A response from the Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested

The following response is from the Reverend Nancy Hastings Sehested, Co-Pastor of Circle of Mercy in Asheville, NC.

August 9, 2014

Dear Dr. Duffett,

The times call for moral courage. We all have the responsibility to lend our voices to the on-going struggle toward justice and equality for all. We all benefit from our Baptist ancestors who bravely led our newly formed nation to include religious freedom rights in the First Amendment. The wall of separation of church and state is bedrock for our religious institutions. None of us desires the state to dictate unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusion into our institutional religious life.

Yet there are times in our history when the wall of separation has been the dividing wall of discrimination. A murky and complicated relationship exists between church and state since our religious institutions benefit from federal tax exemptions. Federal laws have worked to end discrimination against women and racial minorities. Civil laws have been critical to the creation of just laws. There are also times when leaders from our religious communities have stood valiantly against discriminatory practices and policies of the government.

Now is the time for our religious leaders to stand clearly and courageously against the possibility of discriminatory practices for LGBTQ people.

In hope,

Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested
Co-Pastor, Circle of Mercy Congregation (Alliance of Baptists and United Church of Christ)
Asheville, NC


A response from the Rev. Susan B.W. Johnson

The following response is from the Reverend Susan B.W. Johnson, Senior Minister at Hyde Park Union Church in Chicago, IL. 


8 August 2014

Dear Ms. Gravely and members of OneEastern:

As the pastor of a Welcoming and Affirming American Baptist church, I feel I must respond to the actions of my colleague, Dr. Robert Duffett, in his support of the right of religious educational institutions to discriminate against the LGBT community. To support discrimination against another human being is reprehensible, but to support the right of others to discriminate against them — based on the separation of church and state — is to make a pharisaical game out of our precious religious freedoms for the sake of the same outcome. To do this in the name of the gamely pursuit of federal education dollars which are reserved for institutions that do not discriminate against others is morally bankrupt.

Over a decade ago, Dr. Duffett and I taught together at another Baptist institution, one which has also taken stands against the LGBT community. At that time, I appreciated how Dr. Duffett, though more conservative in his personal views than I was in mine, acted in the larger body in ways much more generous, conciliatory, humble, and insightful than his recent actions suggest.

I am dismayed that in the name of Christ some American churches readily participate in efforts to discriminate against other human beings, making them miserable and causing them real harm. This while the American church makes little effort to deal with the most consequential issues of our day — poverty, violence, environmental stewardship and the welfare of children. I am dismayed that American Christianity is making itself irrelevant by ignoring the significance of profound advances of scientific, medical and social research in favor of un-refreshed human interpretations of a divine text.

But that’s only part of my point. We all toe a fine line when it comes to our freedom as Baptists, for we know that with those freedoms comes the reality that we will sometimes be found wrong — not only in the sight of others, but truly wrong in the sight of God. We learned this historically over slavery, but the application of this lesson has not gone very far. To claim that Eastern itself will not discriminate against the LGBT community, and yet to sign on to another institution’s efforts to do so, is to stand for nothing at all and to make a mockery of the social and theological issues which were once at stake in our Baptist history, and still are.

With heedless finesse, Dr. Duffett has supported a religious freedom to discriminate against other human beings and has put his (and Eastern’s) name to it. I dearly hope that he will rescind his support of this poorly disguised effort to twist a Baptist freedom in pursuit of the resources and accreditation accorded to those who do not act with prejudice against their own fellow citizens.

Rev. Susan B.W. Johnson
Senior Minister

A response from the Rev. Dr. H. James Hopkins

The following response is from the Reverend Dr. H. James Hopkins, Pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA.

August 8, 2014

I must respectfully disagree with President Robert G. Duffet’s decision to support the letter written by some conservative religious leaders requesting President Obama to issue an executive order allowing their institutions to both receive federal funding and discriminate against LGBT persons. My disagreement is based in both theology, I do not believe that a faithful reading of Scripture mandates discrimination against LGBT persons, and my understanding of the contours of religious liberty.
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An unsigned response

Editor’s Note:  In an effort to be a safe place for responses to Dr. Duffett, OneEastern has decided to accept anonymous and unsigned responses.

Dear Dr. Duffett,

I was previously pleased that you were leading our university during a time of change. Your words in both the Presidential Address and Inauguration speech seemed to encapsulate what Eastern University is (as I see it) ultimately about. You highlighted the minimalist and progressive nature of our doctrinal statement. You highlighted the fact that we speak not of infallibility or inerrancy, and you highlighted our focus on faith, reason, and justice. You seemed to say all the right things and I was hopeful.
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A response from Adam Woods

The following response is written by Adam Woods.  Adam is a 2004 graduate of Eastern University.

When I was at Eastern University, a lot of our classroom and dormroom ethical debates hinged on a point made by C.S. Lewis that “intention is everything.” The recurring example was that if you were standing on a train platform and someone accidentally stepped on your toe, then immediately apologized, no real harm was done. However, if you were standing on a train platform and someone walked up and crushed your toe in malice, maniacally laughing the whole time, then a great deal of harm was done. The offender’s intention dictated whether there was actually any offense.

My 19 year-old mind generally accepted this argument, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that C.S. Lewis wasn’t quite right. Intentional or unintentional, a stepped-on toe is a stepped-on toe.
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A response from Andrew Howe

The following response is written by Andrew Howe. Andrew travelled across the country from the San Francisco Bay Area to attend Eastern in 2003. He graduated with a B.A. in Sociology in 2007.  After serving a year in New Orleans with Mission Year, Andrew returned home to complete his MA in International Development at Eastern in 2009.

What hurts me the most about hearing about your choice to sign this letter is how Eastern is now taking part in the polarization of Christianity around issues of gender equality. As Eastern now appears to be polarizing on this issue, there may not be a single safe space for people of different faith traditions within Christianity to be a part of one body of Christ, to safely and openly encounter Christ in their formative years, and go where Christ leads. In order for Eastern to make a safe place for authentic diversity in Christian faith, it needs to guarantee that no one is going to be thrown out of the community because of their gender identity, or their beliefs about gender identity.
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A response from Frances Parker Greenlee

The following letter is written by Frances Parker Greenlee. Frances transferred to Eastern after her freshman year and has spent the last two years studying sociology, working in Philadelphia, and wrestling with questions about the intersection of Jesus and Justice. In the coming academic year she plans to take a gap year to dialogue and live in community with people who have experienced life differently than herself. She hopes to take those stories and experiences back to the classroom and Eastern community for her senior year. She hopes Dr. Duffett can do the same.

A letter to Dr. Duffett:

Why didn’t you ask me?

Why didn’t you shoot me a text, send out a Facebook message, write my family and I a letter, host an open event, anything, ANYTHING to ask the larger Eastern Community their thoughts, opinions, anxieties, joys, concerns about your decision to sign a letter that will be forever associated with Eastern University, a place I want to be proud to call my Alma Mater. I have come to love and own my voice, heart, and mind that has been delicately crafted by God, people, and Eastern. Why didn’t you care to hear what I had to say?

I’m sorry you’re so busy. I have had the utmost privilege to spend some time with you and your wife this past year. I enjoyed the RA welcome/get to know us party you graciously hosted at your house in the fall, I learned a lot from interviewing you at the end of the fall 2013 semester for a term paper, I was chosen (I cannot thank you and student development enough) to represent Eastern University this past year at Student Lobby Day and traveled with you to the state capitol, and I appreciated seeing you around campus occasionally, especially when the power went out. You’re doing a good job at being a university president. However, I am not sure that you are doing an equally good of a job seeing people for how valuable they are. Rather, I am wondering if you see people through a lens of how much they’re worth (monetarily that is). For the amount of time I have spent with you and talked with you, I am not sure you have ever looked me in the eyes and asked me anything you actually cared to listen to.
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A response from Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson

The following letter is written by Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson. Brian is a pastor living in Denver, Colorado.

Dear Dr. Duffett:

I am an alumnus of Eastern College ’96, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary ’99, and Palmer Theological Seminary ’09, and through my educational and theological journey, it was my experience through Eastern that after decades of suppression, I found the courage and conviction to be true to my reality…that being a man who is gay. I’ve worked through and continue to work through so much to be true to who I am.

It is beyond insult that you and Ron Sider would sign the letter addressed to President Obama requesting the right to discriminate against people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, or otherwise. If this is the direction you are leading Eastern University and its schools, you are standing on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the Gospel, and further, you have no place being president of the institution that has sought to present the whole gospel, to the whole world, through whole persons.

Please, stand on the right side of history. Do not malign so many of Eastern’s students and alums who are out and still closeted solely because we are the humans we are.


Brian Henderson, DMin, MDiv

A response from Tom Apostolacus

The following letter is written by Tom Apostolacus.  Tom is from Downingtown, PA and is a junior at Eastern University double majoring in Theology and Philosophy with a minor in Gender Studies. 

Hey Dr. Duffett,
I’m going to be quite frank with you. I am livid. I am scared. I do not feel safe. My name is Tom Apostolacus. I’m a 3rd year student at Eastern, studying theology, philosophy, and gender studies. I also identify as genderqueer.
Your recent request to opt out of federal anti-discrimination laws is audacious, albeit utterly unsurprising. You have outed yourself as uncaring and egregiously ignorant. I was hoping the administration had hired a president who had the well-being and safety of Eastern’s students and faculty in mind, but instead justified my cynicism and skepticism towards everyone around me, including towards you. You have chosen to side with an oppressive majority and ignored how these actions contribute to harboring a hostile and terrifying environment for queer people, such as myself, on campus and in society at large. Continue reading