The Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) and others organized a peaceful demonstration on Friday in reaction to a sermon given by Rev. James Ellis on Oct. 30. That day’s sermon, entitled “Tricks are for Kids” was from Proverbs 30:31. The verse, read by Arika Tolbert (’20), was: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
The WEO is led by President Nina Kay (’19) and Vice President Cassidy Bernhardt (’18), along with executive board members Savannah Meyers-Moore (’19), Maddie Zimmerman (’19), Deana Velandra (’19), LauraGrace Orner (’19), Mariah Bensley (’19) and Kiley Corcoran (’19).
In a recent interview, Ellis explained that his intentions with the sermon were, “to challenge men and women to think and behave toward each other and themselves with a higher degree of esteem, modesty and reverence for God.” In addition, he sought to call men to develop their own “holistic faith” in order to be worthy of having a “godly wife.”
During the sermon, he also said that “godly wives” are “inventive and industrious” and “clothed in majesty and strength and dignity, saturated with wisdom and kindness.” He channeled the popular Trix cereal commercials by encouraging men to act like men, keeping the “tricks” for boyhood when encountering these women.
However, the WEO thought that much of the rhetoric within the sermon “shamed, alienated, and belittled women, LGBTQIA individuals, and men.” In an interview, Bernhardt specifically highlighted Ellis’ remark that men “sometimes have ants in our pants and are intoxicated by cleavage.”
She also pointed out that his remark claiming that these “godly women” should refrain from taking pictures of their “distinctive feminine frame” because they should not be put on display like items at a grocery store was “directly objectifying the female body.”
In addition, Bernhardt highlighted Ellis’ misuse of the term, “cross-dress,” when he said that a boy who did not respect “godly women” was “merely a boy cross-dressing as a man.” She said that “cross-dress” is a word that should be reserved for the LGBTQIA community and his misuse of it was directly offensive to these individuals.
Following the meeting between Bernhardt and Ellis, the WEO sent out a “Call to Action” email. Within the email, the WEO executive committee claimed that Ellis had been, “directly dismissive and unresponsive to her and did not see/own up to the negative impact he had on the student body.”
However, Ellis made it clear that neither himself nor Cam- pus Ministries, “are dismissive or unresponsive to students who speak to us about anything.” However, he also clarified that, “to care about someone’s feel- ings should not be equated with those feelings being affirmed or agreed to by another.”
The WEO went on to send out several clarification emails that reiterated the message that the demonstration would not be a personal attack on Ellis in any way.
In their own words: “We do not mean to vilify the Reverend or make any students who are close to him uncomfortable, because we acknowledge he is an important facet to the Hope College community.”
As Ellis graced the stage this past Friday, the demonstration began with participants in the first few rows exiting the chapel.
Many were blocked by people attempting to stall the protest and cheer in support of Ellis and his words.
Upon exit, the demonstrators re-assembled outside of Graves Hall to pray that their message was well-received and gather in solidarity.
However, others held a different role in the demonstration. Dr. Richard Frost, Dean of Students at Hope College, did not intentionally participate in the demonstration but he did follow the group of demonstrators out to Graves to pray with them and for them.
He released a statement on Monday, Nov. 20, saying, “I knew that Ellis would receive love and support in chapel on Friday morning and wanted to make sure that our students, that do not feel a part of chapel, know that they are still a part of the Hope community and are loved.” Dean Frost clarified that he respects the courage of both Ellis and the courage of the students that participated in the demonstration.
He went on to say that he does not “choose one over the other” and “will work to finds ways to create a circle where both can be.”
Prior to Ellis’ presence onstage on Friday, Rev. Dr. Trygve Johnson, the Hinga Boersma Dean of the Chapel, welcomed students into chapel and took a moment to invite and thank the students that were struggling with sermons. He took a moment to encourage students to utilize the five virtues of pub- lic discourse when encounter- ing this struggle. They remain: humility to listen, hospitality to welcome, patience to under- stand, courage to challenge and honesty to speak the truth in love.