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ELYRIA — Jesus Christ had a homosexual relationship?
Those words, written on a poster above the image of a topless man tenderly kissing Jesus on the neck, angered dozens of students Thursday night at Lorain County Community College.
“We had complaints all day,” said Amanda Lucero, a senior who also works at The Student Connection. “It’s sexually graphic. It’s very suggestive, and it still would be if it were a man and a woman.”
The sign went up about 4 p.m. in College Center student commons as part of Club Awareness Week, along with many other displays advertising student-run extracurricular organizations.
Students stopped to gawk, then grew angry and very vocal about the statement made by the poster.
Campus security guards said offended undergrads voiced complaints for about three straight hours, but the sign remained up because it didn’t present a security issue.
“You can’t portray Jesus like that. He believes in matrimony, that relationships like that should be done inside matrimony,” sophomore Brianna Holland said.
She said she believes homosexuality is wrong because she is a Christian, but she also said she is proud that her religion teaches tolerance and acceptance.
“I have a lot of homosexual friends. I’m not going to tell them they’re going to hell. That’s something they have to take care of between them and God,” Holland said.
Student aide Jessica Hodge said she felt the poster would “pollute the minds” of her children, ages 2 and 5, if they saw it.
“It looks like soft-core pornography,” she said. “I don’t think they’re making a statement at all. They just want to shock everyone.”
A Christian, Hodge said she doesn’t try to force her opinions on others. Questioning religion is fine, but mocking it isn’t, she said.
Lucero said the LCCC student handbook agrees, and pointed out a part of the school code that says, “Harassing any person(s) verbally, in writing, by graphic illustration, or physically, including any abuse, defamatory comments, signs or signals intended to mock or ridicule race, religion, age, sex, color, disability, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin” is not allowed.
“In higher education, we certainly respect all viewpoints. There is debate, and there are different perspectives,” Marcia Ballinger, LCCC’s vice president, said. “Controversy on a college campus from students is something that is inherent to free speech.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean she agrees with the message of the poster.
Christopher Burns is the secretary and treasurer of the campus Activists for Atheism club, which put up the poster.
He said it wasn’t intended to mock religion. Instead, the poster was meant to stir debate about Christianity by referencing a passage of the Bible that was allegedly cut out by early Christians.
Burns said most Christians have never heard of the Secret Gospel of Mark, which was found inscribed in a letter by Greek historian Clement of Alexandria. The letter has been disputed for decades and is now lost, with only photographs of the passages remaining for study.
One text from the letter hints that the Bible’s account of Mark’s gospel originally told the tale of Jesus raising a man from the dead and then having an intimate relationship with him, said Aaron Weaver, a senior at LCCC and president of the college atheist club.
“The purpose of the poster is to get students to see something they haven’t seen before,” he said. “The chances are it challenges them to challenge something they thought they knew.”
Sure, the poster was attention-seeking, but ultimately Weaver said he just wanted to create enough buzz to get people debating and thinking about why they believe what they believe.
“I understand that people will be offended. People will sometimes be offended for the most ridiculous of reasons,” he said.
He said his fellow students have the right to practice their religions and to express themselves in any way they choose.
He said he was shocked to learn the college had a policy that bans students from mocking religion, or any idea, for that matter. The policy is a clear violation of the First Amendment, Weaver said.
Sophomore Dejoune Grantham said the poster is libelous and blasphemous, and in her opinion it isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
“I don’t want my children walking through here and seeing that. It’s filthy,” she said.
Another sophomore, Amber Cales, said the poster was in a public place, and it was easily seen by anyone who passed. She said that took away her right as a parent to shield her children from controversial ideas.
She said she also felt the poster was just taking a pot-shot at Christianity instead of protesting all religious expression.
“You know if it was something about Judaism or Islam, it wouldn’t be tolerated,” she said.
A student named Zach Jefferson, who Weaver said is not a member of the atheist group, decided about 7:30 p.m. to take down the poster, but he wouldn’t say why.
Laura Nash, president of the Student Senate, said she wasn’t surprised at the outrage so many students voiced.
She said anyone offended should write a complaint and submit it to the Campus Life Division or campus security.
Weaver said anyone offended by the poster has never read the Bible.
“The Bible is full of gross sexuality, rape, murder. If you’ve read through the Old Testament, you’d be disgusted,” he said.
He said he received permission from Student Life officers to put up the poster but was denied permission to place smaller versions on bulletin boards.
And Weaver said he didn’t just take a shot at Christianity. On Wednesday, he put up a picture of the prophet Mohammed — an act strictly forbidden in the Islamic faith.
He said that about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, he received a death threat in response to the picture, which read, “With love and missiles.” He took the picture down, turned over the note to campus security officers and went home.
“I put myself at risk, but I do so freely. I don’t let fear or the threat of death stop me from speaking my mind freely,” he said.