’ because people are struggling with the wishy washy attitudes that are going on,” Childs said. “So the one thing I’d want [the community] to know is that God loves everyone equally and so should they.”

Some of the chalk drawings remained intact over the course of the day, while others faded in busier parts of campus due to student traffic. In the afternoon, a number of drawings appeared to be washed away, and some students speculated that they were hosed down.

Ciarra Berry, senior liberal studies major, said it was important for students to gather and show the university the hurt that the LGBTQ+ community has been experiencing.  She feels it is easy to dehumanize people without seeing them in person.

“We feel hurt by the Board of Trustees and what they have decided,” Berry said. “But our times of crisis often make us stronger because that’s all we have ever known as queer Christians, and I hope that they can see that we are upset but that we want to have discourse with them and we will continue to pray for them.”

_________________

Updated on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 at 3:10 p.m.

ZU News reached out to the university for an official statement on Monday afternoon, but it was not received in time for the article’s publication.

The following statement was added:

“The Board of Trustees remains unequivocally biblical and orthodox in their evangelical Christian identity, according to Associate Director of Public Relations Rachel White.”