Zac VanderLey — Staff Writer
Steve Mahr, owner of Town Square Coffee House in Orange City and graduate of Northwestern College, recalls being part of the problem in high school. He and his friends picked on anyone who was gay, hurling insults and physically intimidating students they thought were lesser simply because of their sexual identity. One day during his freshmen year at Moody Bible Institute, Mahr believed he contracted an STD through his premarital relationship at the time. As he waited in the testing room, quivering in fear of being expelled from his private, conservative school, two gay men supported and talked him through his anxiety. They even showed him the bus back to campus.
Over the past few weeks, Dordt University President Erik Hoekstra has released four tweets critical of the Equality Act, specifically as it pertained to religious freedom. Mahr, along with Dordt alumni and students, expressed disappointment in the comments on Hoekstra’s tweets.
“You know the queer kids at Dordt can see your tweets?” Mahr wrote responding to one of Hoekstra’s posts. “You are aware that when you tweet s— like this [it] helps enforce the idea in straight students that their peers are less than.”
President Hoekstra responded to some of the replies to clarify his beliefs.
“I think people misunderstood the purpose,” President Hoekstra said. “They thought I had no regard for LGBTQ+ rights, and that’s not true.”
Lauren Hoekstra, a staff writer for The Diamond, is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a committed Christian. She is frustrated at the way President Hoekstra used his Dordt affiliated Twitter account to give the impression his opinion is all-encompassing of Dordt’s viewpoint.
“I think it was hurtful for a lot of people and set a precedent for Dordt as not being a welcoming place,” Lauren said.
“You can’t love someone and also actively exclude them from your communities,” said Mahr, whose shop has become a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and other members of marginalized communities.
President Hoekstra said he aimed for education rather than advocation in his tweets—one of which included an opinion article against the Equality Act. He said he believes LGBTQ+ people should have simple housing, medical, and tax rights, but his opposition to the Equality Act arises out of his desire to protect religious freedoms.
Section 1107 of the act overrides the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Hoekstra and many others in Christian circles are afraid of what this means for non-church religious institutions, which includes Dordt.
If the Equality Act, as currently written, were to become law in the United States, then private universities like Dordt would not have the freedom to discriminate in the hiring process based on the institution’s understanding of a biblical view of sexuality. They would also stand to lose their federal funding for failure to comply with the law.
The word “discrimination” has a few uses. On one hand, discrimination is a term used to refer negatively to the actions of bullies and bigots. On the other hand, the word is used more positively to describe how someone differentiates from one thing from another. In the hiring process at every institution, some form of discrimination is implemented as qualifications are weighed against one another.
“I believe that we [Dordt] can define for ourselves what our beliefs are,” President Hoekstra said. “Marriage, for example, is defined differently at the state level than at the church.”
This stance comes from the idea of principled pluralism, a term used by Christian thinkers including Richard Mouw. In essence, it advocates for living in peace while seeing things differently and respecting those differences.
In his tweets, President Hoekstra supported the Fairness for All Act, a bill created by a group of Mormon and LGBTQ+ lobbyists in the Utah legislature. This act, an alternative to the Equality Act, would allow for discriminatory hiring on the basic of religious convictions along with basic human rights: truth and compassion.
Lauren Hoekstra understands where Dordt’s president is coming from and maintains respect for him. She, however, believes laws like the Equality Act are needed to protect marginalized communities like the LGBTQ+ community.
“Sometimes the best thing for a person in power to say is nothing at all,” Lauren said. “I wish [Dordt] would hire people who are different.”
She had no queer mentors to look up to during her formative years and believes her campus could benefit from having greater diversity in ethnicity, thought, and sexuality.
While Mahr agrees Christians should hold fast to grace and truth, he disagrees with the traditional idea of Christian conviction.
“People’s convictions are moral and based in specific biblical interpretation, which is inherently flawed.” Mahr said.
Mahr referred to slavery as an issue the Bible does not hold a clear objection to—and in some places, endorses the idea. Still, slavery is universally condemned by the modern church. On the other hand, the Bible is quite clear on divorce and women in leadership positions in the church, but the church does not hold such strong convictions on these issues.
“The church’s conversation about who to include and exclude has taken our eyes off what it means to be a follower of Jesus,” Mahr said.
‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—a phrase often repeated in Christian circles—makes Mahr wonder what the church would look like if it literally applied this greatest commandment to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think of how I experience love: having a home, being well-fed, and not being shamed, and then I love my neighbor the same way I would love myself,” Mahr said.
There needs to be conversations surrounding the LGBTQ+ community on campus, according to President Hoekstra. On March 3 Preston Sprinkle—an author and president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender—delivered a chapel message on engaging in such conversations.
“I didn’t agree with everything he [Sprinkle] said, but it was a much needed first step,” Lauren Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra said he wants to communicate with those who disagree or who were hurt by his tweets. He has scheduled meetings and phone calls with alumni and is happy to do the same with students.
“I want to be clear with what Dordt’s going to be,” President Hoekstra said.
Twitter, Hoekstra affirms, is not the place for those conversations. He is responsible for the student body and the future of Dordt and thus is available, and willing, to speak and listen.
After reflecting on her past experiences at Dordt, Lauren Hoekstra said she is saddened by the gay jokes, the averted gazes, and being told she’s going to hell. However, she has had professors and friends who have loved and accepted her for who she is.
“I’m much higher on being loved than being told truth,” Lauren said.