Open Letter to the Principia community by Dr. John Near, Professor Emeritus

I went to school at Principia, and while I never had the pleasure of having Dr. John Near as a professor I always had respect for all of his excellent contributions to the institution.  This is an open letter he wrote to the Principia (and Christian Science) community and asked to be shared as widely as possible.  If you have any connections to Principia, please read, consider, and join in standing up against the (still current, still shameful) policy of discrimination.  Please share.

See also this Change.org petition (over 1,250 signatures so far): http://www.change.org/petitions/i-support-equality-at-prin

Update #1: I’ve created a fundraising campaign that ties in with the Change.org petition:
https://fundly.com/i-support-equality-at-principia

Update #2: See below John’s letter for 25 moving responses he received personally to this letter that he asked be shared here as well.

–Gabriel

(John’s letter below is an updated version he provided with some additional context).

Dr. John Near
Dr. John Near, Professor Emeritus

 

December 3, 2013

Dear Friends of Principia,

I understand that my name and the underlying reason for my departure from the Principia College faculty recently came up in an open forum of Faculty Senate.  To clarify the situation, I am distributing this letter, and I would like to thank all who have communicated with me for their kind support. Several have said they are proud of me for having the courage to speak out on a sensitive issue when most are afraid of saying anything at all. I have loved Principia since my student years, and I gave it the best I had to offer in every capacity in which I was asked to serve for the 28 years I was on the College faculty; I served honorably and brought a high level of distinction to the institution through my esteemed scholarly work. I directed eight Principia Abroad programs, served on Community Board for countless years, worked my way through all the ranks of professor to become the distinguished William Martin and Mina Merrill Prindle Professor of Fine Arts, served as Unit Head of the Creative Arts and Communications for 3 years, taught at Summer Session for some 25 years, administered the College Concert Series for 27 years, and I was a conscientious character educator. That the Trustees bestowed Professor Emeritus on me acknowledged my long years of service and the good I brought to the school. I know I left Principia a far better place than I found it, now 29 years ago, including the Chapel carillon and two world-class pipe organs of which I am particularly proud to have designed.

From the beginning I struggled with the anti-gay policy at Principia, but I decided to make it the non-issue it should be, as I felt the Cause of Christian Science and the Mission of Principia were worth so very much more. But last spring it clearly became time for me to move on. I could no longer tolerate what I know is wrong, and sit idly by when many, including myself, have suffered and been deeply affected by hurtful discrimination and homophobia. It’s a horrible thing to have to hide and lie about who you are. Mrs. Eddy tells us, “Honesty is spiritual power.” Times have changed since I joined the faculty in 1985, and people’s thinking has “evolved”—including that of the President of the United States, the Supreme Court of the United States, 16 individual states, and the District of Columbia, all of which have legalized same-sex marriage (and that most recently includes the State of Illinois where Principia College resides). Thankfully this is finally coming to pass! I have long been concerned that there has not been any real progress at Principia in this area. The anti-gay policy must be abolished.

At my “retirement” dinner at Hutchinson House, Jonathan Palmer thought I was leaving Principia a very happy man. He was correct that I am extremely happy—but only happy no longer to be under the repressive policy. Dr. Palmer said many people leave Principia unhappy. That being true, the Principia Trustees and Administration need to search their souls and methods of operation to understand why. I thought maybe there was a glimmer of hope on the abolishment of the anti-gay policy, but after reading the report from the most recent Trustee meeting, I see the discrimination that has gone on at Principia for far too many years is to continue. I am now speaking out publicly about it, and all with whom I have spoken are as indignant as am I about the policy and concurrent hurtful actions at Principia.

Discrimination in any form is wrong, and it is illegal most everywhere. The US Senate has recently passed an anti-discrimination policy on the basis of sexual orientation, and it will only be a matter of time before the House of Representatives does the same. I realize there has been exclusion for religious institutions, but in my opinion Principia is doing the Christian Science Church grave disservice on this issue. Principia adheres to an ultra-conservative and in my opinion incorrect interpretation of Christian Science on this topic (possibly based on an article in The Christian Science Journal in November 1980: “Only one kind of man”). Honorable careers and reputations have been damaged in the process. Mrs. Eddy tells us, “The time for thinkers has come.” I have thought deeply through this issue for most of my life, and I have not seen any recent statement by The Christian Science Board of Directors quoting Mrs. Eddy banning openly gay men and women from the Christian Science Church, as is still the case at Principia. Then there was the student sit-in last spring. I proudly signed their petition—though it could have been worded much more effectively. I soon made my decision to resign under the guise of “retirement.”

Rushworth Kidder, a friend, former Principia trustee, and founder of the Institute of Global Ethics, said one sometimes has to have the moral courage to resign in the face of what one considers morally wrong. Making ethical judgments, he said, includes balancing considerations like truth versus loyalty—in this case loyalty to The Principia. It used to be that one could not even talk about this “forbidden subject” at Principia without the threat of being fired or expelled. Though now permitted, people are generally still afraid to discuss it openly, and those who do so are weary of hearing the institutional rationale. To those reading this letter who may think this is not an issue that concerns you, I would ask you to think twice about living passively with the poison of discrimination and repression in any form.

Consequently, I have decided to speak out with the hope that others gather up the courage to speak out as well, and no longer to tolerate this painful vestige of discrimination—and it does take a great deal of courage to speak out at Principia!  We are all given different issues to deal with in our lives. None of us made the choice to be straight, gay, or bisexual; it is not a choice. Who would choose to be something governments, religious organizations, and segments of society have misunderstood and disdained for centuries? The choice lies in what one does with it and how one handles it, as is the case with many issues in life. But it really is a private issue and must become a non-issue at Principia, as it is increasingly in the larger world community. One’s sexual orientation should not be Principia’s or anyone else’s concern; it should not be anything people are talking or speculating about. There shouldn’t be innuendos, rumors, whisperings, or finger pointing. We are all the children of One Father-Mother God who loves each and every one of us unconditionally.

I have a very close non-CS friend who during his late teen years nearly committed suicide over the fear of being castigated by society. Thank God he did not do it! Today he is a beautiful creative artist and deep spiritual thinker. I ask, “what is Principia doing to help its students who may be confused and feeling outcast over their orientation?” “How is Principia answering their questions and needs in a positive, non-condemnatory manner?” I have heard that a gay student was told he was in need of healing. This is a horrible verdict to place on a young person struggling with sexual orientation, and it’s what drives some to suicide; it happens all the time. What are Christian Science educators doing about this? Christian Scientists need to be the most loving, understanding, compassionate, and supportive mentors these young people can find. No wonder many students are leaving Christian Science when they see things like this unjust policy justified in Christian Science lingo. How many wrongs the world experiences every day in the name of religion!

I have long hoped to see abolished this policy under which so many have suffered over the years. I suppose there are some who disapprove of my speaking out publicly, but it’s beyond time when a stand has to be taken by someone with acknowledged credibility by Principia. I decided it was my time to take the stand for what I know in my heart is right and honest. Indeed, “Honesty is spiritual power.” Isn’t it ironic that after all I have done at Principia, I now can no longer be hired to teach for Summer Session!

On November 20, the Christian Science Monitor headlined the story of a Pennsylvania Methodist minister. The Rev. Frank Schaefer “convicted by a jury of his ecclesiastical peers of breaking church law for presiding over his son’s wedding to a man is refusing to repent.” Rev. Schaefer said the church “needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians.” He said, “I will never be silent again.” Until truly ALL ARE WELCOME at Principia as students and employees, I encourage everyone in disagreement with the current policy and discrimination in any form to stand up and be counted.

Sincerely,
Dr. John Near

 


January 22, 2014

Dear Friends of Principia,

Since sending my “Open Letter to the Principia Community,” I have received about 150 personal emails and Facebook messages. Many people have poured out their heart, relating their very personal stories. As a follow-up to my letter, I have selected 25 responses to share in the attachment to this email. I have removed all names to impersonalize the messages. Thank you to all who have so honestly shared your thoughts on this issue.

Kindest regards,
John Near

Attachment:
25 Responses to “Open Letter to the Principia Community,” December 3, 2013

1. Thanks for ensuring I got this letter. To be honest, the homosexuality policy was the biggest stumbling block to my accepting the job here. I believe that it is wrong, harmful on many levels and completely unnecessary in any institution. The implication that one’s sexual orientation makes them potentially harmful or anything less than a perfect manifestation of Divine Mind is counter to the most fundamental of our principles—as Christian Scientists and as members of an organization purporting to be a liberal arts institution of higher learning. I finally came to the conclusion that perhaps part of the reason I am here is to be another voice for change. I don’t know where this all will lead, but I look forward to the path.

2. First off, what an amazing letter. I am blown away by how clearly and definitively you articulated your ideas and made your points. [A Principia student], myself, and many other students have been working hard on campus to raise awareness and combat ignorance on this topic, and this letter is the perfect encapsulation of what we’ve been trying to spread. As you are a respected member of the community, I’m sure you realize how much weight this carries. That this message came from you is huge.  I want you to know how much it means to me that there are people like you looking out for the many people including myself on campus who don’t identify as straight and are facing the very adverse effects of this policy every day. I don’t know if I can put it into words, but know that I am infinitely grateful.

3. THANK YOU.  Thank you, thank you, thank you… a million times “thank you”.  I am crying at my kitchen table after reading your amazing letter to the community. I am sorry that our paths did not cross more often during your time at Principia.  You are an incredible example of selflessness and dedication to the idea of Principia, and I really respect that. I have been wrestling with my personal response to Principia’s ridiculous homosexuality policy since I signed my first contract. [A former faculty member] was my mentor and encouraged me to take the job.  I figured that if [she] was around, I could learn from her how to deal with this.  But of course she “resigned” as well, just . . . weeks after I started.  I was heartbroken.  Ever since then, I’ve felt trapped . . .  I absolutely love Principia, its promise, and its students.  And I feel sick to my stomach that my presence here on some level amounts to tacit approval of the repressive, unloving policy they so tenaciously cling to!  Each time I sign my contract, I do it while holding in thought the incredible gay and lesbian students I’ve known at Principia – those who choose to be here despite the policy. I figure that if they are brave enough to be here, to claim all that Principia can offer despite the unwelcome reception they get, I want to be here to support them. I never want them to feel alone.  I have thought many, many times about resigning.  But I feel trapped… I *LOVE* my job, and I don’t’ want to leave my students.  I am also the sole breadwinner in my family . . . and I live in Principia rental property.  I am acutely aware of what would happen to my family if I quit.  Although I make no secret of my disagreement with this policy (I’ve talked with students, faculty, and the last two college presidents about this), I have lived in fear of being forced out because of my beliefs.  I feel like I am literally “selling out” by staying employed here.  I am also constantly worried that my professional colleagues . . . might find out about this aspect of Principia, which would be horribly embarrassing.  I keep waiting for Principia to do the right thing and chuck this policy, and I keep wondering what will happen if they don’t.  How will I know when to throw in the towel and give up on them?  I don’t know where the line will be drawn for me.  But I think your letter has just moved me closer to it.

4. I pray for the day when Prin changes this position and I can again support it. I’d like to send my kid to Prin, but that may not be possible.

5. Thank you SO much, John, for your great moral courage and honesty.  How sad that you had to leave the profession you love in order to make your stand and, even more vital, to rouse the whole school, and, hopefully, “awaken … man’s dormant sense of moral obligation” (SH327:29).   I KNOW you will ultimately be rewarded for your strength of character and loyalty to right.  You are such an honorable man, and I so admire you for this.  I thought I admired you for your academic prowess and all your renowned human achievements and academic accomplishments.  But they’re nothing in comparison to your highest accomplishment of standing for Principle and honesty and righteousness in the face of discrimination and ignorance!  This is what is going to get your name written in Heaven! This is how you will have reserved a place next to your Father. Nothing that happens on this earth, none of the ignorance or opinions of people can ever separate, nor have ever separated you, from God and His-Her total unequivocal, complete, unconditional, powerful love for you. Do you know that Mrs. Eddy (then married to the dentist) was kicked out of a town, and as she left they played the church chimes?  We have come some way from such blatant demonstrations of persecution of Christian Science, but you have heroically reminded everyone that Christian Science can’t be fully effective if the Christian aspect of it is lacking.  And, as you so eloquently brought out, discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. You are my hero!  I will not be afraid to take a stand here for letting people live their lives according to their conscience; of course, as long as it is not harmful to others. And certainly, allowing individuals to choose a loving companionship regardless of sexual orientation could never be harmful to anyone. I love that all morally and spiritually conscientious individuals can now be free to practice dominion over promiscuity by marrying their life companions, and not feel as if they are breaking any Mosaic laws regarding “adultery” by wanting to have a loving intimate companionship.  We all have had to struggle with morality issues in this human experience, regarding physical attractions and temptations. The sexual pull can be so strong, and I appreciate that we are all encouraged to work out dominion over that pull through Christian Science, to be free from sensual enslavement.  Which is why I wholeheartedly approve of legalizing gay marriage, so that there is a refuge for a legitimate monogamous relationship for everyone now. Maintain your faith and your courage, John, and your love and forgiveness for those who “know not what they do.” Sooner or later, there will be a change.  And you have definitely started the revolution. “It requires courage to utter truth….”

6. Your letter is a masterwork.  It shows lucidly that your motive is to bless Principia, and you have surely done so.  As the history of this issue unfolds, not only at Prin but also among Christian Scientists in general, I prophesy that your epistle will be a linchpin document. It is a beautifully crafted artifact.

7. Hi John, I sure miss your smile around the community.  Never for a minute would I have ever changed my feelings for you for who you are. . . .  I admire your courage to have spoken your thoughts and feelings and I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is totally unfair to say to any child, man or woman that they need a healing when it is hard enough to come to terms with being gay as one is growing up. I was extremely happy to see that the students who were protesting, and had the courage to protest [last spring] on the main level at the School of Government Building were not punished in any way.

8. I was deeply touched by your letter and admire your courage to stand up and speak the truth.  I couldn’t agree with you more!  I know only good can come from this letter and just wanted to send you a letter of encouragement and support.  Thank you for all of your years of service to Principia and thank you for speaking out . . . I hope that you will be heard.

9. I’m sorry we had very limited contact over the years perhaps due to our different fields, but I want you to know I am in total support of what you’re doing and appreciate the courage you had to speak out.  Thank you for sharing your immense talents with us. . . . Thank you for all you did and you continue to do.  I want you to know that I support you a hundred percent and certainly support the need for Principia to be a community that’s diverse and reflective of the world we live in.  It is this dilemma that led to the suicide death of one of our students a few years ago who had two things going against him, being gay and black on Principia ‘s campus.  Two others with a similar fate made it through the Principia process and survived and are now out, but the psychological damage inflicted amongst those two is immense and we need to stop this nonsense.  A healing community that ignores a segment of its members is not healing at all and this unnecessary level of ignorance/hatred must stop.  Thank you for the courage you had to take such a stand despite the backlash that’s perhaps already coming your way.   For whatever little it’s worth, know that I am a strong supporter and true believer in the fact that we’re all God’s loving children.

10. My heart goes out to you and I hold the deepest respect for you because of your bravery and strength in this situation. I am grateful that you stayed at Principia as long as you did, although I’m sure that was not easy with the homosexual policy with which we are all burdened. I always enjoyed our conversations, and I am proud of you for speaking up on this issue. My brother was gay and died early from AIDS so I have done much soul-searching about the issue over the years. Fortunately my family – my dad, sister, step mom, and I – embraced him in our family circle of love and care. Bottom line, we are all God’s children, loved and cared for by God, our Father and Mother, so why should we treat our sisters and brothers differently because of their sexual orientation? We should not. Our legal and political systems are finally coming to that conclusion, if ever so slowly, but many individuals are not and that is what is hamstringing Principia on this issue. I don’t agree with people who think that being gay is something that should be healed. People who say that do not understand. I really appreciate the way you said in your letter that you made the homosexual policy a non-issue because it was compared to the value that Prin provides through its mission in serving the cause of CS in its role as an educational institution. This policy is a non-issue with respect to my opinion and feeling towards all, but at the same time it must become an issue because it is not right for any students, staff, or faculty or potential students, staff, or faculty to feel like second-class Christian Scientists and Principians. It is a tragedy that you can no longer teach at Summer Session or be part of a PLL program. That is just not right. In light of your situation, I know the faculty has talked about taking a written vote to find out just how many of us are against this policy. I expect it is the vast majority, but I could be surprised. If it is, I think we should and will take some kind of action, make some kind of statement as a body to the administration and the trustees. I would love to see this policy removed before I leave Principia. It is the least I can do for my brother and others, like you, for whom I care a great deal.

11. I hope this is not too forward, but I felt impelled to respond to your open letter that was released recently about Principia’s homosexuality policy. When I chose to come to Principia College, it was with the belief that serving the cause of Christian Science was more important than my own sexual identity. I was hesitant, but came with the knowledge that I felt divinely led to attend this school. Moving quickly into my second semester I became very afraid of continuing on at Prin because of the hot button it had become, and I felt trapped and fearful that if I was ‘outed’ on campus I would run into the same walls that had happened to some of my friends who were told by administration that they must have healing to continue their education, or (even worse) were almost removed from our abroad. I had experienced wonderful healings of animosity or judgment over my sexual orientation with my family and friends when I came out, but I was unwilling to put those metaphysical milestones under scrutiny of the school if the topic was broached about my orientation. I participated in the discussions with administration that were hosted by student government, and felt attacked, at one point accused that I was willing to accept the argument that murder could be justified if someone felt it was part of their religious practice or ‘identity,’ because I was arguing that supporting someone’s personal beliefs if they were attracted to the same sex was the proper loving act as a Christian Scientist. I have always respected you as a professor and a scholar, . . . The letter you have written brings me to yet another level of respect and gratitude. Thank you so much for speaking out against this, and being willing to challenge the blind mortal mind which is claiming to have hold on our beloved college.

12. Dr. Near! Thanks for openly sharing and taking a stand for what is right. After struggling myself with this issue, and remaining quiet at Prin for fear of being expelled, and trying to “seek healing” while there, I spent many long hours in the chapel listening to you play, and also had the pleasure of working with you as soloist, and as 1st reader for the org. . . . However, when my “church friends” accused me of “practicing homosexuality”–well, some of them…not all, I almost wanted to say…”And you practice heterosexuality? What’s it matter?” Well, it did matter…to them, and it divided our growing church from what was a thriving group of anywhere from 15-30 people in attendance, to what is now just the 2 or 3 that were the active church members strong enough to overturn the majority. . . . I have since helped several close friends living a life of lies, and now have become truthful to their self. . . . I know that what I grew up and learned to love about Christian Science was LOVE, we read it every time we walk into a church. Love is at the helm, love conquers, and love leads the way. How near sighted some can be in casting judgment, and although I don’t attend a church regularly now because of its near-sightedness, I have learned that it’s not about my relationship between me and my fellow church members, it is about my relationship between God and me. I am saddened by our once truly all-embracing practices, and have to sometimes chuckle when I hear the words from the desk that often go…”All are welcome at our services?” Are we? It was when everyone was welcome at our services, truly, that our church blossomed. Now it is drying up…Everyone is on their own journey, but please people, let it be “their journey”! There is only one judge in all this, and we have one duty, and that is to love, love, love.

13. My wife and I have a Facebook friend, and we recently found the letter you wrote to Principia College posted on her page.  We just want to let you know we are 100% behind you on all the many points you made about Prin’s anti-gay policies.  I remain incredulous that in this day and age, institutions can be so shortsighted, unfair, and foolish as to maintain antiquated and unloving positions like this.  We have a son and a daughter, both gay, who were raised as students of Christian Science from birth, and we KNOW that their lives are exactly what divine Love provided to them!  Yes, they dated heterosexually during high school, but as soon as they moved away to start college, they both came out to us and said that they had ALWAYS believed they were gay.  We were so happy that they had reached the point of maturity and trust that they could live their lives openly and freely as happy and fearless gay people. To view homosexuality as somehow an immoral choice and not an innate part of a person’s true being is to totally fail to understand how life works.  I have worked for years now to educate as many people as will listen to this fact. . . . Unfortunately, I’m afraid that, like Prin, the Board [of The Mother Church] may still not have a clear understanding of how anti-gay policies are unloving, un-Christian, and negatively affecting so many people and preventing our church from becoming a true haven of peace and love for the millions who are gay.  . . .  know how very proud we are of your stance in support of not just “gay rights,” but truly, the “human rights” of people who deserve fair and loving treatment.  Sincerely, and with loving support…

14. . . . I have written several letters to the administration and Trustees as well as openly stating that I will not donate to Prin until the policy has changes – several of which have gone unanswered. Ironically I am now in a position to donate but instead I’ve chosen give to several organizations that support LGBT issues. One of the many knock on effects of this awful policy is that it’s presenting a bad image of Christian Science. Principia exists to serve the cause of Christian Science and yet I see more and more friends leaving CS because of discrimination like this.  [Individuals] left CS years ago and these days I find myself questioning my faith more and more – mostly due to being involved in campaigning for an end to the policy at Prin. I’m learning yet again to separate Prin from CS! I’ve also witnessed its devastating effects on gay friends as well as the fear based mental atmosphere that has devastated the likes of . . . What was also sad was to hear most of my friends there talk so negatively and with so much fear about the current challenges. Nothing will change at Principia until fear is openly and courageously handled – and you’re the best example of how to do that. . . . With love and in solidarity.

15. I read your open letter last week and was moved to tears. I applaud you for being so strong and standing up for something that should be so important to all of us. Over 30 years ago, a dear friend of mine at Prin told some of us that he was going to go to the administration to tell them that he was gay. We fully supported his decision but were afraid for him and the outcome. When he came out of his meeting, he told us he was told to either be healed or leave. We were so shocked and angry that we wore black armbands (seemed like a good thing to do at the time!). Needless to say, we were all told to take them off or leave school. My friend decided to talk to a practitioner and was told he would be supported if he wanted a healing. He made it to graduation in order to keep peace with his family. It is so difficult for me to hear that this attitude is still prevalent more than 30 years later. I loved my time at Prin, but realized that I was being hypocritical in my support of their “moral beliefs.” It is such a loss that the institution is willing to lose such talented and devoted educators and students because of their “holier than thou” attitudes. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, and please know that you have opened communication for lots of us who give you our full support and are involved in many discussions about this policy. I was privileged to hear one of your musical programs on a visit to the campus years ago. Prin’s loss is truly great.

16. Hi John, I just wanted to let you know that my years at Prin was about keeping my mouth shut about my sexuality. I had no problems working with metaphysics, but it’s ridiculous for such a policy to hinder those from growing. It is the very same concept when a person is Deaf that person must be healed in order to be able to attend Principia. I find that basis to be false, as it doesn’t promote good for humanity. After all the desire for education at Prin is through spiritual prayer and desire that leads to becoming a member of the Principia community. . . . I must add that I [a man] am happily married to [a man] for over twelve years! My understanding of Truth and Love as taught in Christian Science has not been stalled nor have I felt struggles in my desire to continue to study Christian Science as a gay man. I am very grateful to know that I am spiritual and every man and woman is a child of God as much as I am. Thought to share this with you! With love,

17. I know that Prin were indeed some of my happiest days, and how I always loved making music with you.  . . . Life is indeed a journey, and as we trust, grow, and learn along the way I believe that is all we can do…so long as loving each and every step of that journey. . . . I married . . . a gal . . . and together we were “going to change and heal my sexuality”…well, I think you know how that goes. . . . I’m sorry that such “you’re wrong, I’m right” attitude around the homosexuality issue, amongst others, has really torn our church a part.  Religion, unfortunately, seems to do just that on so many levels with personal doctrines and creeds.  I’m grateful for what I know about God’s love, and my relationship with God, I feel, has grown even stronger since I finally listened to him saying…”. . . love yourself for who you are…I made you that way, already perfect, and for a very good reason…help others along their journey, but never be anyone other than who I made you.”  What a day that was to hear that message so loud and clear.

18. As someone who has needed to silently support gay rights during my many years at Principia, I was so grateful for your letter.  It was thoughtful, balanced, and free from hyperbole.  The blind policy at Principia must change. The challenge for Palmer et al is a perception that donations will dry up if the policy is publicly changed. But as the old cadre of contributors passes on, Prin is going to find that the next generation is somewhat more aware of society’s progress and the need for a broadening of our tent. When the policy does change, it will unfortunately not be out a sense of the right thing to do, it will be for pragmatic reasons only. But I imagine we’ll be glad for the change whatever the reason. I thank you for having the moral courage to speak out.  You are an example for others to follow.

19. I read your letter! I cheered out loud! Bravo! I have basically cut all ties from Principia since graduating from there. I loved my musical and well-rounded undergraduate education, but the strange conservative views on many issues really challenged my ability to remain associated with such an institution. Thank you for speaking out!

20. Two days ago, I read for the first time your letter describing your reasons for leaving Principia.  . . . [My wife] and I were very distressed to learn of your experience at Prin with regard to sexual orientation. Two years ago, Jonathon Palmer and Ned McCarty visited our home . . .   During a lengthy discussion, we made it clear to Dr. Palmer that we were opposed to the restrictive policy of Prin with regards the requirement of declaring one’s sexual preference.  We also voiced strong opposition to the policy of refusing entrance to those who might have a physical problem they were dealing with.  While we felt we were not very convincing, at least we made our thoughts known.  We even brought up the subject of allowing non-Christian Scientists attend Principia, if they agreed to Prin’s rules of conduct.  So much for that fund raising visit!  At least we all parted knowing where we stood. Some thirty (or more) years ago, while I was Chairman of the Board at First Church . . . , we began to have two very nice gentlemen attend our services.  One day I received a telephone call from one of our members, who was also a C.S. Practitioner, a C.S. teacher and a lecturer, a very respected member who had many students in our church membership and a person who had a strong influence on many members.  He proceeded to tell me that I should contact these two men and suggest they not attend our services and that they should work to be “healed” of their sexuality.  Much to his surprise, I not only refused to do this, but I made it very clear to him that, in my opinion, we should welcome anyone coming to our services to study Christian Science, regardless of their sexual orientation.  After his second call to discuss this topic, he never called or spoke to me again. Please know that we are fully supporting your position and will continue to do so.  We were active in trying to right some of the wrongs of the previous Principia administration, and we will continue to work to help Principia be inclusive, rather than exclusive. . . . we are deeply sorry for the struggle you have had at Prin.  You have certainly been an outstanding professor, and you have made a huge contribution to Principia in your service.

21. I am honored to have been one of your students, and so grateful that you took the time to write such a moving letter.  As you probably could see from the responses on Facebook, I think the students (current and former) are really craving some kind of leadership on this issue.  . . . forwarded your open letter to Principia several weeks ago and I must say I cried during the reading of it. I then felt a strong impulse to stand on my desk in appreciation and solidarity like the students did in the movie Dead Poets Society. . . . When I sat down with the students during the sit-in, one of them leaned over to me and said, “you know what really sucks? that we have to pretend to be straight allies to have a voice.”  My heart sank when she said that.  What are we doing to our students, and how guilty am I as faculty, even if I am one of those straight allies?  I realized nobody was asking our closeted LGBTQ students (or faculty!) to speak in their own voices about their experiences here . . .

22. I can imagine how you must have been inundated over the last couple of months but you are doing vital work necessary for the future of Principia. I do think that this awful policy must be changed otherwise Principia may not be around for too much longer. Only today I had a 17-year-old British student contact me about Prin. He has been considering applying but after seeing the current campaign on Facebook he is having second thoughts. I felt I had to be honest and give him my perspective – the good and the bad – just as someone had done for me when I considered applying all those years ago.

23. John, thanks for this letter.  It speaks what has been my beliefs for a long time.  This issue along with the same belief about those using “temporary means” for physical challenges is what I believe needs healing.  The healing needed by our community is of condemnation and distrust of all those who are different in some way.  I remember . . . ([a former] HR director . . .) telling me proudly that she had raised her children without the use of any material medicines.  She, therefore, thought that should be the standard for everyone else.  I tried to explain that all were different in their level of understanding; I gave her a [technical] question she could not answer to illustrate.  Yet, on the issue of “temporary means” she could not see that we all are at different levels of understanding.  Without understanding, trust in the divine Principle is harder for many. Hence, your issue is really an important part of the larger one.  We must discard all prejudice and self-righteousness.  Jesus was adamant about this.  These issues must be non-issues, as you said.  That’s what I’m working for.  I truly believe the heart of this matter lies in money.  I think the Trustees are fearful of the loss of donations from conservative donors.  Their rationale for the discriminatory policies is not supported by the current Board of Trustees of the Mother Church, as evidenced through their answers when they sat at lunch with us a few years ago. . . . This spoke volumes for me at the time.  It clearly identified the issue was not sexual orientation.  It was the motive to “grow in grace” and “help promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself.” That’s when it became clear that my beliefs were on the right track.  Non-issue is the key.  [A former Principia faculty member] once talked with me over breakfast.  He was greatly anguished by Principia’s exclusionary policies.  He said, “What I most want for this place is a sign over the front gate that says, ‘All are welcome’ and that we truly mean it.”  Oh, that that could happen before I retire!!!!

24. Thanks for your letter.  My dad forwarded it to my sister and me.  I have been a supporter of LGBT rights for many years.  I love the idea of what Prin could be, but unfortunately can no longer support it nor encourage students to attend there.  When the twice-yearly alumni funding requests come in the mail, I send them back with a note that while I would like to give back to Prin, I cannot in good conscience financially support a bigoted, anti-gay institution.

25. This is simply incredible in every way. I am reading this with tears streaming down my face. I took classes from John Near and always considered him an incredibly talented organist, teacher and musician. Dr. Near is a scholar beyond compare, an authority on everything pertaining to the organ, and a truly dedicated Principian. I am speechless, and this is rare for me.  All love, hugs and congratulations to this wonderful man for his bravery.

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