Duke Divinity Students

‘God is Queer,’ Duke Divinity Students Proclaim

Hope Rawlson on April 5, 2022

Praying to “the Great Queer One,” students at United Methodist-affiliated Duke Divinity School proclaimed God’s acceptance and support for LGBTQ relationships in a Pride worship service March 22.

Divinity Pride, a student group affirming the “dignity, faithfulness, and strength of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and gender/sexuality non-conforming Christians,” sponsored the worship service.

“Strange one, fabulous one, fluid, and ever-becoming one,” prayed second-year Master of Divinity (M.Div) student Caroline Camp in opening the service. She stated that God is “mother, father, and parent” and “drag queen, and transman, and gender-fluid.”

Tirzah Villegas, an M.Div student, encouraged listeners to accept their sexuality because “You are never called to abandon yourself. Abandoning the self is negating the truth of who you are, and that is always a lie,” Villegas stated. God is a “queer God” who loves “every part of us,” according to Villegas.

A self-identified trans woman, C.J. Surbaugh, a first-year M.Div student, defended gender transition as biblical.

“I would like to suggest this as a trans text,” Surbaugh proposed about Genesis 32:22-31. The passage details Jacob wrestling with a stranger until daybreak. The man harms Jacob’s hip and commands Jacob to, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” Jacob responds, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” As a result, God blesses Jacob and gives him the new name “Israel.”

In this passage, Surbaugh sees “an example of a negotiated body, a trans body, which has been both momentarily injured and fundamentally blessed.” Surbaugh compares Jacob’s struggle to the experience of taking testosterone to transition from a female to a male identity. Surbaugh wonders “how Jacob felt after the angel had gone” and if “he felt the same way I did on the clear October morning when I learned to give myself a hormone shot.”

Transition, according to Surbaugh, “can be framed as a choice,” but “transition is better framed as a calling. It is a calling to wrestle with God and not let go until we receive a blessing in our own bodies.”

Criticizing the church, Justis Mitchell, a first-year M.Div student, stated, “In the pews we listen to the pastor who preaches about commandments, condemning those who disobey, predicating a future of fire and turmoil.” However, Mitchell believes that “We can become holy, we can become worthy, we can become valued…even as we remain queer, even as we discover our own queer God whose presence is within these walls.”

Second-year M.Div student Caleb Wolf expressed pain that he felt when he was fourteen. “I was broken, I had been slayed by my family, people in school, and people in my church,” Wolf stated. “I loved God with all of my heart, yet they told me God didn’t love me.” 

Wolf expressed that he “ran out the front door, barefoot with no jacket.” He recalled running behind a house and “banged my head against the brick.”

“I wanted to put an end to my suffering. I was tired of being disgusted with myself,” Wolf recounted. “I was tired of loving a God who did not love me back.” 

While Wolf chose to live, many LGBTQ individuals do attempt suicide. Wolf states that he realized “it wasn’t God who didn’t love me, it was me who didn’t love me, because I listened to the hate that I had been marinating in all my life.” 

Christian doctrine has historically defined the relationship between a man and a woman as the only biblical form of marriage. Yet, the Church is called to speak the truth and rescue the lost. Prominent Reformed theologian John Piper wrote, “No sin must keep a person out of heaven. None. What keeps a person out of heaven is the unrepentant pursuit of sin, and the rejection of God’s provision for its forgiveness in Jesus’s death and resurrection.” 

According to Piper, Christians must count others as more significant than themselves, which “does not mean approving of what they feel or do. It means becoming a servant of their forgiveness, their rescue, their Christ-exalting hope. Christians should not bear ill will toward any. We live for the good of all.”


UPDATE: Sometime after this article was posted, the video of this Pride worship service was removed from Duke Divinity School’s official Youtube channel. However, the full video can still be viewed via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine:

https://web.archive.org/web/20220412080007/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDktgNcUY3k

  1. Comment by Dan W on April 5, 2022 at 7:13 am

    Coming soon to your U.M.C. congregation, these young pastors. Probably as your Youth Pastor (!) Duke Divinity you should be ashamed, but you aren’t. That’s the real problem.

  2. Comment by Anthony on April 5, 2022 at 9:47 am

    Satan has converted these people to himself by convincing them that he is God. And, these same liberals are telling orthodox-traditional Methodists that they will feel right at home and be fully welcome in this next-UMC.

  3. Comment by Tracy on April 5, 2022 at 10:17 am

    God loves the human being, NOT the sin. People are confusing their sinful ways with their identify in Christ. Many sinners give way to the deceiver one, satan and yes evil is all around us causing confusion and chaos. Your sin does NOT define you, stopping listening satan’s lies. God loves all his people, but we must recognize sin and deceit for what is really is.

  4. Comment by Brian Evers on April 5, 2022 at 10:55 am

    It has been said well that these sort of people share our words but not our definitions or share your vocabulary but not your dictionary.

    This self-worship, bending of scripture, and coopting the ignorant are plain evil. This is just to multiply separating oneself from God by making the person a god.

  5. Comment by Steve on April 5, 2022 at 12:11 pm

    We must realize that many UMC clergy came from UMC endorsed seminaries that have taught them this stuff. Clergy will go with their churches wherever they fall after a UMC split in order to save their jobs. The problem with the UMC starts with the UMC’s GBHEM and will continue to the GMC or other traditional Methodist denominations if they do not ban clergy from these institutions.

    For traditionalists who stay in the UMC, the GBHEM needs to reevaluate its endorsed seminaries.

  6. Comment by David S. on April 5, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    It is getting to where every time I read about events like this, be it in Anglo-Methodist, Reformed, or Lutheran, a few passages come to mind.

    First, Romans 1, and NOT the verses normally cited, particularly by the late 20th Century version of fundamentalism (and I would include the Roman version on that point as well), which the Revised Common Lectionary cuts out (26-27), among other New Testament passages that the liberals found objectionable, but Romans 1:18-25, which they left but clearly do not believe, with a particular emphasis on verse 22-23: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…”.

    Second, Is. 29:9-16 with notable thought to verse 13, when applicable, though I think it is doubtable in this case: “Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”.

  7. Comment by JM Smith on April 5, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    Of all the Methodist/Wesleyan voices for orthodoxy that have compassionately addressed the issue of same-sex ethics (Tennent, deSilva, Witherington, etc.), why would you choose Complementarian Calvinist *John Piper* as the voice of orthodoxy to conclude your piece? That immediately alienates a number of people who might otherwise agree and want to share this piece. :-/

  8. Comment by td on April 5, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    Steve, you are incorrect with how the UMC staffs its churches. The clergy are employed by their annual conference, not the local church. Until a clergyman or woman chooses to leave his or her annual conference, he or she will continue to serve their annual conference.

    Almost all US annual conferences will not leave the UMC. Therefore, if a local church leaves, then their pastor will be transferred to another church that does not leave. Unless, of course, that pastor decides that they are leaving also.

    Now in an annual conference that does leave the UMC, all of their pastors will also leave the UMC with their annual unless the pastor chooses to stay with the UMC.

    What you have been saying incorrect. The pastor is attached to the annual conference, not the local church.

  9. Comment by David Miller on April 5, 2022 at 8:19 pm

    What these students are saying doesn’t sound like Christianity at all. We are in deep trouble.

  10. Comment by Steve on April 5, 2022 at 9:45 pm

    td,

    Fewer churches in the annual conferences mean fewer opportunities for employment for clergy. Leaving with their church guarantees they will be employed (if the church wants them). That was my point.

    It is basic supply and demand and clergy from UMC seminaries are going to go where the demand is in order to make a living and support their families. And they will take what they learned at progressive seminaries with them. I have already talked with many who have stated that they will follow their churches and leave with them. I am in a very traditional annual conference that has progressive clergy who temper their ideology to “fit in” with their traditional, Southern congregations – while at clergy meetings voice support for gay marriage and clergy. They will be leaving the UMC for the GMC with their churches.

  11. Comment by td on April 6, 2022 at 2:26 pm

    Steve- thanks for the clarification. Certainly that will be a problem in annual conferences that leave. I sympathize. It certainly doesn’t say much about UMC clergy that we assume they are mostly intetested in their paychecks and have so little integrity or sincerity. It appears that is where the UMC is at as an institution.

    The other wrench in our conjectures is that since GC has been postponed from 2020 to 2022 to 2024, the likelihood that the protocol will be a valid agreement is very low- so any assumptions about annual conferences being able to leave is probably not reliable. The GMC will have been formed by then from churches that have already left according to to traditional plan that was passed by the special GC.

    I think your concerns are more than valid because in my experience UMC clergy, no matter whether traditional or progressive, mostly just teach their own opinions without any regard to orthodoxy. They seem to value their own opinions above those of the apostles. Most UMC clergy i have met leave me convinced that they are not convinced that jesus is god and they believe it was mostly a fabrication.

  12. Comment by Anthony on April 8, 2022 at 4:29 pm

    The perfect storm for progressives? With postponement of General Conference and the launch of the Global Methodist Church, why aren’t progressives in radical aggressive mode to assist traditional congregations OUT of the UMC and into the GMC over the next two years? Why would the bishops not suspend the trust clause, cover the exit fees with reserves, and start encouraging charge conferences asap for traditional congregations to vote departure? By 2024, progressives could have control of General Conference and fully liberalize the remaining UMC — finally accomplishing what they’ve been screaming about for the past 50 years.

  13. Comment by Terrell on April 8, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    This had a verrrrry pathetic reputation. It gave 90% of its word count to summarizing their arguments, then quoted a few lines from John Piper about sun, ambiguously stated, towards the very end. You, and all these commenters, Are worried about the state of the church because of these people, but you yourselves have no earthly idea how to write an argument.

  14. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on April 11, 2022 at 9:55 am

    This is chiefly a news article, Terrell. Hope Rawlson has relayed what the seminary students said in the context of the worship service. She provided brief context to make clear that what the Duke students propose about God is not without opposition. Hope was not tasked with authoring a position paper on biblical anthropology. We have that content separately available in IRD’s paper “Is Marriage Worth Defending?” viewable here: https://theird.org/publication/mount-nebo-papers-summer-2009/

  15. Comment by Lee Roberts on April 8, 2022 at 11:28 pm

    Run. Run from the UMC to the Global UMC or to some other church that still obeys the teachings of scripture.

  16. Comment by David Gingrich on April 9, 2022 at 6:48 am

    Jesus wept.

  17. Comment by Dr. Glenn Douglass on April 9, 2022 at 9:03 am

    “Christian doctrine has historically defined the relationship between a man and a woman as the only biblical form of marriage.” This misstatement is part of the problem. The Bible, along with orthodox Christian doctrine, has only defined a relationships covenanted before God “as the only biblical form of marriage.” By embracing the false doctrine that a “piece of paper will do” to take root among us, we have allowed uncovenanted relationships to appear blessed by God when, according to scripture, they are not.

  18. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 9, 2022 at 8:41 pm

    “‘Strange one, fabulous one, fluid, and ever-becoming one,’ prayed second-year…M.Div. student Caroline Camp in opening the service.  She stated that God is ‘mother, father, and parent’ and ‘drag queen, and transman, and gender-fluid.’”
     
    Contrast this with passages such as these:
    “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23.19)
    “(The heavens and the earth) will perish, but you (O LORD) will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” (Ps. 102.26-27)
    “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal. 3.6)
    “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jas. 1.17)
     
    According to His own self-revelation, God does not change.  He is neither “fluid” nor in the process of “becoming.”  These are Ms. Camp’s inventions, not God’s self-revelation.
     
    “Tirzah Villegas, (another) M.Div. student, encouraged listeners to accept their sexuality because, ‘You are never called to abandon yourself.  Abandoning the self is negating the truth of who you are, and that is always a lie,’ Villegas stated.  God is a ‘queer god’ who loves ‘every part of us,’ according to Villegas.”
     
    Again, contrast this with these Scriptures:
    “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 10.39, 16.25, Mk. 8.35, Lk. 9.24, 17.33, Jn. 12.25)
    “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” (Rom. 8.13, Col. 3.5-6)
    “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it? … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Rom. 6.1-2,7-8)
    “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” (I Cor. 6.19-20)
     
    There is no question but that we are commanded by God to “abandon ourselves.”  Indeed, we are to die to ourselves and live to Christ (Rom. 6.11).  Ms. Villegas’ assertions to the contrary, as if denying oneself were a lie, is itself a lie straight from the father of lies (Jn. 8.44).
     
    “‘I would like to suggest this as a trans text,’” (first year M.Div. student C.J.) Surbaugh proposed about Gen. 32.22-31. … In this passage, Surbaugh sees ‘an example of a negotiated body, a trans body, which has been both momentarily injured and fundamentally blessed.’”
     
    Curious how John Calvin and Matthew Henry in their commentaries on this passage missed that meaning, and it took a first-year divinity school student to tease it out of the passage.  Again, contrast it against the Word of God:
    “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” (Dt. 22.5)
    “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” (Dt. 23.1)
     
    It seems clear to me that the Lord, “who…from the beginning made them male and female” (Mt. 19.4), does not “fundamentally bless” efforts by men and women to permanently mutilate their bodies and/or inject themselves with foreign hormones to the end of masquerading as someone of the opposite gender (or some unholy compromise in between), for what are, in the end, profoundly selfish reasons.
     
    Hence, it should be evident that Ms. Camp’s “strange one,” Ms. Villegas’ and Mr. Mitchell’s “queer god,” and Ms. Surbaugh’s “god” who sanctions transgenderism is an idol and not the living God.
     
    If such drivel is being taught to students at Duke Divinity School, its doors ought to be closed and chained shut, for foisting such ill-prepared candidates for the ministry on the Church.

  19. Comment by BG on April 9, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    For the christian people on the left, LOVE justifies sin. If they can claim it was done with love, then anything is justified.

  20. Comment by Father Robert Bagwell on April 10, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks! Really! For nothing! As a gay male partnered and married graduate of the Div School 1986, I’m really over this pantheistic non-Christ following religion some of our divinity school students are seeking to express in their need to worship themselves. There is a point in this exercise of exhibitionism that is nothing about God to whom the Divinity School was founded and Jesus Christ who is supposed to be the point of it all! The Div School used to know that. Am I supposed to be happy about their “self-expression”?? Not really. No salvation for heaven is here to be found and why did the Div School allow such. Now perhaps helping people understand how Jesus loves the LGBT community just as we are not as we should be, yet still we have to come into a living relationship with Jesus as a Way to the Father by Holy Spirit, that might be of value. As far as this pantheism secularism “expression”, take it to Berkley and get it out of Duke!!! Father Robert Bagwell ‘1986

  21. Comment by Jim Radford on April 11, 2022 at 10:16 am

    I am a Duke Divinity grad (1989). “God is Queer” is not something that I was taught there. I’m proud of having gone to Duke, and I don’t think that it’s the fault of the seminary, but this recent downturn of events gives me a sense of shame somehow and makes me sad. I’m sorry. That’s all I can say.

  22. Comment by Pastor Mike on April 11, 2022 at 2:44 pm

    I was doing Course of Study (COS) work at Duke Divinity School as a licensed local pastor. When this news article posted, I turned in my resignation letter.

    It’s soul-wrenching when persons worship perversion and sin, but it’s been going on since the Fall of Creation.

    What’s also tragic are deliberately obtuse divinity school leaders and educators who embrace humanistic philosophies and pluralistic theology.

  23. Comment by Pudentiana on April 11, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    As long as churches are willing to give aid for divinity students to study at corrupt Duke Divinity School this will continue. It’s like the House of the Rising Sun and has been the ruin of many a poor boy and girl.

  24. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 15, 2022 at 10:21 am

    “All these commenters are worried about the state of the church because of these people, but you yourselves have no earthly idea how to write an argument.”
     
    Please, Terrell, show us how it’s done.

  25. Comment by Fred on April 17, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Most churches and pastors were revealed as weak and corrupted during the last 2 years. Brick and mortar is not where God is. A church is a meeting place, especially if the church officials are spewing secular filth. Only a meeting place. Read the bible and pray on the passages. Forget about organized religion which has been largely shown to be full of secular sheep masquerading as good shepherds.

  26. Comment by binkyxz3 on April 17, 2022 at 11:41 pm

    This reminds me of the sit-ins during the 60s and 70s — a publicity stunt by a powerless group. The “student group” has no relevant authority or influence over the divinity school! Their only purpose is to guilt-trip the public in to accepting their deviant behavior.
    Piper is categorically wrong when stating: “Christians must count others as more significant than themselves, which “does not mean approving of what they feel or do. It means becoming a servant of their forgiveness.”
    First, putting others above yourself is how cults develop. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not more. Secondly, Christians are not to be the “servant” of others forgiveness. This philosophy flies in the face of God-given rights as enshrined in our founding documents. Very treacherous put that power in the hands of men. Salvation is the same way. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul says, “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose.”

  27. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 18, 2022 at 1:01 am

    I think you might have more problems with the Apostle Paul than with John Piper:
     
    “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.” (Phil. 2.3)

  28. Comment by Andrew Thompson on April 21, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    My colleagues here at two have gotten death breads due to the publicity of this article and it’s rhetoric.

  29. Comment by Timothy Dawkins on April 29, 2022 at 2:57 am

    Andrew, heretics used to get a lot more than threats. Something to think about before you openly mock the God of countless individuals in public again, as I’m sure you and your colleagues will, given your complete lack of apology. No, instead you came here to complain about a completely accurate article that did nothing but quote your colleagues, rhetoric notwithstanding. Don’t worry though, I doubt anyone here was expecting decent behavior from someone who’s more upset about mean words than an aspiring pastor referring to God as “the great queer one.”

    Reading what Caroline Camp said made me mad. I suspect it made a lot more people than myself much, much more than just ‘mad.’ You should be very, very happy words were the only thing exchanged.

    If you have any integrity you will apologize and resign from that farce they’re calling a school immediately.

  30. Comment by Carmen Chilson on May 5, 2022 at 8:48 am

    To make that statement alone “God is queer” is blasphemous! Which is the only Unforgivable sin. If they want to live a sinful lifestyle then leave God out of it completely, please! This article literally made me sick. Read about Sodom and Gamorrah. God destroyed that city because of the homosexuality that was there. Homosexualality is sin.

  31. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on May 5, 2022 at 10:53 am

    Carmen, we’re in agreement that the statement defames the character of God, but it’s not unforgivable. The church has historically taught that only a person who repeatedly and without repentance rejects the Holy Spirit’s testimony to Christ is the one who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit.

  32. Comment by Carmen Chilson on May 6, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    Jeffrey, the definition of the word blasphemy is: the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk. This sacrilegious title they give does not bring glory to God. It does not give Him honor. It is degrading. They believe Satan’s lies and worship Satan unknowingly. Satan is happy with this but God is displeased.

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