Faulkner County Library hosts dueling children’s story hours

Faulkner County Library hosts dueling children’s story hours

When the automatic doors of the Faulkner County Library in Conway opened Saturday, visitors were greeted by seven long tables full of books for sale.

You can get away with a pound of books for 50 cents.

While a tempting deal, it wasn’t why the library parking lot was full on a weekend morning. The cause was in a corridor to the left of the building’s entrance, in two opposite meeting rooms.

The room on the left held an event that had been booked a month in advance, with the encouragement of Kirk Cameron.

Across the hall was a hastily organized event last week in response.

In the first room was the Pastor’s Story Hour led by Owen Strachan of Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway.

A Facebook post announcing it described the event as “a direct contrast to modern culture’s popular and controversial Drag Queen Story Hour that has increasingly occurred in public and private settings across the United States United.

Dressed in his Sunday best and addressing a packed room of more than 40 children and even more adults, Strachan read from the Christian children’s books The Biggest Story and God’s Design “.

Between the stories about Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark, there was a theme in his message to a group of young children: there are only two genders, male and female.

“Eve was the first woman who was created to complement the first man,” Strachan read. “All women who have come after her have been designed in the same way, women have been specially created by God to do the work of helping, supporting and submitting to the man whom God has placed over them as their head. … This book it’s teaching us how God made boys and girls.”

Strachan then gave a “quiz”, asking for a show of hands.

“Who’s a boy? Just to be clear, just to clarify. Okay, who’s a girl? Who’s a girl? … That’s it! God created men and God created women for his glory. Good job, everyone on that quiz.”

A chuckle filled the room.

The location of the “Comprehensive Story Hour” was an accident.

When Leah Bilokury, a member of the Faulkner County Coalition for Social Justice, made the reservation for her meeting room, she had no idea she would be directly across from Strachan’s.

A 27-year-old “recovered evangelical” and Conway native, Bilokury put together the Comprehensive History Hour after learning about the Pastor’s History Hour on Facebook.

Standing in the room with one of her two children strapped to her chest, Bilokury explained what prompted her to create the event.

“We saw the posts about [Pastor] History hour and we’re like, ‘this is not the world we want to cultivate,’” Bilokury said. “We don’t want a world where queer people are told there’s something wrong with them. That they’re bad, that they’re sinners. … So let’s do something that’s going to be a safe space for to tell people that you are valued, that you are loved, no matter your gender or your sexuality.”

This was what she had managed to put together in a week.

The room had three tables. One had books, including “And Tango Makes Three,”https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/”It’s OK to Be Different,” and “This Little Rainbow.”

Another had pamphlets, wristbands and other educational materials from the coalition. Across the room was an arts and crafts table. By the door were two tubs full of dried beans and cups for the children to play with if they lost interest in the main event.

It was at the back of the room and was marked by a circle of chairs.

There a drag queen named Angila Dubois would read books to the assembled audience.

“I’ve never done anything of this level before,” said a clearly stressed Bilokury. “So I’m pretty bugged.”

The first book of the day was “If You’re a Drag Queen…”

Dubois began reading, “If you’re a drag queen and you know it…blow a kiss!”

Each group had its supporters.

Billy Froman, a student of Strachan’s, attended to support him.

“I think it’s a great way to introduce kids to the gospel and make them aware of the reality we live in and expose them to God’s truth,” Froman said.

That reality, Froman said, was that “God made us both male and female and we live in this fallen world and we need a Savior.”

When asked what he thought of the “Comprehensive Story Hour,” Froman gave a “no comment.”

In the next room was Jamie Atkinson.

Atkinson, 47, is a lesbian who was attending with her 7-year-old daughter.

“My little girl loves drag queens,” Atkinson said. “She has anxiety issues, she doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. But when I put her in an area with a drag queen, she feels unconditional love and acceptance. I’m here because this is fun.”

Atkinson is also an ordained minister who attends an Episcopal church.

“I’m definitely ready to ask God’s will for our lives,” she said. “I just feel like [they’re using] some misrepresentations and misdirections … to exclude people. We are called to love everyone, we are called to love all people. There are some people that I have known all my life and I love them. I just don’t agree with the fact that they think we’re here to hurt them, because we’re not.”

Back to Pastor’s Story Hour, the story continued.

Referring to something in one of the stories he was reading, Strachan raised his hand and asked his young audience another question, almost rhetorically.

“Who wants to be in a war that never ends?”

Eventually, the crowds for both groups thinned out.

In the hallway, three coalition members stood facing Strachan.

There was Jason Bailey, a gay man, Morgan Erby, who is transgender, and Austin, who identifies as non-binary, pansexual and polyamorous.

What ensued was a tense but cordial discussion of more than 10 minutes, with talk of “innate realities” and “false equivalences.”

“I want to understand, even if we don’t agree with a kind of polar opposite, I always want to understand what people are,” Strachan. “Christians are not perfect.”

“One group is actively engaging in violence and the other group is struggling to exist,” Bailey replied.

“All we want to do is live in peace, we’re not a threat to anybody,” Erby said later. “And no one is interested in babysitting. If there wasn’t another transgender baby born after tomorrow, that would be fine with me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We’re not actively trying to disenfranchise another group. And that’s how we feel, we’re constantly under attack.”

In the middle of the discussion, Strachan stopped and pointed to Austin’s right arm.

“So what do the Elven say?”

Surprised, Austin rolled up his sleeves to reveal a Lord of the Rings tattoo.

The Elven script was from the “https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/”One Ring” series of poems, which read “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find , a ring to bring them all together and bind them in the dark.”

Above the script was the image of the Eye of Sauron.

“I’ve never seen a Sauron tattoo before,” said Strachan.

In the coalition room, Austin said he hoped Strachan was sincere in his curiosity.

“It was different,” Austin said. “It’s hard to hear the same thing I heard as a kid, it was just the same thing over and over again.”

Austin did not foresee the Lord of the Rings connection.

“I like that,” Austin said. “And I hope to have some Lord of the Rings discussions with him in the future. I’d like to show him that we’re just like everyone else.”

Austin returned to the hall with Strachan.

“If I walked into your church tomorrow, would you accept me?” Austin asked.

“Absolutely,” Strachan replied.

“Are we all welcome?”

“Bring it all on,” said Strachan. “I always want fellow sinners.”

Austin introduced himself and extended his hand, Strachan followed and shook it.

“Nice to meet you,” Austin said.

“You look cute,” Strachan replied. “You like Lord of the Rings.”

While Strachan said the hallway meeting was a “great conversation… I didn’t walk away changing what I believe in anyway [and] I know it to be true from the Bible.”

“I want to have conversations,” said Strachan. “And America on a much lower level than how, eternity and where your soul will be forever, needs that. We need a more honest actual conversation where we treat each other with dignity… I heard about those people’s experience and we appreciate hearing them. Because everyone has complex life stories. A lot of people have had difficult experiences and I have real sympathy for that. So it’s always good to hear about that.

“People are not abstractions. People are living beings.”

Owen Strachan, professor and research professor of theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary, reads “God’s Design” by Sally Michael and Gary Steward. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Angila Dubois, a local performer, reads “Julian Is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love at the Faulkner County Library in Conway on Saturday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

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