Demanding that Duke Divinity School promote “queer theology,” a small handful of students identifying as LGBTQ interrupted Dean Elaine Heath while giving her State of the School Address on March 5, 2018. The group of students marched into the room chanting over bullhorns. One of United Methodism’s 13 official seminaries, Duke is in Durham, North Carolina.
According to an article published by The Herald Sun, the “immediate trigger for the protest apparently was the faculty’s rejection of student request for a course on ‘queer theology.’” Queer theology is essentially rewriting Christian doctrines to affirm the unbiblical sexual behavior of LGBTQ individuals. The students originally demanded a course on this subject but Duke Divinity did not comply.
In addition, the students protesting said that they were “tired of making your school [Duke Divinity] look good yet no one has cut us a check for advertisement.” They condemned how the school supposedly uses them merely for “advertisement” and does not fully accept LGBTQ individuals.
Student protestors further alleged that most of the faculty and staff at Duke are openly “non-affirming.” They demanded more representation within the school’s administration. The students also called on the school to treat them with more “respect.”
The protest lasted approximately 15 minutes. They marched into room chanting “I am somebody and I won’t be stopped by nobody.” They continued to chant until students from the audience stood up to tell their stories and feelings. At the end of the protest, the students made these 15 demands:
Immediate: To be met by the end of this semester.
- Mandatory gender and sexuality training for staff and faculty
- Faculty and Staff allies listed on the OUT Duke website
- LGBTQIA+ designated resources regarding admissions, field education, spiritual care and therapy, and student life made publically available online and in the necessary offices.
- Make mandatory Appendix I: Guidelines for Inclusive Language in the Duke Divinity Bulletin.
- “All members of this Duke Divinity School community are invited to join together in using language that most adequately reflects the unity of the people of God and the reality of God”
- The implementation of a Non-Discrimination Policy to be signed by all incoming students, faculty, and staff.
- Clearly marked universal (gender non-specific) restrooms.
Short-term: To be met by the start of the Fall 2018 term.
- A Queer Theology class taught during the Fall 2018 semester.
- Queer affirming spiritual formation leaders and spiritual formation retreats.
- 3 yearly full tuition, need-based scholarships for queer and trans M.DIV students, prioritizing trans and queer femme students of color
- 1 yearly full tuition, need based scholarship for queer or trans MTS student, prioritizing queer and femme students of color.
- At least 10 academic and 15 summer placements designated for trans and queer students at sites that are overtly affirming of LGBTQIA+ peoples (⅓ of these placements must be made up of predominantly people of color)
Long-term: To be met by the start of the Spring 2019 term.
- The beginning of the hiring process to appoint a black trans woman or gender non-conforming theologian
- The beginning of the hiring process to appoint a tenure-track trans woman theologian
- The beginning of the hiring process to appoint a tenure-track queer theologian of color, preferably a black or indigenous person, who will specifically teach queer theology course
- The hiring of someone to fill an office or staff position for LGBT student resources.
The students insisted that that these demands be met or else the administration of Duke Divinity “can expect further nonviolent direct action.”
Dean Heath then calmly said that she heard students’ concerns and they she will take them into consideration. She added that she too has faced hardships as the first woman to be dean at Duke Divinity. She said that “every time I give a public address there has been an important event in the last year and year and half there is disrespect shown to my leadership.” She continued by asking the students “to treat me with respect just as you want me to treat you with respect.”
The students disregarded these statements and continued their protest by saying, “If you hear me, harden not your hearts.” Eventually Dean Heath politely asked the students to take a seat while she finished her speech, but the students refused and stood in silence for a couple of seconds. Dean Heath continued her speech, but then the students interrupted and said, “So I’m ready to go. Are y’all ready to go?” They then proceeded to leave the room.
I encourage churches to pray for Duke Divinity School and for the students. Please pray with me that the students will embrace the transformative biblical truth of the Gospel instead of accepting “queer theology.”