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Hot on Campus | May 10, 2013

Josh Ritter attacks Messiah College

Hot on Campus

Students defend school against Ritter's "bigot" label
Musician Josh Ritter performs in 2007. (Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Christensen)

Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter announced on Facebook Friday that he would not perform at Messiah College again unless the school changed its policy against homosexual behavior.

The post came hours after a concert for a few hundred students at the Pennsylvania Christian university. At the end of his performance, Ritter said he was aware of the school's "Community Covenant," which among many things forbids homosexual behavior, and encouraged students to be open to discussions about homosexuality and work with the administration to change it.

But the Facebook comment carried a harsher tone: "This policy, which I see as exclusionary and bigoted, could not run more counter to my personal beliefs," Ritter wrote. "I won't play Messiah College again-not until they welcome, in word and deed, all members of their faith regardless of sexuality, and I urge my fellow musicians to do the same."

He said that if he had known about the policies beforehand, he would not have agreed to play there, and donated the fee from Messiah to an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBT youth.

Beth Lorow, the school's spokeswoman, found Ritter's response surprising, since he performed at the school before, in 2009.

"We are a Christian college, we would think it wouldn't be surprising that we hold a traditional Scriptural interpretation of sexuality," Lorow said. "We feel disappointed that he opted to publicly express his disagreement with name-calling and labeling and passed on doing it in a more productive way."

She said Ritter had the opportunity to discuss the issue with Messiah administrators before and after the concert but instead choose to deal with the issue on the public forum of Facebook. In calling the school bigoted, Lorow believes Ritter is "not extending the openness and tolerance he spoke about to religious freedoms."

Students at Messiah have rallied behind the school, upset with the way Ritter represented the school. One student wrote an open letter to Ritter on her blog, expressing the open-minded and loving environment she has felt at the school in discussing and thinking about homosexuality. A number of students have shared the link to the letter on Ritter's Facebook page.

"I am not only offended that you would lump the opinions of 2,800 students into one sentence of our community covenant, but I am enraged that you would so publicly express your over-simplified and uninformed opinion of our school," wrote Sarah Gehman, a senior at Messiah. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe some students have taken a serious amount of time and energy to think about these issues as Christian friends and family come out?"