In September 2007, as a freshman at Samford University, I wrote these words: “Dr. Matthew Kerlin, minister to the university, stood near the front of the chapel and invited us to take part in the Eucharist. … Over seven hundred of us walked down the middle aisle of Reid Chapel and partook of the bread and the wine, and it was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
“This is just one experience I have had in the little amount of time I have been at Samford. I am sure I will have more of these experiences over the next four years, and I am happy to say that I am thrilled with my decision to attend Samford University. I wholeheartedly agree with (the late) Dr. Jim Barnette when he wrote, ‘Samford intends to be a university where students are encouraged to think holistically, to reflect thoughtfully, to relate authentically and to serve lovingly, constantly striving to embrace those values that Jesus lived and taught.’”
Today, 15 years after I penned those words, I’m no longer sure if Samford intends to be the kind of university Barnette described. Last week, my beloved alma mater announced that it will no longer allow LGBTQ-affirming ministries on campus.
I’m now banned from ministering at a place I love. A place that sharpened and expanded my mind, grew my faith and gave me lifelong friends.
At first, I was mostly mad. But then my anger turned into sadness. Honestly, the tears surprised me.
I’m sad that a place that I called home no longer has space for me. I’m sad that current (queer) students won’t get the spiritual care they deserve. I’m sad, and I say this sincerely, that administrators like Beck Taylor, Phil Kimrey and Bobby Gatlin have yet to experience the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love.
In May 2011, after our last worship service as Samford students, Sara Hunt-Felke gave me this beautiful Communion set that she made by hand. It sits in my dining room 11 years later along with the towel Samford University Ministries staff gave all seniors that night. The towel reads: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. — John 13:17.” That night, the campus pastors urged us to carry our Samford experience out beyond Lakeshore Drive.
I look at this Communion set and towel every day. It serves as a reminder to me to try and practice the kind of faith Samford taught me about — one that is dynamic, not rigid. That includes, never shuns. That is graceful, not hateful.
Over the past week, that kind of faith has grounded me. Samford can formally prevent me and others from being on campus, but Samford cannot stop the movement of God.
So, I will pray for administrators and trustees to get caught up in that movement. God has so much more on offer than fear.
I will pray for alumni and other Samford folks who are hurt by this decision, especially queer folks, to find comfort in that movement. Know that you are loved.
Mostly, I will pray for current queer students who feel like second-class citizens at a place that means everything to them. Keep causing good trouble. God is moving through you, and there is nothing Samford can do about that. And when Samford won’t provide you with a place for care and rest, know that so many of us will.
Rich Havard is an ordained Baptist minister who resides in Chicago and works at the intersection of spirituality and justice.
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