KENTalks panel discusses gender and sexual diversity in Christianity


From left to right, Janelle Nafziger, Jordin Manning, Kris Herman, Emmanuel Jackson, Suzy D’Enbeau, Nick Larson, Rev. Avery Danage, Alice Freitas, Rev. Julie Blake Fisher and Moderator Kelvin Barry sit on a panel at the Kent Talk titled “Gender and Sexual Diversity in Religion” on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015.

Kelly Powell

Pastors, campus ministers, a professor and members of both Christian and LGBTQ student organizations, have been emailing and meeting in person to prepare for a presentation about their belief systems in front of a large crowd.

Kent State hosted a KENTalk titled “Gender and Sexual Diversity in Religion” Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the ballroom balcony of the Student Center. The panel included, but was not limited to, members of H2O Church, PRIDE! Kent, Late Night Christian Fellowship, Black United Students (BUS) and Transfusion. The forum hosted nine representatives and moderator Kelvin Barry.

The purpose of the discussion, Barry said, was to “encourage those who feel isolated, injured, disrespected and undervalued.”

“We want to create an ongoing dialogue about how sexuality and spirituality interact between people,” said Nick Larson, a sophomore H2O Church intern.

Christianity was intentionally the only faith tradition expressed due to the time restriction of an hour and a half. There is a hope to have KENTalks incorporating other religions in the future.

Janelle Nafziger, a senior H2O Church intern and president of the International Justice Mission, added to the reasoning behind this decision.

“Christians are often more put in the spotlight for issues surrounding LGTBQ topics,” she said. The night began with a general statement of

belief from each adult member of the panel. “Conflict has come from the baseline assumption that all of Christianity is fundamentalist,” said Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, priest of Christ Episcopal Church. “There is a balance between scripture, church history and the Holy Spirit. If we stick to the Bible only, we paint ourselves into a corner.” Kris Herman, director of Late Night Christian Fellowship, expressed that he held a “more traditional orthodox view based in humanity, civility, grace and peace.”

Panel members also presented opinions about the social construct of gender, the blanket acceptance of the church body and the hierarchical importance of love over all things.

Barry then asked each representative how gender identity and sexual orientation is represented or understood in their belief system.

“I have considered various Biblical passages,” Herman said. “I stand firm to the Bible even when my heart and mind swim into revisionist waters. We are distinctively, uniquely, and beautifully made, and I believe it is against God’s design [to be homosexual].”

On the other hand, Fisher expressed her belief that there are seven different kinds of truth, and therefore, faith should not just be limited to a reading of religious works. She emphasized that this outlook on Christianity was restrictive to believers trying to form opinions on homosexuality.

“We can look at the revelation in many more ways than just scripture, including finding Christ in the face of other people,” she said. “This is a long neglected blessing of his richness.”

Suzy D’Enbeau, Kent State communication studies assistant professor, added that she considers gender to be an embedded classification system.

“We socialize people into performing in separate gender roles,” she said. “They receive reward and punishment from instructors and several institutions.”

The next portion of the event included questions from Barry pointed toward one member of the panel, restricting each answer to a three-minute time limit. If finished early, other members of the panel were able to weigh in for a maximum of two minutes. Individuals from nine different student organizations with the intention of challenging the representatives formed the questions.

The night included inquiries about societal impact, acceptance of LGTBQ members in the church, understanding of the LGTBQ community, and the definition of civil discourse.

“There’s a danger that comes along with erasing intersections of the LGBTQ community and Christianity,” said Jordin Manning, a freshman PRIDE! Kent member.

Every panel member integrated a common theme of fairness, inclusion and relationship between people with both similar and differing belief systems, allowing for an open but respectful disagreement.

“Civil discourse is a commitment to collective traditions of democracy, but sometimes that gets conflicted with politeness,” D’Enbeau said. “We have to look through areas of productive overlaps.” 

Alice Frietas, social chair of Transfusion, expressed that the loudest voices often are the ones that are heard.

Another common theme came in panel members speaking about the brokenness and imperfection of people in society, independent of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

“We all have desires to be wanted, to have value, and to be loved,” Nafziger said. “We all acknowledge the reality that we fall short. We disagree, but acceptance of differences shouldn’t stop us in our tracks. There’s more to the story than what we currently understand.”

Larson agreed.

“We are all in need of a savior,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the sin is, but the Lord put us on this earth to love us equally.”

Barry then gave the floor specifically to the students on the panel and asked them to supply final responses.

“We should be working toward transparency between communities,” said Emanuel Jackson, a sophomore BUS member.

Frietas agreed; she expressed that classification and society’s impressions should be more fluid.

“It’s important to stop of thinking in terms of the church or the LGTBQ community and start thinking in terms of the individual,” she said.

Finally, the event was open to questions from audience members directed at the panel as a whole. Questions ranged from topics such as interpretation of Biblical passages, families unaccepting of homosexuality, and perception of God within the confines of gender. A general theme of harmony and unity permeated the responses of panel members.

“All that I know is not all there is to know,” said Avery Danage, adult youth and family pastor at United Church of Christ. “This issue has been painted into a deep dark corner. We need to have our arms extended and our rocks dropped. You won’t be asked to come to the alter and pray the gay away.”

The dialogue ended with remarks from President Beverly Warren.

“I am delighted to see so many people who are concerned about these issues,” she said. “I value this community because we are able to hold sessions like this.” 

Contact Kelly Powell at [email protected].