Proselytizing 101

Broward Community College is a public school, but its religion professors consider it a private reserve

But at BCC, fundamentalist teaching wasn't eliminated. Johnson was. In August, BCC informed Johnson in a letter that his duties as an adjunct professor were no longer needed. It was retaliation, Johnson alleges, because the college was well aware that he was filing a lawsuit.

The same day that he received the termination letter, Johnson filed his claim in Broward Circuit Court. He alleges that he was discriminated against because of his religion and that the college illegally promotes a religious agenda in the classroom. He not only asked the court to reinstate him as an adjunct professor but also to issue an injunction to prohibit the college from promoting any religion.

At BCC, religion courses fulfill a graduation requirement, and some English composition courses have been designed to be taken in conjunction with religion classes. Some students will have no choice but to take the religion courses that make use of the Evangelical material in order to earn a degree.

Religion professor Lulrick Balzora, pictured here in April 2004 while on duty as Navy chaplain in Iraq, baptizes construction mechanic Kyle Ellis.
Jerome Kirkland
Religion professor Lulrick Balzora, pictured here in April 2004 while on duty as Navy chaplain in Iraq, baptizes construction mechanic Kyle Ellis.
Robert Montreuil, a student and instructor at BCC, says Johnson is guilty of pushing his own religious agenda.
Colby Katz
Robert Montreuil, a student and instructor at BCC, says Johnson is guilty of pushing his own religious agenda.

"What they're doing at BCC is improper and illegal," Johnson says. "They have to be stopped."

A tour of Johnson's home in south Fort Lauderdale is a minicourse in world religions. In one corner, a Buddhist statue from Thailand stands sentry. On the coffee table is a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. On another table is an intricately designed menorah next to an Islamic prayer rug hanging on the wall. At the end of the hallway, a large-scale is Jesus is being crucified.

"I'm a collector," Johnson admits. "I find all religions and their symbols fascinating."

It wasn't always that way. Johnson's spiritual quest was an unusual one. Raised as a Protestant in Pompano Beach, Johnson, as a boy, began to feel himself drawn to the Catholic Church. A friend would take him to Catholic services, and during a family visit to a monastery in Conyers, Georgia, something stirred in then-12-year-old Johnson.

"I had a very profound religious experience," he says. He started attending Catholic services more frequently, and by the time he was 16 years old, he was studying with a priest to convert to Catholicism.

At 18, Johnson moved to St. Louis to attend Cardinal Newman College, the first step in what Johnson believed would be the path toward priesthood. He went on to Rome, earning a master's degree in divinity, then moved to Denver to join the Dominican Order. It was there that Johnson's life plan began to fall apart.

"I came to a realization of my sexuality," he says, "and I was fortunate because I was surrounded by a lot of loving people, priests, who helped me to accept it."

But even after telling the monks that he was gay, Johnson's misery continued. He was painfully unhappy. Seeing this, another monk confronted him. "James, you are in a sense doing violence to your own personality by trying to live this life," the Dominican monk told him.

Johnson agreed, leaving the religious order and moving back to South Florida. Today, he doesn't believe his sexuality was the reason he left the order, as he did then. That's because Johnson was diagnosed with depression two years ago. "Had I been diagnosed earlier and put on medication, I have no doubt that I would have become a priest," he says. "The main issue was not about celibacy. Looking back, it was that I was a very unhappy person because of depression."

Like other gay Catholics, Johnson doesn't believe that Rome's current position against homosexuality should exclude him from being part of the church. In fact, he believes that the church has historically condoned homosexuality. Johnson pulls out a picture of a painting of Sergius and Bacchus, two saints that some historians believe represent an early acceptance of homosexuality by the Catholic Church. According to the story, Sergius and Bacchus, who were Roman guards believed to be gay partners, were tortured to death for their refusal to denounce Christ.

No longer married to the church, Johnson became a religion instructor at BCC in 1992. "I absolutely loved teaching," he says.

One year after starting at BCC, Johnson met his partner, Marx Broszio, who was one of his students in a World Religions course. They began dating halfway through the semester.

"We were very careful," Johnson admits. "We wanted to be careful, to be professional. I was very concerned about maintaining a professional rapport with him, and I can honestly say I did that. We enquired about the school's policy, about instructors dating students. It was not against policy."

Jillian Krueger-Printz, who handles public affairs for the college, isn't so sure about that claim. "I can't speak to what the exact policy is now or what the policy was ten years ago," she says. "But I do know that inappropriate relationships with students definitely are not tolerated."

But Johnson's relationship with a student never affected his standing at the college. For the next decade, Johnson continued to teach religion courses at BCC.

It wasn't until 2001 that things began to change. After Thompson became head of the department, Johnson noticed that many of the religion professors hired to teach courses seemed cut from the same cloth.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help