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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Valpo Joins the Conversation ... at last.


VU aims for 'welcome campus'



VALPARAISO -- Valparaiso University wants everyone to know the campus welcomes all.

Toward that end, the university is hosting a community meeting Thursday highlighting theological and pastoral perspectives on people who are gay and lesbian called " Beyond Tolerance ."

The event "Beyond Tolerance," sponsored by Valparaiso University's Diversity Concerns Committee, will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday March 25th in the Harre Union Ballroom on the Valparaiso University campus. It is free and open to the public.

"Our aim is to make this a welcome campus and a welcome community," said Nora Wiergacz, the university's director of human resource services.

The university hosted a similar event last year, with a general focus, and plans to host annual such meetings in coming years for a continuum of topics, Wiergacz said.

President Mark Heckler has been open about his views on the topic and, as a result, more people who share his views have felt comfortable coming forward, she added.

A theological debate against homosexuality has been at the forefront of everyone's mind on campus and has fostered an environment of intolerance, said sophomore Gideon Litherland, vice president of Alliance, the university's lesbian/gay/transgender group. *

He also sits on the university's diversity concerns committee and knows gay students who have left Valpo because they did not feel welcome.

"Valpo is an independently Lutheran university, but the university itself does embrace people of all backgrounds," said Litherland, a psychology major from Naperville, Ill.

The mission of the diversity concerns committee, he said, was to foster discussion on campus where everyone could be involved.

Theology professor Fred Niedner, the keynote speaker at the meeting, will give a perspective on what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality. His own views have changed since he was growing up and came to know extended family members, friends and students who were gay or lesbian.

"I've made no secret of the fact that I think we need some new thinking on this," he said of gay marriage and gays serving in the ministry, "because I think it's an antiquated way to think."

Though the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have issued statements on homosexuality, there aren't a lot of official teachings on the topic, Niedner said. Valpo is not aligned with either branch, but has had a historical connection with the Missouri Synod, he added.

The university opened the meeting to the public because the discussion needs to be community-wide, Wiergacz said. "This has got to be a joint venture. It's got to be all of us here. This is where we live," she said

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