Professor’s letter starts growing movement of acceptance

World Vision USA announced that the organization would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriages last month, according to the Center for American Progress. However, after two days of harsh criticism and protest, the World Vision board reversed its decision. In response, Julia Stronks, a Whitworth professor of political science, wrote a letter expressing her disappointment over the matter, as well as the impact the decision has on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“When World Vision made its initial decision to hire married LGBT folks, I was so happy,” Stronks said. “And then, when they reversed their decision because of the criticism they received, I was crushed.”

World Vision is a Christian organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities worldwide to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice, according to the organization’s website. Stronks wrote down her feelings on the matter and composed a letter, sent it to a handful of friends, who sent it to their friends, and so forth. Eventually, the letter caught the attention of Benjamin Washam, the husband of a Whitworth faculty member, and Kathryn Lee, professor of political science.

“I think it was important for this letter to be public to say that there is another viewpoint,” Lee said. “I get frustrated with the media and its portrayal of Christianity.” Washam and Lee wanted to make the letter public. While Stronks sent it to people at Whitworth, Lee worked social networks. Washam created a website for people to read the letter and sign it in support. Without Washam, the story would not have received as much publicity, Lee said.

In less than a week, the letter received more than 350 signatures, according to Center for American Progress.

“Truthfully, it was fun for me to see how many people were excited about putting their name on the letter,” Stronks said. “It was fun and it was touching.” Stronks comes from a conservative-Calvinist family background. Her whole life, she was taught that homosexuality is sinful. After years of reading, researching and asking, she has reached her own opinion on this controversy, she said.

“I believe that we have misunderstood some of the biblical texts on homosexuality and sexuality in general,” Stronks said. “I believe Christian gay people should be fully embraced by the church.”

This view is reflected in her letter which has received around 1,000 signatures to date. The names of Whitworth students, faculty and staff can be found among those signatures. Junior Alma Aguilar signed after receiving an email about the letter, she said.

“It just seemed like something I had to do,” Aguilar said. “I believe in equality and I don’t think that any type of discrimination is acceptable.”

The letter addresses the opposing views not only between the LGBT community and Christians, but those Christians who support same-sex marriage and those who oppose it. In the letter, Stronks writes, “Clearly there are disagreements, but disagreement does not have to compromise our work as Christians. Christians have worked together across their differences on a wide variety of issues, and they should continue to do so when a mission transcending narrow doctrinal matters is at stake.”

When the board announced that people in same-sex marriages would be hired, 10,000 people dropped their sponsorships for children, according to the Center for American Progress.

“If an organization is not doing what you think it should be doing, I understand why people pull their money,” Lee said. “I understand that. But it certainly doesn’t help the public image of Christians.” After the decision was reversed, World Vision received criticism from advocacy groups such as Faithful America, which organized a petition calling for the resignation of two World Vision board of directors.

Not hiring people from same-sex marriages makes the organization vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits and creates strains with their partners who do support marriage equality, according to Center for American Progress.

“I think the conversation is not over,” Stronks said. “How do we love gay Christians? How do we love institutions that might disappoint us?”

Students who read the letter came into Stronks’ office to talk to her about the issues she addressed, she said. Some students came in to thank her for taking a stand for the LGBT community. “I think that it takes a lot of guts to be involved with something so controversial,” Aguilar said. “What a great way for a professor to demonstrate civil contribution.”

The letter received recognition in The Spokesman-Review, Huffington Post and other publications. Plans for the One Jesus website and letter remain unclear at this point, as the process moved quicker than expected, Stronks said.

“I think that this issue of this role of the LGBT community and the church is the Civil Rights movement of the coming decades,” Stronks said.

People who are interested in reading and signing Stronks’ letter can find it at one-jesus.org.

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