Controversy followed a concert this week sponsored by Proclaim Ministries. Eddie James, a Christian musician who travels around the country preaching, leading worship and performing concerts made his way to the Gustavus campus this past Wednesday. Between songs, James and his band mates shared personal stories about the change in their lives that followed their conversions to Christianity. Their comments, specifically regarding homosexuality, generated a heated reaction from members of the campus.
A member of James’ group brought up the topic of sexuality with a story about his sexual orientation. He spoke about God’s influence on his sexuality. He used to identify himself as a homosexual but now identifies himself as heterosexual. The band spoke about the possibility that homosexuals could be “cured” and drew comparisons between homosexuality and alcoholism.
Members of the crowd reacted both positively and negatively to these comments. A group of Gustavus students, including Junior Philosophy Major Natalie Norberg and Senior Religion Major Gita Varner, engaged in protest by placing tape over their mouths and standing silently in protest beside the stage.
Some students, however, supported the comments. “I think it would be a shame if Gustavus wasn’t about open conversation. When the young man got up to say [what he said], there was this bit of me that felt a relief that someone finally said it,” said Senior Religion Major Kaley Gordon.
Following the concert, a St. Peter resident took the microphone and denounced the views expressed by the group. She said the group came to campus under “false pretenses” and demanded that they “get off our campus and out of our town.”
James returned to stage to emphasize that his band was on campus to help all, and to “spread the love of Christ…. We don’t hate homosexuals,” James said. “We love them and that’s why we are here today. I don’t even know how to explain what happened today, except that there were misunderstandings.”
“I know that people were hurt on both sides, but the goal today was not to exclude different groups of people, it was to spread the love of Jesus. Our goal is to resolve that and get to the heart of the issue,” said Sophomore Environmental Studies Major Joe Sams, a Prepare Ministries Member.
“I don’t think this was an anti-gay rally, because there was actually a far bigger point, and other people got up and cheered other testimonies. This was just one young man who shared his personal story that he should be allowed to tell” said Gordon.
Senior Gender and Women and Sexuality Studies and Philosophy Major Rhea Muchella said that the incident made her “extremely embarrassed to be a Gustavus student.” She said it was “unfortunate that when people hire bands or ministries they don’t make clear what the message is going to be.”
“We thought by bringing this ministry to campus there would be a great opportunity for students to know more about God and have a personal relationship with the Lord,” said Proclaim Leaders Senior Communication Studies Major Amanda Rezac and Junior Physics Major Adam Snyder in an email to THE WEEKLY. “With that being said, we were not aware of the specific messages that were going to be delivered. We sincerely apologize to every individual who has been hurt or angered by any statements spoken during the concert.”
Rezac and Snyder said that Proclaim’s mission statement defining the group as a “’Christian community focused on God, called to love others, and striving to help people grow in their faith, [Where] all are welcome,’ is about inviting all to know the Lord. “The Lord’s love is abundant for each and everyone of us, so let this be the message that you take away.”
Following the concert, a group of students placed flags and chalk drawings on the sidewalk near the site of the concert in support of Gay, Lesbian and Transexual individuals.
“It was really good to see the quick mobilization [of] students. It was also good to see, after the administration left, a lawn full of flags and sidewalks covered in chalk,” Senior Political Science Major and Queers and Allies Member Tony Spain said.
Considering the vehement response of some campus members, it is unlikely that the discussion will end with chalk-drawings and flags. Queers and Allies held a meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the afternoon’s events and actions that could be taken. Proclaim requested to speak and apologize at the meeting, but the members of Queers and Allies declined, wishing to first discuss how they will react as a group.
“We don’t want to claim victimhood,” Spain said during the Wednesday night Queers and Allies meeting. “They [the individuals who made the comments] are the victims. They have to live with themselves.”
Queers and Allies were not the only people engaging in critical conversations about the nature of this speech and its place on the Gustavus campus. While Queers and Allies considered showing a film, a concert, a speak-out and other ideas, many campus members were already provoked to individual conversations in reaction to the concert.
“[I’m] excited to start the dialogue about what happened,” said Sophomore Will Grant, who observed some of the concert.