Reflections on Being Veritas
I came out the other day. (I hope my gay friends don’t mind me using their terms). “I came out” is just such a brave quote. It is about a human, a person being vulnerable, being authentic, and not giving a damn. “I came out” says I couldn’t care less what you want for my life or who you think I should be. Instead its sentiment rings, “I know who I am. I know what I need. I am cool if you disagree”. The gravitas in that statement makes my ears perk up and reach high to the heavens, my neck grow long, and my shoulders broaden to the right and left. My eyes begin to twinkle like Jupiter beside the moon and my smile rises from the black coal pot turning white as Caribbean sand. I begin to squinch (squint and pinch) my nose at myself in the reflective mirror of the aquamarine sea, and think “Oh yeah, baby, I came out”.
There are some that call me vindictive. It is as if they are saying:
"Why did you wait this long to tell your story? Your story of pain, shame, and sexual, gender, and racial harassment? Why are you calling an evangelical institution to take responsibility for their faculty and their staff? Why are you asking for apologies for yourself, for the world, and for the next generation? How dare you say the truth out loud? That should be handled behind closed doors with the men it matters, too. 'It is vindictive to tell the world what we are doing in a little cove in Jesus name', they say. No one should know that part. We only want them to see the praise band (when they play Hillsong United and never a hymn chosen by a gay choir member. That is not marketable). We only want them to see cute girls in cute clothes at the admissions table, never a trans Catholic who serves her community and friends well. We only want white Caucasian male professors with beards who smoke cigars and come alongside the brothers to show them the way of homeschooling and homecraft beer brewing. We want us to 'be the leader in Christian education, because we are the only ones in North Carolina doing it folks!' (Maurer, 2017) and we can never do that if you tell the truth. When you, you heretic, tell your story and tell the truth (the real life hell you experienced) then we look bad and we simply can’t look bad. Jesus would never allow it."
Well, I have news for you folks, y’all brought it on yourselves. Your motto is “Esse quam videri”— to be rather than to seem. I asked you point blank three years ago if you really wanted to do this whole “Community Life Covenant” shenanigan. It would help get you donors, and let you separate the heretics, the liars, and the so-called saints, but when you put those type of words out into the Universe and place your signature as a follower, you better “be rather than seem”. I knew then three years ago that evangelicalism was a sham and a total scam. I’d seen professors taking girls on dates**, pastors going on missions trips to buy prescription pills, and former college presidents fleeing in the icy mist of night with their computers because the FBI was coming to collect child porn. I’d seen great professors make $40,000 a year with no retirement and paint houses through the summer to make their mortgages, and female professors make way less than them. I'd seen students admitted without transcripts and leave $20,000 in debt in their first year. So, I asked you if you wanted to really “be rather than seem” and you said, '“Yes! Sign on the line, you heretic”. (In our meeting at Pisgah Brewery I was told by President Maurer that those didn’t sign it were heretical.)
I am not vindictive; I am veritas. You see when you called me a heretic that was unqualified, I left your tiny Christian liberal arts college in the cove of the Graham’s and I went to a small liberal arts University on the banks of the Charles. There I learned a whole lot of Latin and a whole lot of history and a whole lot of bravery. I found out about people groups throughout history that acted just like you and just like Trump’s America-- all about power and money. I learned how to stand for who I am and for those who don’t get to stand for themselves. I learned how to read ancient texts and original documents on little envelopes (like Emily Dickson’s poems) and parchment (like the Gutenberg Bible). I became. I became without men telling me what to do, or who to be. I became.
Now some of you are mad, because I came out. And that your secret “that you are not what you seem to be” came out, too. I am not vindictive. I have no need to be. I spend my days on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. I help children with climate trauma from Trump’s America recover, heal, and rebuild. I teach them who they can become and how the world is ready for them. I sit next to senators and talk with the Clintons and Bloombergs on ways to help America become a sustainability leader over the next 20 years. I map protected areas with “The Wilderness Society” and the youngest and brightest conservationist in the 21-century. I hang out with Jane Goodall’s former research assistant have graduation parties thrown for me at his house. I walk across Harvard Yard and have friends from around the world who greet me in varying languages and talk of my work and science lectures. I talk to the greatest conservationists of all time and write manuscripts that have the ability to change the American West forever. I respond to trail conservancies, the E.O. Wilson Foundation, and Ivy Leagues like Yale who want to work with me on new projects and ideas. I spend every afternoon running a national park trail and jumping in the crystal teal coral reefs. My favorite books and memoirs await me in my beach bag and I sit my bikini-butt in the sand and mark up the pages as I read to the sun setting. I eat a Caribbean meal, suck on a mango, and down a shot of espresso. I type out my stories of pain, trauma, and injustice of being a former evangelical female and a Latina for my "someday book", do some hot yoga to my homemade playlist, and take a cistern fed shower with frogs and lizards walking around. I stare out over the water and see Jupiter next to Mars and think about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and our travel in an ellipse. I laugh at myself, realizing that I am one of the most educated women in the world. (Note- Only 2% of people have 2nd masters or PhDs in America and a very small percentage like less than hundredths of a percent are from an Ivy League, are women, or Hispanic). Then, I go to bed with a smile and peace on my forehead like a sweet kiss from Abba father.
I have no reason to be vindictive. My life after “coming out” is quite remarkable! However, I have thousands of reasons to be veritas. They are Montreat College's next year’s class and the class after that-- those first generation college students that are hoping that a college education might change “their one and only precious lives” (Oliver, 1965). They are all the students I taught over the past that and are writing me to say "thank you", "kudos", and "#metoo". They are the faculty that LOST everything when they chose "to be" what they felt was Christian and now have to rebuild their lives. They (these students, friends, and colleagues) need you to be rather than to seem.
So come out. Be brave. Be the Christians that Jesus would be proud of. BE Montreat.
PS- If you still need my steps to justice here you go. You might like that I went about it in the Biblical way:
1. Met with the person (at least 5 times over a year’s period)
2. Met with the Academic Dean
3. Met with the Academic Dean and HR
4. Met with the Academic Dean and the person
5. Met with HR
6. Met with the Dean of Students
7. Met with the Dean of Students a 2nd time
8. Met with my mentor
9. Met with my old college professor who is really reputable in the community
10. Met with the President of the College and my mentor
12. Met with HR, the President of the College, and my husband **
13. My husband met the Dean of Students
**Tried to meet with three members of the Board of Trustees and that was shut down by the President.
Over 2.5 years, told a total of nine “godly men” in the Montreat Community and nothing changed. He, my harasser, is still teaching, getting in drunken fist fights downtown, and picking up on girls. Meanwhile, they (the administration) continues to slowly target Christians that are different than them and make their lives hell.
**PS- After talking to the harasser, he feels as though he was not drunk in fist fights (though I have three reports from students and community members that say they have seen them and a report of his DUI). He states that he was pulling friends off fights. As well, he states that his time with girl(s) outside of the college were not dates, but rather work related. He does agree that he stated to me that those women were “the most beautiful” and that was stupid of him. I chose to believe him, bc though he hurt me deeply I have not known him to be a liar.
Melissa B. Wilson, A.L.M. and M.S. is an active conservationist and environmentalist who happily lives in paradise (the U.S. Virgin Islands) working to create STEM career pathways and networks for Caribbean students. As a former evangelical, a current climate activist, gay ally, and descendant of the Bohemian Reformation (the first Protestant Reformation) she speaks about faith, life, ecology, and our current political climate on her blog www.ecotheologist.com. She graduated from Harvard University in May 2019. Her conservation research about wilderness, reaching Half-Earth, and STEM education can be found at www.melissawilson.net.
Photo by: Eva Appalachia