Every October at Concordia College, students in the Straight and Gay Alliance sell T-shirts that say "love is love" to celebrate National Coming Out Week.
But this year, as Minnesota voters prepare to decide whether to amend the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, the group received an unexpected response from a fellow student, senior Rebecca Julius.
Julius, a devout Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, designed black T-shirts that say "sin is sin" across the front and list three Bible passages about truth and evil on the back.
On the tight-knit Concordia campus of 2,700 students, where gays and lesbians are widely accepted, Julius' view stood out.
"I don't identify with all these people that say homosexuality is a perfectly acceptable way to live; that's not me," she said. "So the reason I wanted to do this T-shirt was one, to stand up for God's word because I feel like it's getting completely trampled in this place that's supposed to be Christian and two, to just separate myself from it and not give anybody the impression that this what I believe. "
Julius also wants to reach out to others who oppose homosexuality but who might be nervous about sharing their opinion "because it's not really the socially acceptable thing to do."
Julius' T-shirts attracted a handful of orders from like-minded students -- and stung some others.
"At first I was even a little hurt just because I've been through my own struggle with religion and sexuality," said Geneva Nemzek, co-president of the Straight and Gay Alliance. Nemzek, who grew up in Moorhead, came out last year. "I think it's a really tough topic," she said of Julius' message. "But after that like initial sort of bad feeling, I just sort of felt that like we need to push forward and do what we do best as a group, which is to show love."
I think it's a really tough topic
The "sin is sin" shirts have launched an intense debate on campus, where Concordia students known as "Cobbers" pride themselves on their live-and-let-live attitude.
"I have a 'love is love' T-shirt and I think that the premise of 'sin is sin' is kind of more of a shock value," said Grace Lenhart, a sophomore who opposes the marriage amendment. "I think we are all humans. We all have equal rights to love someone... If you have a certain faith, that's fine. Government doesn't have to be involved. "
Nathan Stanelle, a sophomore and physics major, said he likely will vote for the amendment. But he wonders if by doing so he will be forcing others to accept his views on morality.
"It's something I haven't come to terms with totally yet," Stanelle said. "[Julius] could definitely do it in a more loving way but I definitely see where she's coming from."
Thea Gessler, a junior biology major, plans to vote against the amendment, but understands that others on the Concordia campus may view gay marriage differently. She called the "sin is sin" T-shirt a good example of people utilizing free speech.
"It really provides a good of opportunity for dialogue about the amendment to occur," she said. But she in no way agrees with Julius.
"I don't think there's any problems with someone marrying someone of the same sex because they are just as capable of forming committed relationships and raising healthy families," Gessler said.
The "sin is sin" T-shirt flap has definitely inspired dialogue, and energized students to get involved with the marriage debate off-campus, mostly in volunteering for the campaign to defeat the amendment.
But even if her T-shirts served to fire up opponents, Rebecca Julius has no regrets. "I've definitely felt alone at more than one point on campus and I feel like I don't necessarily fit the 'Cobber mode' but that's OK with me because I know where I stand with my faith. And I know I have so many people behind me and supporting me and I also know that God is proud of what I'm trying to do for him."
Although Julius has made her views known, when it comes to the marriage amendment, the slogan on her T-shirt will have to do. Most of her fellow students have something Julius doesn't -- a Minnesota address.
Because Julius lives in Fargo, N.D., she won't be able to vote on it.
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