Ed. Note: Recently, the BJUnity board of directors invited Sharon Hambrick to join us as a member of our Board. She accepted our invitation and this is her response.
Thank you for inviting me to join the board of directors of BJUnity. I am humbled by the request and am honored to accept.
When I first learned of BJUnity several years ago, I was startled. There were gay Bob Jones University alumni? Former staff? Current students? Turning to the BJUnity web site, I read the testimonies of just such people, emotionally battered by the harsh rhetoric of Fundamentalism as taught from the BJU chapel platform and the pulpits of BJU-affiliated churches. The testimonies were all so similar—hurting young people struggling to change, begging God to change them, hearing that God couldn’t save them unless they changed, and yet remaining powerless to change, followed by a growing acceptance of who they are, who God made them, finally finding peace—I had to reconsider what I considered to be the only way to understand the Scripture: that is, complete refusal to accept LGBT people as anything other than sinners following a self-chosen path.
This reconsideration led to long conversations with several members of BJUnity who have become my friends. Thoughtful reading of Virginia Mollenkott’s book Is the Homosexual My Neighbor and Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian followed, showing me that, as Bob Senior said, “Whatever the Bible says is so, but we don’t all agree on what it says.” Yes, it is possible to find a wholly-anti-homosexual interpretation of various “clobber passages” in the Scripture, but many thoughtful Bible scholars see other interpretations. I began to ask such questions as, “If the Scripture can be interpreted faithfully to gather in, rather than exclude homosexuals, shouldn’t I work that out in my life?”
The Gay Chapel Week of 2013 was pivotal in my growing unease with Bob Jones University’s harsh chapel rhetoric. Under the guise of compassion toward those with “SSA,” then-President Stephen Jones read a hateful message from the pulpit, allegedly written by a student to another student, followed by messages calling students with SSA to confide in the Administration. To date, we have not heard of a person who confided in the BJU administration and found there compassion, hope, affirmation, and a continued place in the Student Body.
This week of chapel messages, coupled with the firing of the G.R.A.C.E. team (a team which was later re-hired after enormous public outcry) led me to realize that I could no longer accept royalties from my children’s novels which are published by Bob Jones University Press. Wanting to present a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus to those who had been hurt by my alma mater’s hateful speech and egregious actions, I (with the support and agreement of my husband, also a BJU alum) assigned my royalty rights to BJUnity. Of course, BJUP refused to honor this assignment, citing a sentence in the contract which allows the Press to refuse any assignment it deems unacceptable. (This refusal changes nothing—instead of receiving a check directly from BJUP, BJUnity receives an endorsed BJUP check from me twice a year, and I only regret that the amount of the check is not larger than it is.)
As I began hesitantly to speak out on my blog and Facebook page for BJUnity and for gay friends in general, I began to hear privately from strangers and friends alike that they too were thinking deeply about these issues and were beginning to open their hearts toward their gay relatives and friends. I came to sense that God might have—most unexpectedly—placed this issue in my lap. As a straight married graduate and former staff member of BJU, God might want me to speak up for LGBT people. As a graduate of Oak Brook College of Law—a fundamentalist school formerly associated with Bill Gothard—God might be asking me to stand up and say, “Stop with the hate. Be Jesus to everyone.”
I am thankful in particular for the friendship of Jeffrey Hoffman and David Diachenko, whose openness and honesty has both instructed and challenged me. When Jeffrey, in his capacity of Executive Director of BJUnity, asked me to join the board, I was startled and, frankly, afraid. I defaulted to the coward’s thought, “What will people think?” This was followed by several days of deep thought and prayer, during which I was challenged to consider the simple and ubiquitous question, “What would Jesus do?”
Thankfully, we know what Jesus would do. Jesus reaches out. He includes. He wanders down streets others are afraid to go. He gets in the face of religious leaders who lay heavy burdens on his beloved children. He picks up the wounded, the emotionally-battered. He loves. In sum, I am honored and humbled to accept this position, and I thank the Board for extending the invitation.
Attorney at Law