As you may or may not know, my day job is being Programs Coordinator for United Campus Ministry at the University of Tulsa. UCM, also known as the Little Blue House, is a ecumenical progressive campus ministry focused on peace and justice issues; we are also the only open and affirming ministry at TU. My main duty is that I get to support and work with our amazing students as they try to make TU a better, more just, fully inclusive and safe place.
We found out recently that several other campus ministries are bringing Rosaria Champagne Butterfield to speak at TU on Nov. 17th. I’m not going to provide Dr. Butterfield free publicity by linking to her website; you can Google her is you want more info. Dr. Butterfield speaks on the issue of homosexuality and Christianity. She used to be a college professor of literature at Syracuse, where she focused on queer and feminist literature. She claims to have formerly been gay before undergoing a “conversion experience.” She is now married to a Presbyterian minister, identifies herself as a “homemaker” and travels around telling her story. While she says she does not advocate “conversion therapy”, her message conveys that message, as well as presenting views hostile to the LGBT community. She explicitly claims that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible.
Our amazing students at UCM have crafted an open letter, to run in the campus newspaper next week in advance of her appearance. Below is the full text of this letter. If you would like to sign your name in support of the letter, please click here. Thank you in advance for your support, and please share this with your friends, families and congregations.
To the Hosts of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield:
The students of United Campus Ministry, the Society for Gender Equality, HeadStrong, Earth Matters, and Pride at TU want to state publicly that we are outraged that several ministries from the university will be hosting Rosaria Champagne Butterfield on November 17th. Mrs. Butterfield speaks openly not only about her conversion to Christianity, but also her conversion from lesbianism to straightness. Mrs. Butterfield believes that being gay or transgender is fundamentally opposed to being Christian. Inviting someone to speak about orientation as a spiritual or psychological weakness actively creates a hostile environment for all LGBTQ+ students. Many of the students who are concerned about this speaker’s presence on our campus identify as both Christian and LGBTQ+, and we believe that by hosting Mrs. Butterfield, these campus ministries are trying to silence our voices and invalidate our identities.
Just because Butterfield does not openly condemn LGBTQ+ people, does not mean that the things she says are loving. The absence of explicit condemnation is not love, and in this case serves to hide the subtle message that there is something wrong with being LGBTQ+.
While we celebrate our country’s right to religious freedom, major medical, scientific, and governmental bodies have identified conversion therapy as an unethical, and potentially harmful practice that may increase risk for depression and suicide. Any discussion or promotion of such practices, or suggestion that sexual orientation is not immutable is discrimination and a threat.
As students gathered to begin crafting this letter, certain themes arose again and again – anger, fear, and shame. The students who felt outraged enough to attend the letter writing session represented lots of different groups; there were students from a number of racial and ethnic backgrounds, of varying sexual orientations and gender identities, and consisted of both religious and secular students. We were all able to gather around the table at the Little Blue House in solidarity. Regardless of our backgrounds, when one student is oppressed we are all oppressed. We are a community that fights for each other and we will not sit back in silence while discrimination and prejudice run rampant on our campus.
We will not allow our community to be harassed without responding. We will not accept hate speech on our campus without condemnation. We will not allow our loving community to be hurt by this woman’s supposed wisdom. We will not be broken by your hate.
As a community, we do not understand why campus ministries would choose to focus on the conversion of LGBTQ+ students.
It is certainly acceptable for a campus ministry to choose to focus on whatever they think is important; however, we believe it is an egregious misuse of Jesus’ name to choose to be complicit in oppression, rather than working to address tangible human suffering.
We believe that the role of ministry should be to use our power, energy, drive, and resources to promote love, equality, and safety for all students and our surrounding community.
Let this be an open invitation to all campus ministries to talk about the systematic murder of people of color; to create dialogue to discuss the more than 20 transgender people murdered since January of this year; to show concern for the fact that Oklahoma leads the world in incarcerating women, and that an immense number of Oklahoma children go hungry.
As long as students on TU’s campus feel unsafe, United Campus Ministry will be here to support them. We will be here, fighting for equity and justice, fostering student growth, and creating safety until we have a truly inclusive and kind campus. We invite every other ministry on this campus to join in our mission, and to help make TU a safe place for all students – regardless of racial or ethnic background, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, or religion.
We want to be certain that every student on this campus knows that we will still be here, whether or not other ministries choose to join us, fighting for our kind and loving community.
We will not be broken. Our community is stronger than your hate.
Peace and Grace,
The Students of United Campus Ministry, Pride at TU, the Society for Gender Equality, HeadStrong, Earth Matters,