The steps of the Walker Student Center were graced with the presence of cardboard signs, stickers and T-shirts on March 10. This wasn’t a protest or a petition but an open invitation to stand with marginalized students on John Brown University’s campus.
The message on the signs, with some sharing different paraphrasing, was one of hospitality: “You are welcome at this table,” referencing a chapel message given on March 3 about hospitality.
The sermon, given by associate professor of worship arts Jen Edwards, discussed how all are welcome at God’s table, even those in the margins. The message was met with backlash throughout campus.
The members of the group, although they have no official name, spread the message about their event through Instagram under the name @welcome_at_this_table. In their first post, the group said, “The goal of this action is to let people who have felt that they have no place in the body of Christ know that they are not alone.”
The page made sure to draw attention to the fact that the point of their display was not to cause any more disruption within the JBU community. According to the post, “This is not about politics or who is right. This is not in response to any particular individual. This is not about how LGBTQ+ individuals should or should not live … This is about loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
Kat Caldwell, junior intercultural studies major, felt like the event was necessary, and spread the right message. “I think this display and statement was really important for our campus,” Caldwell said. “It has allowed people to come together out of love, to support marginalized people who are often not ‘welcome at the table,’ and declare that there are people on campus who love and support them.”
The group who printed T-shirts and stickers with the phrase ran out of T-shirts rather quickly. “From what I saw, the campus received the event really well,” Caldwell said. “I ran into a few people that were bummed that the shirts went so fast because they wanted one.”
Ashleigh Owens, junior biblical and theological studies major, was another participant in the event, and saw even a few faculty members supporting the cause. “A couple of faculty members walked by also. Most of them were very supportive, and a few seemed interested and took copies of our mission statement to read,” Owens said. “Overall it was a very positive and uplifting experience.”
The push back against Jen Edwards’ sermon was one of the main reasons Owens felt the display was necessary. “There was a lot of anger being expressed, and Jen’s message of love and acceptance was being lost,” Owens said. “This demonstration was an attempt to bring the conversation back to the love and grace of Christ that is fitting to us as Christians.”
“The way I try to welcome people to my table is by making friends and supporting people who are different than me,” Caldwell said. “I will not claim that I am perfect at this, but it is my goal to make the people around me feel loved and known.”