Musician Josh Ritter called Messiah College's policy on homosexual behavior "exclusionary and bigoted" on his Facebook page this past weekend after finding out about the school's Community Covenant, which all attending students sign.
Ritter, who performed at the Grantham, Pa.-based Christian college on Friday, posted on his Facebook page on Saturday that Messiah's policy was "exclusionary and bigoted," and "could not run more counter to my personal beliefs. If I had done my homework… ahead of time, I would never have agreed to play there."
The singer-songwriter and guitarist who performs and records with The Royal City Band – known for his distinctive Americana folk music and narrative lyrics – had researched the college after he had already performed and learned about the school's pledge, or Community Covenant, which students sign in order to attend the college. When signing the Covenant, Messiah College students agree to "avoid such sinful practices as … homosexual behavior…"
Ritter, who in 2006 was named one of the "100 Greatest Living Songwriters" by Paste magazine, donated the fee he received from Messiah College to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
He explained that on stage he "chose to use the opportunity to talk to the students – to seek openness and change… that we should all have the right to love and marry freely no matter what our sexual orientation." He vowed that he would not play at Messiah College again until they "welcome in word and deed, all members of their faith regardless of sexuality."
In response, one fan, Michael Casey, said this is "typical for subjective types like Josh to support discrimination of Christians, however the reality is he is really judging God, who is the eternal Supreme judge and the author of defining sin/s."
Another fan, Rebecca Erin, wrote on Ritter's Facebook, "the hard truth of the matter is that we ARE discriminated against just for disagreeing with the behavior of gay people. Why is it that they can discriminate against us and our beliefs but we're expected to be 100% tolerant of theirs?"
Other fans, like TJ Ficarrotta, disagreed, saying that, "discrimination based on 'religious beliefs' is still called BIGOTRY."
In response to Ritter's statements, the school's spokeswoman Beth Lorow said Messiah College is disappointed that Ritter favors tolerance, "except when it comes to religious freedom."
In 2011, Messiah College addressed the issue of homosexuality publicly when an openly gay student transferred from the school because of the Community Covenant and his sexuality.
In response, College Provost Randy Bassinger told Penn Live that, "We're not unique," he said. "Our covenant is quite clear on the behavioral expectations in a number of areas, one of them being homosexual behavior. We're very committed to that and very intentional on how we apply that – consistently, as with all our behavioral expectations."
Although Messiah College welcomes all students, Bassinger clarified that, "We don't exclude students with same-sex orientation, but we are clear to make a distinction between orientation and behavior. We can be clear on who we are."