Thursday, December 5, 2013

Transfaith and Trusting in God

Professor H. Ackley served for 15 years as Professor of Theology and Chair of the Diversity Council, a council of the Faculty Senate, at Azusa Pacific University (APU). He inspired students in a faith that wasn't just esoteric and distant, but tangible, with real world actions and practices. At this evangelical Christian university located in the suburbs of Los Angeles, he recently helped clarify and affirm the inclusion of LGBTQ students in the school's anti-hate policies.
Prof H Adam Ackley during at All Saints Pasadena (Nov 24, 2013)
The video of this talk can be found on YouTube

Unfortunately, in October, Dr. Ackley informed the administration that he was going to formally change his name to H. Adam Ackley, revealing a long-due transition that the university was not expecting. The students and colleagues were incensed when they discovered that Dr. Ackley was being asked to resign. Social media lit up and soon traditional media was camped out in front of Dr. Ackley's home, a concern given his two minor children living at home.

I spoke with Dr. Ackley about the events and found much that informs our own journeys in the Episcopal Church. Rather than stoke the flames of outrage and possible violence, Dr. Ackley - an ordained minister and serving on the Spiritual Life and Nurture Commission at the La Verne Church of the Brethren - tempered student and faculty anger and focused it into channels of reconciliation, mediation, and peace. Coming from an Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition of peace, his desire for mutual respect and dialogue seems a far cry from the media storm raging around the campus.

Although Dr. Ackley is no longer at APU, his impact, driven by deeply rooted spiritual practices and faith-guided words, continues to resonate on campus. Several students and allies, including a star athlete LGBTQ ally, quit school because they found the school's actions inconsistent with truth and the fair treatment of all. Lessons of tolerance gained in the Diversity Council are questioned in their authenticity and use. And yet, every Friday night, Dr. Ackley leads a peaceful, candle-lit dinner and prayer at his home; this "shabbat" is open to all, and many former students come to heal.

I asked Dr. Ackley if his story would be of interest to the Episcopal Church. As it turns out, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University, was one of the first to reach out to Dr. Ackley when the news broke. Rev Partridge, along with Soulforce and GLAAD, stepped in to advise Dr. Ackley on how to take self-care and protect his family from the media intrusion. According to Rev. Partridge, "My heart just immediately went out to him. I reached out to him in solidarity-- so that he might know he's not alone-- and have really appreciated not only his witness but also his friendship. My students also heard about him (separately from me) and wanted him to know they stood with him too. We happened to do a unit on the Genesis creation stories, and looked at just the passages and interpretations that helped give Adam his name. It was moving to come across that aspect of his story after having explored similar connections around our table here in Massachusetts."

I compared the almost forty years of Integrity work with the Episcopal Church to the developments at places like APU and other evangelical universities. Dr. Ackley pointed out how the groundwork for change and acceptance may take some time, but truth, honesty, and the overpowering love of Christ bends and turns the body, mind, and heart. "Think of it like yoga. Yoga doesn't suddenly allow the human body to magically bend in ways it never has before. With practice and patience, though, you surprise yourself with what you one day are able to achieve

As I drove away from my coffee with Dr. Ackley, I was struck by the similarity of Dr. Ackley's yoga metaphor and the journey of the Episcopal Church in issues of LGBTQ inclusion, marriage equality, and respect for our Trans* brothers and sisters. It has taken some time, but change eventually comes and can catch many off guard. In this Advent season of watching and waiting, we all must be ready for the Joy that is to be. Dr Ackley may face the challenges of job hunting, relocation, and sudden fame all at once, but with a profound faith and trust in God's plans, he seems ready for the journey before him.

Mel Soriano
Integrity Board of Directors (Director of Communications, Secretary)
Vestry/Coventry Choir/Taizé/Labyrinth All Saints Pasadena


R.Eagle said...

hope I did him justice...

Integrity USA said...

Yes! Thanks for sharing this. I'm adding a live link below:

Gender Identity-Societal Conflict - Ralph Aguilar , Redlands City News

Watch Dr. Ackley's presentation on YouTube here .