Four years ago, I arrived onto the campus of Shorter University (then college). I know this sounds odd since I am a freshman vocal performance major, but it’s completely true. Four years ago, I attended the Summer Arts Institute for piano. That week forever changed my life. Being surrounded by great counselors, campers, professors showed me what college life was going to be, and from that first day, I knew Shorter was where I was going to go to college.

Time went on, and my plans changed. I decided to go into Vocal Performance rather than piano, but I still knew that Shorter was the place to be. It was like a second home to me. When the time came for me to audition for my undergraduate program, Shorter was one of three schools I applied to, and the only one I actually auditioned for. I was excited to start my career at Shorter University! I had my voice teacher selected; I had my rooming assignment; I had attended Summit; I had bought things for my room. I was ready to go. The first few months went by in a flash: the chorale retreat, recitals, opera rehearsal and performances, and then the unthinkable happened: The Personal Lifestyle Statement.

At first, I didn’t know what to think about such a document – surely this could not be a legitimate request. No one could force another human being to sign such a hate filled and limiting document. It was impossible for me to think about. A week (I think) went by, and I was informed that people were going to leave if this didn’t change, and it seemed as if things weren’t going to change. I found solace in nothing. I became a shadow of the person I was. How could anyone destroy my beloved Shorter? How? It just wasn’t fair. Groups and protests were organized, and for a while it seemed like there was a glimmer of hope that the document would be retracted, but the powers that be became even more relentless. Although I wanted to stay, it didn’t seem like I would be able to, so I started applying to new schools. How funny… I spent my first year of college looking for a new one.

When first deciding about transferring, I had to sit down with myself and ask if transferring was the correct option for me. I mean, of course there were the obvious facts – my voice teacher wanted to leave, and other countless teachers and students did as well, but were those good enough reasons to leave? No. That alone was not enough. This issue dug deeper than just my peers leaving. This was personal. They had attacked me personally just because I have a “disease.”

 I grew up in the Mormon faith, and I was treated the same way there as I am here. I struggled for years to come to terms with who I was as a person, and how I was different from people around me. I couldn’t help but ask why it seemed like I should be punished for something beyond my control. I chose to be gay just as much as someone chooses to be straight, so why am I a sinner? I was told every day that because I feel a certain way, I would never be with God in Heaven. How is that fair? It’s not. What made this predicament more difficult was that I could not talk to my parents about everything that was going on, for their religious dogma coincides with fundamentalist Baptists on homosexuality.

Like other countless music majors, I sing in a church choir in Rome. For me, my church was Saint Peter’s Episcopal. At Saint Peter’s I finally felt accepted in God’s eyes. I finally found the place where God’s love permeated to every last individual in their church. Not just the ones they said were worthy. Everyone is accepted there. Saint Peter’s was the epitome of what Shorter really should be to be considered a Christian university.

So, yes this is my biggest issue with the document. How can a self-proclaimed Christian university come out with a document that is not Christ-like at all? Homosexuals are people too, but it seemed like I wasn’t at Shorter. I felt judged every Tuesday when I would walk to the cafeteria as other were walking to the Chapel for their worship service. I felt judged every time I passed someone. Solely because I am gay and it obviously showed. Should I have to hide who I am? Not be proud that I am a child of God and I am perfect the way He made me even though it’s different from others around me? That’s not fair. The only place I found solace was in Chorale where I was among people who loved and supported me for who I was and not who they wanted me to be.

I started my audition process. It was tedious for I did not want to do it. I thought that I was going to be at Shorter for four years, not just one. I had some fun though. I took a road trip to New Jersey; I also went to Atlanta for a regional audition, and I went to my hometown to audition at Mercer. I received great honors and scholarships everywhere I applied, but nothing seemed right, because it wasn’t Shorter. I thought I was never going to be able to get over it. I lost hope. Some days, I could hardly even get myself out of my bed to go to class; in fact I skipped many classes because I did not want to be reminded of what I was not going to have. It became too hard to bear.

The only thing that kept me going and inspired me to get out of bed was Chorale rehearsal for ACDA, but sometimes it was hard to put forth effort to pretend I was not depressed. I went to convention and had a blast. It was such a treat to be out and away with the people I hold dear to my heart, but spring break came and afterwards came opera scenes which was just another reminder of the censorship and rules Shorter administration was putting us under. (We were supposed to do The Elixir of Love, but because of the alcohol references, we had to change our opera). During spring break I finally decided what I was going to do with my life: Musical Theater Accompanying. I applied at Shenandoah University, but I did not apply in time for their auditions.

April came and I found myself thrown into the craziest month of my life. I had performance after performance, but I enjoyed every last minute. It blew my mind how much great music I was making with people at Shorter and in Rome. How could such a small town produce such great music? I knew I was where I was supposed to be. There were so many great things happening for me, so this is what hurts the most: leaving the people I am emotionally invested in, leaving such a great opportunities for music making, being attacked so personally for something beyond control.

So why am I leaving Shorter University:

  1. My professors are
  2. My peers are
  3. For being personally attacked for my sexuality
  4. To be in a comfortable and supportive environment where I can be who I am.
  5. God’s love and guiding hand is not found at Shorter

I feel that Shorter, the GBC, the Board of Trustees, and/or whoever can do what they want to the school. It’s their school, but I cannot personally attend a school so full of hate. The personal lifestyle statement is picking and choosing which sins are worse than others, but a sin is a sin. Why were homosexuality, premarital sex, and adultery singled out? What about child molesters? Is it acceptable to be a child molester? Is it acceptable to rape innocent humans? NO! It’s not. It’s just as wrong, but it wasn’t pointed out. That to me screams bigotry. Let it be known that this is not an attack on a religion, this is an attack on the thoughts of individuals who believe that they are above others and believe that God speaks to them and moves them to do things. Well, it is my opinion that God does not work like this. “LOVE so amazing SO DIVINE!” It is through Christ’s love that people are changed not by forcing them to attend Chapels, and to deny what they are to themselves. I believe God made me perfect the way I am, not the way someone says that I should be, and because of this I cannot agree with what Shorter says. Jesus did not tell the adulteress to get out of his sight, he said “Go and sin no more” not: sign this document or lose your job. Once again, this screams bigotry. I feel slighted as a student as if I’m not even important. This whole predicament is not fair to the student body. I have had to spend my whole first year of college LOOKING FOR A NEW COLLEGE, and I’m mad about it.

To those who are in charge of everything going on, know that I respect your decision to do this, and I know you have every right, as Shorter is your school, but do know that a legacy that has been built at Shorter University will now forever be demolished. Shorter’s reputation preceded her in many cases, and it does again now, but for different reasons. Also, do know that it is wrong to claim to be something you aren’t: Shorter is no longer a liberal arts college; it is now a Baptist seminary. You are not transforming lives through Christ; you are transforming lives through narrow mindedness fundamentalist views.

May God bless the Hill to keep her in constant care and peace through the turmoil that will ensue. May every endeavor upon the Hill be met with strength and courage.

Finally, remember you cannot force people to transform their lives through Christ. It is only through an example of His perfect love that people can be turned to him. Forcing people to believe what you believe will accomplish nothing.

McKinley Starks

28 responses to “AND YOU ASK WHY THEY LEAVE

  1. Wonderful letter. My best to you. Have you considered Montevallo?

  2. I am sorry you had such a rough freshman year. Remember that God does have a purpose and plan for your life…especially when life takes an unexpected left turn. Just keep asking Him for directions.

    Marybeth, BME, ’92

  3. McKinley Starks

    Thank you all so much for taking time to read my story. I have finally found out where I am going and what I want to do: Musical Theater Accompanying at Shenandoah University!

  4. Your boisterous laugh is going to be greatly missed. You are such a shining star on The Hill. I know that God will bless you in your journey.

    • McKinley Starks

      Thank you!😀 I’m glad people enjoyed my laughter! I tried to produce it as much as possible.

  5. You are such a gift to this world. I’m sorry for the heartache of leaving the Hill, but believe me–you’ll find the spirit and love that Shorter once represented, wherever you go–because YOU will call it forth! Brilliant letter, brave disclosure. I salute you!

    • McKinley Starks

      Thank you!😀 I am already finding the love that Shorter has represented! Thank you so much for taking time to read my letter.

  6. I sang with you guys as an alum at the spring concert. Such beautiful music. I wish you well, and am sorry you could not have a wonderful 4 years like I did. (So long ago…Lol)

  7. McKinley,

    My heart goes out to you, and I understand your huge dilemma. I loved Shorter with the same love you did when you made your decision to go. The wonderful professors we had – the Knights, the Ramsaurs, the Dewitts, others that you did not know were our family. Dr Martha Shaw was there then as a classmate. We all lived for Chorale, performances, learning, growing, and yes serving Christ. The legislated executive supported hate has changed this. I, too found a home at St. Peter’s, but remained a Baptist. I went on to serve several Baptist churches across the United States are both minister of music and organist. I can no longer work for Baptists due to their hate filled ways. I serve in the Episcopal Church. The Lord will direct you, and you will find a place to call home. You will love that place, although I know it will not be the Shorter we all loved, and has now been taken from all of us. Blessings on you!

    Rev Vince Evans

  8. Allen Peebles

    It grieves me that the Shorter I graduated from is not the one you will graduate from. Dr. George Ballentine and Dr. Newman helped make Shorter the beacon on the hill. A well balanced liberal arts college that challenged you to think and grow while receiving your education. I think back at professors that challenged us. The kind of professors that will no longer be at Shorter. It grieves me you must move on but if I were at Shorter today I would be faced with all the emotions and fears you have been.

    God does love you, will always love you and may you grow closer to him daily as you choose your path. A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. —Proverbs 16:9 Do not let humans come between you and God.

    Thanks for your letters and sharing your journey. Even though we are no longer on the Hill a part of us remains there. That part of us is grieving this hostile take over by sinners doing it in the name of Christ.

    Class of 89

    • McKinley Starks

      Thank you so much for you support. I speak on behalf of all the students that are a part of SOS when I say that the alumna’s support this year has been fabulous to have! Thank you so much!

  9. I find it problematic that people claim that living by the restrictions of the Bible is NOT Christ-like. You cannot be a true Christian while at the same time rejecting nay of the restrictions, admonishments, and requirements of God. The Bible condemns many sexual acts as sin and the school is agreeing with that document. Your disagreement isn’t with Shorter it is with God.

    • McKinley Starks

      Excuse me? I have no problem with God. I have come to terms with Him. I have realized that He made me this way for a reason. God makes no mistakes. If you truly had read my letter you would have realized that my problem is that Shorter is claiming to be something that they aren’t. Shorter is no longer a liberal arts institution of higher learning; they are a Fundamentalist Baptist Seminary. Please please please get your facts straight before blindly commenting on something. I find it rude and insulting that you would read my story and then proceed to tell me what is wrong with me. It’s taken me a year to find this out, but there is nothing wrong with me. Thank you!

      • Hi McKinley,

        First, to the degree that I am able to say so, I am sorry to hear of your experiences this past year. I’m sure the weight of your burden must have felt crushing at times. Secondly, though our interactions this year were brief at best, I did enjoy getting to know you and will miss seeing you around the Hill. Thirdly, if I may, I would humbly offer some wisdom as you seek to reconcile your faith and sexual identity.

        You are not alone in this journey. Studies by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (Shorter holds membership in this organization) suggest that as many as ten percent of students at evangelical colleges and universities experience some degree of same-sex attraction. Interestingly, only about two percent of these students would identify themselves as “gay.” No doubt, some feel a tremendous amount of fear, guilt, and conflict in making the leap. Others have found a way to acknowledge feelings of same-sex attraction, while still conforming their views and behavior to a traditional interpretation of Scripture. Still others have found solace in the revisionist view of Scripture, which usually suggests one of the following views:

        1. God created me with all of my inborn desires. Because God doesn’t make mistakes, all of my inborn desires must be good, or
        2. God may not have created me with all my inborn desires, but surely he wouldn’t deny me any desire that makes me happy and does no harm to others.
        I would encourage you to scrutinize these viewpoints objectively, carefully, and thoroughly in terms of whether or not they conform to the wisdom of the Scriptures.

        Of course, McKinley, others have looked to sources outside of Scripture to make meaning of their experiences. While I don’t recommend his approach, Luke Timothy Johnson offers the following:

        “I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”

        Ultimately, it is up to you to choose how you will come to terms with all of this. Best of luck in your continued journey. My alma mater was in the Shenandoah Valley. Driving the parkway in the fall is one of my favorite memories. I hope you create rich ones for yourself as well, McKinley.

    • Bold, beautiful, enlightened, passionate, brave, honest, and transparent are adjectives that can all be associated with McKinley’s letter. Thank you. Who cares if Mark and Josh Arnold disagree with you. Who cares if a trustee or an arrogant, narrow minded Donald Dowless disagree with you. At the end of the day all battles are between us and God.

      Mark and Josh, how dare you reprimand McKinley. You do not know his heart and you are not in a position of authority to speak for our Heavenly Father. McKinley’s relationship with God and his life choices are McKinley’s. Just his.

      Further, McKinley is a college freshman. So let us say that he is 18 maybe 19. If you truly care for McKinley try approaching him with kindness and respect. Josh, you all at Shorter are all about critical thinking. Sir, why don’t you think about it. This 18 year old boy has rid himself of pride and become transparent and vulnerable for the sake of others. You men chose to highlight the one area you saw as flawed. SOS isn’t about finding salvation for a man you believe is fallen. It is about Shorter, a school that I hold dear to my heart, which no longer glows with the love of Christ. Mark, you approached this young man with hatred and judgement. How dare you. Josh, you approached McKinley as if you were talking down to a dog. Try being proud of your students. Try praying for McKinley and congratulating him on his achievements. Let your hearts center around the good instead of focusing in on the bad. The Lord calls us to love our brothers and sisters. Let God be the one to judge. Let McKinley wrestle with his sexuality. I promise you he already does. Let God penetrate his heart. Let God open your hearts and minds. Let us all not limit our God and speak on his behalf.

      McKinley, God bless you. I pray you find wisdom, strength, peace, and understanding in life. Go forth with confidence in how big God’s love is. Be the man He created you to be and let His love permeate your life.

  10. here’s to all the roads you’ve traveled McKinley…. now let your journey begin. This isn’t about homosexuality being a sin or all the other things that people are trying to make it about.
    This now is about your path of enlightenment and alignment with God and the ultimate purpose for which you were brought forth in physical form on this earth at this time.
    Go discover it with joy and gratitude.
    Let NO man (or woman, or trustee or professor or who ever) define that purpose….only you. Just you.
    And above all on this journey, may you be aware of God’s infinite Grace and how it appears/manifest in even the smallest of circumstances and opportunitites and people. ♥

    • McKinley Starks

      Thank you Dora. It is people like you who make living in this world worthwhile! I truly appreciate that you can accept me as a brother in Christ regardless of what I am! That means so much to me!

  11. Then, Mark, let the powers that be not stop there. Let’s include the whole list of don’ts so specifically outlined in the first testament, ok? After all, sin is sin, and taking home a company pen is just as deadly as dissecting a live human until they die. Let them give the entire university a thorough enema. See who is left there to turn out the lights.

    • McKinley Starks

      Very true, Art. “let he without sin cast the first stone” is how the scripture goes I believe? Well, Art, thank you! Like I said to Dora, you two are the reason I still have some faith in humanity!

  12. Beautiful and brave letter.

  13. And to Mark (who believes that the Bible is restrictive)
    It is mankind who is restrictive…..because since the beginning of time, our goal has been to “define” God……and we do that because our own minds and egos and logical thinking processes are what is limited. We attempt to box God in, define what does/does not make Him happy because to narrow it down and limit it is the *only* way that we can wrap our head around the concept.
    Instead – my hope/prayer/intention is that we release the need to define others/God and surrender to the infinite Grace. For those who truly believe in salvation already know that we live by love/grace and not the law – especially when the law is defined by man.

    • McKinley Starks

      DORA!!! Thank you so much! That was beautiful! I was trying to tell someone else this the other day, but they wouldn’t understand. yes. The bible is God’s word, but man has translated it many different times (and usually incorrectly) and so, who is to say the bible is completely correct? yes, It is a good guide to live your life well, but within reason. Christ himself says nothing about homosexuality. Homosexuality wasn’t even a term that was around back then; it’s a modern invention. I’m sorry for ranting, but Mark has really upset me.

      • while I understand that you are upset from other’s comments – may I encourage you to retain your own energy/power. Do not give it over to someone else —- not to me (or someone who is agreeable with/to you) or someone who beats you with their interpretation of scripture or condemns you for being authentic to who you are. Resist the temptation to try and argue for who you are. You are already perfect and such a divine expression of love….just as we all are.
        When we give over our power or attempt to justicy who/what we are, it then becomes about who is right and will eventually lead to who is wrong.
        I have complete compassion and empathy for those who feel they have been forced to choose between the lesser of two evils and leave Shorter. I honor every single minute of committment, lesson planning, direction, development of talent, practice and note of music that has graced that campus (or other earthly locations as a result of the work carried out on the hill)… honoring that, I encourage you to honor yourself. You are worthy just because you suck air….what someone else says against you doesn’t have to be your truth…….I get that you want others to understand………and if you keep peeling away the layers, you may find that what you most strongly desire is the acceptance of the self. The only place you will find it is in the mirror and within your heart as you grow. Peace ♥

  14. This was an impressive, well thought-out letter, McKinley. I feel your pain and hate to hear you’ve found yourself in such an unfortunate situation. I pray that you will find peace wherever you go, for your future success, and for Shorter as well. And I’ll add this:
    Jesus said, “Do not judge lest you be judged.”
    and,”Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing,but inwardly are ravenous wolves.You will know them by their fruits.”

  15. May God bless and keep you.

  16. McKinley, you are unique, as is every other human being. Yet, each of us is created in the image of God, so each of us is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. And because you are unique, only you can know and understand your personal relationship with God. So, it is your business to look after your own soul’s health, just as I must look after mine. It’s not something that anybody or any institution can do for you or dictate to you.

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