This letter first appeared in the Harvard Crimson.
An Open Letter to BGLTQ Students
To Harvard’s BGLTQ students,
We’ve witnessed your pain and anger these last several weeks over events surrounding Harvard College Faith and Action. You’ve shown up in our offices and invited us to coffee. You’ve reached out to BGLTQ-affirming spaces on campus for support and you’ve written op-eds about your experience. And still there are many others who remain silently unsure if there is space on Harvard’s campus expansive enough to contain the fullness of both your sexual identity and your religious, spiritual, and ethical commitments. While we aren’t the arbiters of this issue on campus, it is our concern to speak to the pain, anger, and experience of religious and spiritual marginalization many of you have expressed.
We, the undersigned, are Harvard chaplains—religious leaders from a panoply of religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions—charged with cultivating student well-being at Harvard by attending to the ways religious, spiritual, and ethical concerns contribute to a flourishing life. While well-being and flourishing are our aim, we also recognize the power of religious discourse to perpetrate harm, able to cut to the heart of who we are as human beings in relation to what is of ultimate value in our religious, spiritual, or ethical tradition. And when religious discourse operates harmfully against students at Harvard, it is our responsibility to be fully present in those moments as well.
Recent events on campus have particularly affected many of you whose identity is formed at the intersection of an BGLTQ sexual or gender identity and a rootedness in Christian tradition. But the intersections of sexual and gender embodiment and religious, spiritual, and ethical identity are replete with questions in many of our traditions. The questions aren’t new, but the context of your living out these questions at this specific time on this campus we share is a unique moment.
While we represent a wide diversity of religious, spiritual, and ethical perspectives, a number of us felt so strongly about these issues that we wanted to create and sign this letter. In this time of ferment around sexual identity and faith at Harvard, we express these commitments to you, the BGLTQ students in this campus community we serve:
We commit to being on the journey of religious, spiritual, and ethical growth with you as companions who will give you our unequivocal support, inclusive of the fullness of your humanity in all of your sexual and gender diversity, ensuring that that religious, spiritual, and ethical resources be mobilized to contribute toward the flourishing and livability of life, and not toward harm.
We will come alongside you to cultivate the spaces of spiritual nourishment and BGLTQ affirmation that you most desire, honoring your voice, learning from your embodied wisdom, and supporting you with the wisdom and competency we bring into community with you.
We will show up for you. Find our contact information at chaplains.harvard.edu, write us, call us, tell us when and where you need our support. That’s why we got into this vocation. You’re why we serve within the Harvard community. No BGLTQ student on Harvard’s campus need ever feel that they are alone on the journey of reconciling their religious, spiritual, and ethical commitments with their embodiment of sexual and gender identity.
BGLTQ students: Harvard is not complete without you. Our religious, spiritual, and ethical communities on campus are not living into their fullest potential if you are excluded. Your lives are a gift to Harvard and to the world, and we celebrate that gift with deepest joy.
The Rev. Cody J. Sanders is the American Baptist chaplain for Harvard University. This op-ed is signed by fourteen chaplains serving Harvard University. Their names can be found here.