I was very involved in the protestant community while I was at IC (2009-2013). Reading this article made me very upset. I am a very liberal individual. I was on the PC Counsel, the PC Board, and was one of the PC representatives for the Interfaith Counsel. I have often prided myself for being an ally to the LGBTQ community and expressed these views in college as well. But what upsets me most about this article is how Rev. James Touchton is the focus for this blame.
Before Rev. Touchton was the chaplain the situation was much more dire. When I was a freshman I heard “horror” stories of the last chaplain from students who were in leadership in the community. They pushed out this last chaplain for many reasons but the ones I heard most were because she was very liberal and had ideals that didn’t fit with how the students wanted to see the world. Also I recall one student telling me that she was really upset because how could the previous chaplain be a good Christian when she was married to a Jewish man. This was horribly disturbing to me, but again all of this happened before Rev. Touchton arrived. I recall the night Touchton came for an interview with the PC because the student who spoke discussed how he believed Ghandi would go to hell because he was not a Christian. Talking to Touchton at a later date we discussed this speech and how for both of us it was the moment that we realized that this community needed help.
Throughout the first few years of Touchton’s ministry at IC things did get better when in came to more inclusion. He helped use the “Chocolate in the chapel” tradition to welcome LGBTQ and international students into the chapel and to have safe conversations for both communities. I went to every chocolate in the chapel while I was on campus and I recall having great conversations with LGBTQ students about God and how I personally think that being LGBTQ is not a sin or a hindrance when being religious. Touchton helped establish the Interfaith counsel in his first year at IC to help bring the communities together. But in both of these cases the issues were many of the established students. When an interfaith event came up it was like pulling teeth trying to get PC students to participate. Touchton tried again and again to encourage the PC students to leave their comfort zone and have good experiences with these other communities, but it is impossible to force people to commune. I know we also invited the LGBTQ members and the chocolate event to come to services, an offer which was very rarely taken up on. But I know we had liberal and LGBTQ members in the PC and on the counsel and board. One student, my sophomore year, came out to the entire community during a service. This student was on the board of the PC and was very active in the community. He was met with nothing but loving responses. After coming out during his speech I recall people around me talking about how brave and strong he was. He was a light in the community and was now openly gay.
I know that there are a lot of right wing views in the PC community, but that is not the fault of Rev. Touchton. Rev. Touchton has done nothing to enforce these ideals. The entire time he was the chaplain during my years at IC he strove for inclusion, deep faith discussions, and preached often on loving one another (Not just loving your white straight neighbor, loving all your neighbors). James Touchton is one of the most loving people I have ever met and he is an amazing chaplain. Though the right wing students may not be inclusive, James himself is and should not be blamed. He led the horse to water, but he cannot force it to drink.