In conjunction with the federal holiday commemorating his birth, Boston University hosted a multitude of events on Monday in honor of civil rights leader and BU alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr.
A group of Methodist students from the School of Theology (STH) organized a day of community service in remembrance of his legacy of service to society.
The students, led by event organizer Colin Cushman, STH ’15, volunteered with Boston-based organization Black and Pink, which seeks to support the incarcerated GLBTQ community through advocacy, education, service, and special programs. The students helped out with the Prisoner Pen Pal section of the organization, a letter-exchange program that connects inmates with pen pals.
“For all inmates, especially those in solitary confinement, these letters are life-giving.” Cushman said. “We hoped to learn from the difficulty of their situation, as the LGBTQ community faces a whole different set of struggles in addition to the normal struggles of being incarcerated.”
In reviving community service on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the students sought to look back on the social progress that society has made and look ahead to the work that is yet to be done. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was originally intended as a day of service for the community, and that has oftentimes been forgotten,” Cushman said. “We wanted to do something that was not destructive, but rather something constructive that visibly shows our willingness to work with and support the LGBTQ population.”
With founders who served as members of the United Methodist Church, the STH’s support of the GLBTQ population is a progressive step for both communities.
With many students preparing to work in ministry, to become pastors, or to be involved with the United Methodist Church in other ways, the relationship between these two parties is especially relevant.
“In the spectrum of the BU community, and specifically within the Methodist population, this is an issue dear to our hearts,” Cushman said. “We have a community of LGBTQ students in the School of Theology who feel they are called to do ministry in the Methodist Church. Thus, this affected us very deeply.”
The students’ intentional focus on the GLBTQ community stemmed from their dissatisfaction with church trials. Last November, controversy arose from the church trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer.
Schaefer, a Methodist pastor from Pennsylvania, was brought on church trial for officiating the gay marriage of his son. He was found guilty, and was forced to either recant his support of gay marriage or voluntarily surrender his credentials.
He refused to do either, and as a result was defrocked. In response, students gathered to show their disapproval of the Schaefer trial, and, on a larger scale, their disapproval of all church trials.
“Even though the Frank Schaefer trial was a catalyst, it is the culture and the climate of church trials that is really problematic,” Cushman said. “It is not merely an issue in the past that we are trying to protest, but rather an entire culture and way of doing things that we think is toxic, and does not line up with what the Gospel calls us to do.”
By openly supporting Black and Pink, the Methodist students were challenging the strained relationship between the Methodist Church and the GLBTQ community.
“We wanted to communicate that we, the future pastors and future ministers of the Methodist Church, are still very committed to the Methodist Church, but we are no longer allowing this intolerance to go on,” Cushman said. “That relationship has to change, as it is putting the ministry in jeopardy-for both those that are gay, lesbian, or queer, and for those that are straight who will be called to perform gay marriages in the future.”
However, complete tolerance within the Methodist Church is yet to be achieved, as support for the GLBTQ community is still very much divided geographically. “In more conservative regions, such as the Southern ‘Bible Belt,’ there is a lot of resistance to inclusion,” Cushman said. “In other, more liberal regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, there is a greater move towards acceptance between the two communities.”
Ultimately, the students’ day of service with Black and Pink was intended to provide hope and reassurance to inmates affected by the problematic prison environment.
“We wanted to communicate to the incarcerated LGBTQ population that there are people in this world that care about them, who know their humanity, and who want to recognize it,” Cushman said.
This progressive effort also communicated a larger goal-an improved relationship between the Church and the GLBTQ population.
“We hope that we communicate strongly that the United Methodist Church is not just made up of hateful, intolerant people, but there are a lot of people within the church that feel passionately about this issue,” Cushman said. “We wanted to communicate that the Gospel is not an exclusionary, oppressive message, but rather a life-giving, liberating force that communicates God’s love for the world.”