Six-week lecture series addresses religion and sexuality

Annie Dietz, Campus Carrier Deputy News Editor

Today at 6 p.m. begins the first of six discussions within the Christianity and Homosexuality: Sociological and Theological Views program. Sponsored by the department of sociology and anthropology, the department of religion and philosophy and the Office of the Chaplain, the lectures aim at educating students of different perspectives on this issue. Every week will host a new topic, including matters like scriptural viewpoints, traditional church ideology, speaker personal experience, and science and rationality.

The publication of “United Methodists Divided: Understanding Our Differences Over Homosexuality,” written by Professor of Sociology Dale McConkey, spurred the discussions. Disagreements in the United Methodist Church concerning how to address same-sex relationships and the LGBT+ pride movement inspired McConkey to research the differing viewpoints on how religion and sexuality have historically collided. McConkey had seen and read different arguments, but had never found a resource that simply explained the rationale and history behind those arguments. He wanted to produce such a resource, in hopes that giving people information would allow them to understand other viewpoints, and facilitate peaceful, mature discussion. After publishing his book, he realized he wanted to take that education a step further and deliver it specifically to Berry students.

“I know this is an issue that is not unique to my denomination,” McConkey said. “It’s an issue many Christians grapple with, I thought since I had done this research, it might be helpful for some Berry students who might like to hear different positions on this topic. That was the main motivation.”

The discussions each night will begin with a 15-20 minute lecture from McConkey, followed by a 15-20 minute lecture from the guest speaker concerning the topic of the night. The rest of the time will be devoted to answering students’ questions and hosting conversation. McConkey invited several other faculty members from the religion department in order to ensure many different viewpoints were represented.

“I wanted to make sure that there were other voices, other professors from the religion department, because I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just my voice and my perspective,” McConkey said.

One such faculty member is Michael Papazian, professor of religion and philosophy. He will be joining McConkey on Feb. 14 to discuss views from the church tradition. His focus will be on the traditional Biblical views and their interpretations throughout history, as well as how questions of morality have evolved within the Church.

“I see it as more of a way to broaden people’s horizons, not necessarily change people’s minds, but just to give people a broader perspective on the history of the church and its teachings on ethics,” Papazian said.

Also involved is Matthew Lee, professor of religion and philosophy. Lee will be speaking Feb. 28, and discussing the views from science and reason. Lee voiced his support for the goal of the discussions, emphasizing the importance of working to understand each other in times of political divisiveness.

“If productive discussion can happen anywhere, Berry is one of the most likely places,” Lee said. “I do think it is something that needs to be attempted, with all the love, humility, patience, open-mindedness, and divine assistance we can have.”

All in all, McConkey hopes that exposing students to a diversity of viewpoints and establishing a friendly atmosphere for discussion of a normally divisive topic, this project can help students understand that civil discussions are possible.

“My aspiration for education in general is for people to become more educated and also more compassionate or empathetic about the world them,” McConkey said.

My hope in this is that students will have a better understanding of two very different Christian perspectives and I’m hoping that students can see that we can talk about these very emotionally charged, personal issues in a constructive and civil way.”

The discussions will be hosted in the Interfaith Center of East Mary every Thursday at 6 p.m. through March.

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