I am a legacy.
That’s what you call someone who has ancestry at a college or university. At least one generation before has received an education there. In my case, my mother attended my alma mater, and although she went on to graduate from another university, North Texas, it was Abilene Christian that she always claimed as her school.
Along with Rex Kyker, Mid McKnight, and Jimmy Wood, Mama was in the class of 1943.
For as long as I can remember, she would periodically take out her “Prickly Pear,” the college yearbook from her time there, and I would sit beside her on the living room couch while she told me about all the places and all the people she had encountered there. About living in Zellner Dorm and staying up after lights out at 10 pm with a flashlight under the covers. About eating family-style meals in “the Bean” in the basement of Chambers Hall. About freezing during the winter in chemistry class held in a portable Quonset hut on campus.
I breathed in all those stories, all those life-shaping moments, of my mom’s and they became a part of me. Her love for Abilene Christian was handed down to me.
So when I set foot on the campus as a freshman in 1979, I was so proud.
So proud to walk across the stage in Moody Coliseum and receive a bachelor’s degree in 1983, and a master of arts degree in 1985.
So proud to be invited to come back and teach there in the communication department in 2001.
Over the years I watched the university evolve, continuously reexamining policies and procedures and traditions to maintain the essentials of Christian education, with a willingness to discard things that were no longer relevant. My mom would chuckle, showing me the “sign-out” sheet she was required to use during her freshman and sophomore years on campus. In the early 1940s, every female student had to sign a sheet of paper whenever they left the dorm, whether going to a club meeting or, in my mom’s case, volleyball practice in Bennett Gym, or to go shopping or to a movie in downtown Abilene.
In the early 1980s, no student was permitted to wear shorts on campus. I was the first girl allowed to take the advanced preaching class in 1985, and no girls were allowed to major in Bible until years later. No instruments were permitted in daily chapel, and were still prohibited when I taught there from 2001-2010. And when I spoke in chapel in 2003, I was asked not to read from the Bible or to pray from the stage.
From what I have observed, and from what I understand from friends on campus today, none of those practices are followed at Abilene Christian. But at one time they were strictly adhered to because each practice was believed to be in keeping with scriptural teaching.
I am thankful beyond belief for those men and women who have faithfully examined and reexamined Scripture, to be discerning, and to seek constant guidance as to where the Spirit of God is leading. To be willing to acknowledge when something is essential to being a follower of Christ and when it is a disputable matter. To be willing to say we were wrong about a particular practice, and it no longer serves the purpose of academic integrity and spiritual authenticity. This is the ACU that I know and love. A place where I found purpose and belonging. A place that deepened my faith and encouraged me to pursue big dreams. A place where I formed relationships that I treasure to this day.
But sadly, today, I do not recognize the voice of my alma mater of late. It sounds more like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Recently, Abilene Christian held “Holy Sexuality” week in chapel. Talking about sexuality is important for the Christian life, yet the only message LGBTQ students heard was one of desolation. No consideration was given to all we’ve learned over the last 25 years. No regard was given for the scholarly voices on campus who have a completely different perspective and could have provided a much more hope-filled message than the one delivered.
The reason some of the policies and practices of the past have changed at Abilene Christian is because, at one time, the university created space for discussing opposite views and different perspectives.
There was a time when we could engage in dialogue, as is most fitting for any academic institution, but especially one that is Christian at its core.
There was a time, in fact, when the tribe from which I come was known for debating opposing ideas, as the best means of discerning truth.
There was a time when I was on the faculty that we received a group called Soul Force, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and invited them to three days of conversation, listening to each other’s stories and perspectives. There was a time when we were hospitable to people with whom we disagreed.
But that’s not what happened a couple weeks ago during Holy Sexuality Week. Different perspectives on same-sex relationships and gender identity were not permitted. Only one view was presented, and it was deeply hurtful to LGBTQ students, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni. Students were not even allowed to opt out. Chapel time was extended, and administrators announced that if students left early, their chapel credit would be denied.
I thought of the impression that would have given me back in the early 1980s when I was sitting in one of those seats in Moody Coliseum. Namely, this message must be more important, this topic must be especially egregious, to penalize me if I leave, and go to the expense of coaxing me with pizza if I stay. I grieve for what it must have felt like for LGBTQ students sitting in those same seats two weeks ago. And while I am no longer a student there or on the faculty, I have shed tears over this recent event. The administration’s current stance toward LGBTQ people is deeply painful to me personally because I love ACU.
Despite all we have learned about the complexity of sexual development, and how to better understand Scripture on sexuality and gender over the last forty years, Abilene Christian has moved away from its tradition of dialogue and discernment that allowed it to move closer to sound policy in years past. My heart hurts for the Voice students on campus (who are more open about their sexuality), as well as for students, staff, and faculty members who have not yet come out. Holy Sexuality Week could have sent a hope-filled message to LGBTQ people. Instead, it has amplified fear, fostering continued secrecy and shame.
So, this is my prayer for my LGBTQ siblings at ACU and beyond: may you know without a doubt that you are absolutely loved by God. May you know that nothing you say, feel, think, or do can change that. Nothing you call yourself can alter God’s love for you one iota.
And know this, there are plenty of us who have completely different perspectives of how the word of God addresses us as LGBTQ people. We are devoutly Christian. Our identity is first and foremost in Christ. And we are Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Just like some of us are left-handed and brown-eyed, and some of us are lawyers or teachers or drummers. And as for me, being Dan and Betty’s daughter is a huge part of my identity.
I’m also a Wildcat.