Friday, January 27

University of Mount Union chaplain comes out; shines spotlight on LGBTQ+ stories at intersection of Christianity

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by Reverend Dr. Tim Morrison

Thirteen years ago, I felt moved to explore college chaplaincy. There is something about journeying with young people who are at the point in life where they start to make decisions on their own. It is exciting, dangerous, fulfilling, and frustrating. I never had the desire to direct their decisions, but rather to be the one asking the questions that caused them to think deeper, differently, and to tread into the waters of empathy.

I felt most called to this work because during my own college experience I chose to not make choices that would challenge my status quo. This led me to hide my own gay identity fearing that I would no longer be welcome among the religious community that I had always called my family.

I hid in groups like Campus Crusade for Christ and local mega-churches where I could feel like I belonged without ever really being known. I stayed in the closet as I pastored churches for the next 20 years. That is until three years ago when my own denomination (United Methodist) decided to tighten the screws on their conservative stance on LGBT ordination.

This decision caused me to leave pastoring local churches. It also instigated my own coming out, while knowing the possibility of losing my own ordination credentials.

In June 2022, I became the university chaplain at the University of Mount Union, historically a Methodist college but recently divorced from their connection. Its choice to disaffiliate was primarily because of the denomination’s conservative stances on LGBT issues.

Creating Safe Spaces for Faith Community

One of my first goals was to create safe spaces in the chapel for LGBT persons. So many LBGT students come to college and have the space to be fully authentic, but too often in coming out they leave their faith behind. Experiences of exclusion have turned them off. This is altogether disheartening as I believe faith traditions are a powerful tool in walking the road of coming out, finding one’s authentic self, and discovering accepting love.

Flags outside the “Love Wins” event at the University of Mount Union.

On November 29, 2022, the chapel sponsored an event called “Love Wins.” At the event four students, one executive staff member, and I, answered questions about being at the intersection of the LGBT Community and Christianity.

As the moderator asked questions, we shared our own stories, stories not up for debate. One student said, “My greatest relationship has been with Jesus and my worst breakup has been with the church.” Another student shared about having a pastor become upset with her and manipulated her family members around the issue. Yet another shared how his church said they supported the LGBT community, but they could never perform a same-sex wedding.

I told my own truth, coming out to the entire campus for the first time, and shared about the religious family and friends in my life who have made me feel like an outcast. Students, staff, faculty, and community members leaned forward listening to our experiences pour from our hearts.

I was so moved by the bravery of these students. My heart is torn that they feel there is not a safe place for them in community under the tent of Christianity. They all admitted to practicing a personal faith, however, they are missing a key component of the faith: sojourners.

It is my hope and prayer that I can create safe spaces for the LGBT community to journey together, to encourage and support one another. I would challenge you to do the same because the power of faith is unlocked in community. 🔥

Rev. Dr. Tim Morrison is an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church (East Ohio). He holds degrees from Otterbein University (BSEd-Elementary), Boston University (MDiv), Wesley Theological Seminary (DMin – College Chaplaincy), and Baldwin Wallace University (M.Ed. – Higher Education). He is married to Rev. Lisa Morrison, the Senior Director of Spiritual Care for the Cleveland Clinic. They have 3 children. He enjoys travel and has traveled extensively in the US as well as in 17 other countries. Dr. Morrison is passionate about helping students discover how spiritual life and their most authentic selves intersect.

About Author

The Buckeye Flame welcomes guest commentary from LGBTQ+ Ohioans in support of our mission to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging LGBTQ+ Ohio content that chronicles our triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in these pieces belong solely to the author of that individual piece, and not necessarily to the The Buckeye Flame.

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