College Notebook: Chaplains reflect on BU religious tolerance event

October 30, 2015

Seventeen students came together to share their coming out experiences at Boston University’s School of Theology on Wednesday, Oct. 21. Students in the group Sacred Worth hosted the event, “Sacred Stories,” with the goal of providing a safe space for students to share their stories while integrating a religious background. Brandeis’ chaplains reflected on this event in its relation to Brandeis.

Students shared a diverse range of stories and lit candles for themselves and in honor of a person they knew who had come out or was struggling in the LGBT community, according to an article in BU’s newspaper, The Daily Free Press.

Katie Omberg, a third-year graduate student at BU and President of Sacred Worth, said in the article, “We’ve done storytelling around coming out with Sacred Worth before, but it’s usually been very secularized, and it’s just telling those stories. But we’re really looking to have it in a place framed in religious tradition.”

The event aimed to demonstrate the importance of discussing religion’s impact on the LGBT community and provide a safe space for students struggling with faith and sexual identity, according to The Daily Free Press.

Nathan Bakken, a second-year graduate student at BU, said in The Daily Free Press, “I think for me, coming from my background, my queerness and spiritual life has always existed in separate spaces, and being a part of Sacred Worth for me has really given me a community and a space where I don’t need to separate these aspects of myself.”

Brandeis has not yet had an intimate event of this type, but Protestant Chaplain Reverend Matt Carriker recalled a panel sponsored by Triskelion and the Chaplaincy as a part of ’DEIS Impact 2014: Christianity, Sexuality, and the LGBT Community: An Affirming, Justice-Based Perspective. The panel “talked about the ways that the Christian faith intersects with … sexual orientation and gender identity expression,” Carriker said.

“Christianity hasn’t been as open and affirming. And now a lot of denominations are saying, ‘Hey, this is important’, to ask ourselves how we can be welcoming of people,” he continued.

At the Brandeis panel, a few students spoke as well as Carriker, the Catholic chaplain at the time, Father Walter Cuenin, and Professor Bernadette Brooten (REL). The event was “really well received,” according to Carriker.

“We had people there who didn’t necessarily agree with us, but it was a respectful dialogue, and for me, personally, I’d love to see more spaces created like that,” he said.

Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Elyse Winick feels the same way. She said in an email to The Hoot, “A program of this kind could certainly work at Brandeis, if, as was the case at BU, it was a student initiative. The chaplains would certainly be supportive in any way possible. If Brandeis students are interested in creating an event of this type we’ll be more than happy to join them.”

Carriker strongly believes Brandeis would benefit from events similar to Sacred Worth’s and the prior ’DEIS Impact panel. He said, “The chaplains are always looking to see how our programming can be most meaningful to students. The more ways that we can educate, make that connection between faith and sexuality, the better.”

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