PUC Student Says "I Was Heartbroken and Angered"

(system) #1

In 2005 I was a third grader at Skagit Adventist School, now Academy, in Burlington, Washington. My class was the largest class in the school, 19 kids, something we were all very proud of. Mrs. Gaver, described by some of my former classmates as “out there,” taught third grade that year. She was brilliant. She made third grade a year of learning through fun.

To stretch our imaginations Mrs. Gaver handed out composition notebooks and had us write. Kids wrote stories about their friends, their pets, their families, and anything else they could imagine. Two boys ended up creating entire alien worlds in their notebooks, complete with detailed illustrations, descriptions, and languages.

Eventually, though, story-writing morphed into a tool of manipulation. Being included in many stories was a sign of popularity; fewer mentions in other kids' stories indicated less popularity. The coolest kids were included in the most stories. We wanted to be included in everyone’s stories because it meant we were liked--part of the cool crowd. I have a distinct memory of a fight involving two of my friends. One threatened to exclude the other from his story unless she stopped doing something that annoyed him. She caved and stopped whatever she was doing.

During Pacific Union College's recent Fall Revival Pastor Jonathan Henderson delivered a powerful sermon on the acceptance and love of those in the LGBT community. It was a sermon I didn’t expect I would hear for at least ten years. It was a sermon about inclusion, awareness, understanding and open-mindedness. It was a sermon I had been waiting 18 years to hear.

Pastor Henderson's sermon that told me I was loved by God for who I am, that I am not less worthy of the gift of salvation than a heterosexual, cisgender person. It addressed generations before me whom the Church pushed out with hatred and with the message, “Come back when you’re fixed,” rather than extending the love Jesus told us to give freely. The sermon recognized of the tears of the hurting, the abused, and the suffering--those who are only trying to understand who they are, and to live the lives they were meant to live. The sermon took note of those whose lives ended too early because people representing God told them that they were filth and did not belong because they were not straight.

The sermon opened up the floor for discussion, for voices like mine to be heard. At the end of that sermon I ran down from the balcony after seeing how many people were standing in support, in support and love for the minority who have been ostracized for so long. I ran down the aisle, hugged Pastor Henderson, and sobbed. I sobbed tears of joy. I laughed and cried at the same time and basked in the joy and love that filled that sanctuary.

I decided to stay in the Adventist Church for my higher education because I wanted to give the Church another chance. I have friends who could not stand the homophobia any longer and decided they had to leave in order to be able to figure out who they were without people mumbling words of hatred and disgust. I picked PUC because Gay and Straight People (GASP) exists. I would have gone to a state university otherwise. PUC has been so welcoming and accepting of me. I have found so many friends who love me for me. I feel safe here, safe enough to come out of the closet and truly be honest with others about who I am. It is all thanks to GASP and Pastor Henderson’s "Adam and Steve" sermon and the overwhelming support here at PUC.

When I heard that donors were threatening to withhold funding over the sermon, and then the video was removed from the PUC Church website, I was heartbroken and angered. I was immediately reminded of that argument in third grade. It is like they were saying, "I don't like you so I won't include you in our story." People like me who identify under the LGBT rainbow are being told by the Church, "Yeah, I don't approve of you so you don't get to be in our story and definitely not in God's Story." Just like the third graders who wouldn't listen to the other person and just made angry threats, those holding money over PUC’s head want to exclude people like me, and they are using money as leverage to force PUC’s hand in its treatment of its students. It is the response one would expect from a third-grade bully.

PUC has blown me away with its supportiveness. Sure, GASP is not allowed to be officially recognized as a club, but it still exists. Professors and other staff members have SafePlace stickers up in their windows. The chaplains attend GASP meetings and the PUC Church pastors are strong allies. Students and staff members do not ostracize students for who they are. Perhaps I see the world through rose-colored lenses but I will not cease to tell others about the positive experience I have had here at PUC. I feel for the most part that I am included in PUC’s story and even more so after Pastor Henderson’s sermon. I feel safe as a queer student whether in a class, in the dorm, at the gym, or in church. We are gaining ground when it comes to the inclusion of LGBT members in the Church’s story.

Kari Stickle studies Pre-Clinical Laboratory Science / Pre-Med at Pacific Union College.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6401

(Aubyn Fulton) #2

If only our Adventist colleges and universities were worthy of the courage and grace of our students. Thank you Kari, for not giving up on us.

(jeremy) #3

kari faces a long, difficult road as a gay young person in our church…if she becomes truly converted (Inappropriate, judgmental. - webEd) and learns to give her all to god, even though others around her don’t, it’s an even more difficult road…for a little while…things do get better with time, and perspective…

(Daneen Akers) #4

Thank you for sharing so beautifully and poignantly. Thanks for hanging on there! This sermon has been posted on YouTube now for those who have not had a chance to hear it for themselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJvQaqnfM-w

(Peter) #5

Jeremy, just how do you know that Kari isn’t ALREADY truly converted? You are totally out of place to ever think you can determine who is “truly” converted - whatever that is and whoever defines it. Be careful not to assume the role that belongs ONLY to God!

(2nd Opinion) #6

Thanks, Kari, for helping us to see that there may be more students like yourself–both queer and straight–who actually choose Adventist institutions because they are inclusive. I understand all too well the pressure placed upon our college and university administrators by stakeholders with money and influence. Given that atmosphere of duress, it is very important that they hear directly from students like yourself, whose lives have been changed by the sort of support and inclusiveness that Pastor Henderson exemplified. Let your administrators know that you are aware of the risk they face in terms of losing donors, parental support, or even board support. Thank them in advance for their courage and let them know that this is a risk well worth taking for students like yourself, who have been able to find a safe and inclusive place at PUC. My prayer is that we will join with LGBT students in continuing to author the Adventist story.

(Carrol Grady`) #7

This is not the first time I have heard of people using their money to threaten those who oppose them! Unfortunately, money is a tool for both sides in a debate, but the use of it is despicable, imho. I don’t really think that God approves of such use of the gifts he gives us. And I am very proud of PUC, for the most part, because of the principled stand in support of LGBTI students, by faculty and staff there. I pray that the decision to remove Jon’s sermon will be reconsidered!

(Allen Shepherd) #8

Do donors have a right to donate to a school that supports their views or are they wicked folk if they decide that they cannot support one that does not support their thinking? I believe they have a right to do with their money as they please, and if Ms Stickle is unhappy that some have told the school they don’t approve of that message, well, choose to stay and accept other’s freedom, or move on.

This young woman has been given an opportunity to express her opinion here, making accusations etc., I think they have the exact same right to express theirs by threatening to withhold support. Why the anger? Don’t they have a right to express their view?


Is ridiculous. It is not that they “don’t approve of you.” They don’t support homosexual behavior, not you.

If you can’t deal with a difference of opinion without calling people names, as third graders do, then perhaps a bit of growing up is in order.

(Bryan Ness) #9

Money should never be more important than people. Never, never, never. Our students, whether straight, queer, gay, transgender, intersex, or what have you deserve love and acceptance regardless the financial cost. I do not know whether the Adam and Steve video was removed because of donor threats (I hope not), or for some other reasons, but I believe it was wrong to remove it. I have even discussed the sermon with some of my more conservative friends, and the majority of them saw absolutely nothing theologically wrong (or otherwise wrong) with Pastor Henderson’s sermon. I am one of those faculty with a SafePlace sticker on my office door and I believe we need to do all in our power to not only make all our students feel safe, but also make them feel accepted, loved and valued by their Creator.

(Allen Shepherd) #10


Do you send money to organizations that you believe reflect your views? Would you cease to support them if they changed their views so that they no longer reflected yours? Could I call you despicable if you did?

Isn’t this sort of a free speech matter? We all support what we support, some wholeheartedly, as you seem to. Why not give others the benefit of the same freedom.

Ms. Stickle and you seem a bit judgmental and even dictatorial. if it is not your way, then it is “despicable.” Wow.

(Bryan Ness) #11

Of course donors have the right to withhold donations if they believe the school is doing wrong. I think this student’s point, and I agree, is that PUC should not respond to such threats. If we know what we are doing is right, then money should not trump doing what is right. This is not about whether homosexuality is okay or not, it is about accepting our students for who they are and not condemning them, and in fact, living them and reminding them God loves them too, just the way they are. Is there something un-Biblical about that? Did you listen to Pastor Henderson’s sermon, did you REALLY listen to it?

(Allen Shepherd) #12

Money is not more important than people. But the vision and the purpose of an institution are bigger than individuals, and determine the focus of the institution. And there is a cost whatever the vision is.

People have differing views, and visions. If you want to support homosexual behavior, some people will support you and some won’t. An institution has to make a decision on the matter. Isn’t that rather simple? If PUC wants to do that, they can. But there will likely be repercussions. Are you surprised?

And I am curious, has a gay individual been harmed at PUC? I am just not clear on the necessity for the SafePlace sticker.

(Aubyn Fulton) #13

I doubt even Mr. Shepherd really believes that Ms. Stickle is dictatorial - he has allowed his temptation for rhetorical flourish to get away with him, and I am sure he regrets any ad hominem attack against a college student - particularly one who has modeled such grace and maturity by being able to look past her own considerable suffering and abuse by this community and instead focus on the sign of hope and love she has seen to stay so optimistically engaged.

But his comment does illustrate what seems to me to be a recurring pattern in responses to Pastor Henderson’s sermon. Some, often “outsiders” (by which I mean those not part of the PUC community, to whom the sermon was preached) seem to see the sermon as an endorsement of homosexual behavior, and see condemnation of the sermon, and removal of the video, as standing up for the Church’s stand against homosexual relationships. Others, including most “insiders” (those on campus, to whom the sermon was actually preached) see the sermon as having nothing to do with condoning homosexual behavior, and instead see it as calling for a loving, just and accepting community of faith. These people see the condemnation of the sermon, and the removal of the video, not as upholding the Church’s stand about homosexual behavior, but as yet another rejection of LGBTQ students.

Often this kind of perceptual stand-off is portrayed as unresolvable - but in this case all one needs to do is to actually listen to the sermon to see which is correct. The sermon does not condone homosexual behavior, and does affirm love, justice and acceptance. Those who insist on portraying the sermon as condoning homosexual behavior, or disagreeing with either the Church or the core values of Christianity, are simply wrong. And by doing so they are putting their own narrow political and ideological agenda ahead of the pain and suffering of actual people, which when done by the strong against the weak is a form of bullying, and is clearly contrary to the principles of the gospel.

(Allen Shepherd) #14

I made several attempts, but it was down by then.

If you are doing what you think is right, and those supporting the institution don’t think so, don’t you think a discussion of the matter is at least in order, rather than telling people they are despicable and hateful and acting like third graders? If I were a donor, and received such a letter, I would not even bother to talk. I’d take my money elsewhere in a trice. The comments show gross immaturity.

And this IS about whether homosexuality is right or not. Come on. If you are going to tolerate a homosexual club there and put a sticker on you door, you are supporting that type of behavior.

You might argue, I am not. But how do you know that students are not practicing? Do you question them? Are there cameras? Have they pledged not to?

Of course not. That is way to intrusive. So, by supporting them as you do, you are supporting that behavior.

I am for Christian love toward all, even those with whom I disagree. But the Church and the Bible do not find homosexual behavior acceptable. And If one is gay, or lesbian, they should expect that such behavior on an Adventist campus is unacceptable as well. To get in a huff because some donors are questioning the pastors talk is a bit much.

(jeremy) #15

peter, have you read kari’s article…kari is saying she decided to complete her undergrad at puc because, unlike some of her friends, she wanted to give the church one last chance…these are not the words of someone who is settled in the faith - she’s still testing it to see if it meets her needs…as of the writing of this article, and based on its content, kari is still undecided…


(Carrol Grady`) #16

As I said, it works both ways. Would you say people who are unhappy with something about the church should withhold their tithe? I have counseled against this, and although I think the church is amiss in a few areas, I still pay my tithe.

You said: “If I were a donor, and received such a letter, I would not even bother to talk. I’d take my money elsewhere in a trice.” I am sure that is true, from having read your posts. You have sort of “outed” yourself here.

(Aubyn Fulton) #17

Allen, you clearly do not know what you are talking about here - I say that kindly, as a simple description of your acquaintance with the basic facts of the situation. If you are genuinely interested in learning more about some of the details of all this, feel free to email me privately (afulton@puc.edu_.

I can clear up a couple of things. First, if you or anyone monitoring this thread would like to actually see the sermon before condemning it, it is still available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJvQaqnfM-w.

Second, the president of PUC made it clear in a public statement to students several years ago that it is not a violation of any college rule for students to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. Nor is doing so a violation of any church standard or belief (the Adventist position statement clearly condemns behavior, not people). Of course, none of the unmarried students at PUC are permitted to engage in sexual intercourse, so both single straight and LGBTQ students are in exactly the same boat. There have been innumerable sermons preached in the PUC Sanctuary which had stated that God loves and accepts the students and wants them to be part of the Church, and I can assure you that none of these preachers first employed any of the surveillance techniques into their private sexual behavior you suggest before making those assurances. There is no reason for any conservative Adventist to get upset just because in this one instance a pastor specifically noted that God also loves and accepts LGBTQ students, and wants them to be part of the Church.

(Allen Shepherd) #18

Thank you for your clarification. It is probably enough.

I will try to view the video. I may contact you as well. Thanks.

(Cole Barr) #19

As a former member of the PUC community, who has heard the sermon - with which I take no issue - this argument in general, should be targeted at PUC administration, board of trustees, and the local conference.

I completely agree that donors have their right to refuse donation, and it’s preposterous to retaliate with anger when they choose to exert that right. With no regard towards this topic, I have several criticisms toward PUC and therefore have never and will most likely never donate back towards the school - though they have certainly tried several times for alumni donations.

For the professors in this conversation: It literally comes down to PUC making a decision, consequences be damned. It’s not the outside people, the donors, or the greater church audience, it’s PUC. You have a president, an administration, and a board of trustees all of which I assume are freethinking, intelligent individuals who can come up with contingency plans - eco village anyone? They need to make a decision. Will they choose to govern the institution in a censored and cautious way, or do they start shaking things up.

(Allen Shepherd) #20

Well, being called a third grader and a bully is not exactly a way to encourage donors. What was that about biting the hand…? Maybe a little talk would be good. A letter in spectrum probably does not support calm deliberation…