There is no shortage of Bible studies on Hope’s campus, many of them officially sponsored by Campus Ministries and many others run informally in small groups. Most of these Bible studies are targeted at a specific group of people: men or women, religious skeptics, members of a certain denomination, people with a certain job or hobby or people who have gone through similar experiences. Others are organized around a particular way of reading the Bible: comparing different translations, focusing on one or more books or approaching the text through the lens of current events. Prism’s Bible Pride group falls under both categories, as a Bible study targeted at LGBTQ+ people and their allies and dedicated to reading scripture through the lens of queer spirituality.
The group was created by Hope student and religion major Madelyn Smith (’23) last school year. “I started this Bible study to have a space where queer people at Hope, specifically queer people with a relationship to Christianity (however complex that might be), can have a place where no part of their identity is up for debate,” Smith told the Anchor. “It was, and is, our space to talk about what our faith means to us.” Bible Pride is sponsored by Prism, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and Hope Church, a nearby Reformed Church.
This past year, the group has met weekly at the Keppel House to discuss Christian scripture. Many members appreciate the fact that the group requires no extra reading before meetings, instead focusing on short passages that they read at the beginning of a session and then discuss as a group. “We have a weekly dinner that’s provided by volunteers from Hope Church,” Smith explains. “And some local clergy, who are either LGBTQ+ community members themselves or allies, will come and host communion for us.”
The group has discussed a number of topics in the past year, from themes of friendship and community in the Gospels to the connection between transformation stories in the Bible and queer people’s experiences of coming out. The meetings have gained a modest but consistent audience—they host about ten people a week, Smith reports, with a pool of fifteen to twenty members who rotate in and out and are considered “regulars.” These members come from many different religious backgrounds and see their faith in different ways, and Smith believes their discussions are lively and productive. “It goes to show that there aren’t just a few expressions of Christianity at Hope College, there are a lot of them, and that includes queer ones,” she says. “It’s been really cool to see how this has reached beyond just our regular people….it’s something a lot of people know about. I’ve had some professors who know about it, and they’ve told me how happy it makes them that there’s a space now to talk about these things, and it was so long fought for.”
Bible Pride has certainly attracted a number of regular members and attention from the local community, and Smith believes that this is overall a good thing. “I think it’s really important to have spaces that welcome religious expression without being prescriptive. No one in our group is being proselytized to; no one is being told that there’s only one way to be a Christian or a religious person,” she says. “I think that’s really important for Hope College students who come from predominantly Christian backgrounds. Sometimes that’s something that’s been really, really hard for them, so this can be a healing place, but it could also be something that’s been a really important part of their life. Either way, they can bring all parts of themselves here.” Not all of the attention has been positive, with some Hope community members protesting that their own denominations do not affirm the LGBTQ+ community. In response to this, Bible Pride has simply continued to assert that there are many ways to express a Christian faith.
In the coming year, the group plans to continue meeting much as it has, though it will be under new leadership. Smith says, “I know the person who will most likely lead the group next year, so I can say with confidence that they’ll do a great job. I hope to see both a continuation of what we’ve started, of having a community space, but I’d also love to see the group grow and expand in its own ways. I know there are some people in our group who are really committed to community service, so it would be really cool to see the group move out of the Keppel House—not to stop having meetings there, but to add on new things.”
If you or anyone you know may be interested in coming to Bible Pride meetings, email Prism to join their mailing list. They will have information about meeting times, dates, and places in the next school year.