Kirkwood High School student newspaper

Pastoral letter from school board candidate Tom Ricks causes controversy online

March 28, 2019


Izzy Colón

Ricks, lead pastor at Greentree Community Church and Kirkwood School Board candidate, sent a pastoral letter to his congregation in May 2016 which stated homosexuality as a sin.

With the Kirkwood School Board election approaching Tuesday April 2, Jake Lyonfields, a self-described community organizer, made a Facebook post calling to #RejectRicks on Sunday March 24. The “Ricks” in the hashtag refers to Tom Ricks, a candidate for the Kirkwood School Board and the lead pastor at Greentree Community Church. After finding it from STL American journalist Charles Jaco, Lyonfields included a pastoral letter in his post that Ricks sent to his congregation in May 2016 but began surfacing just over a week before the election. Detailing a Christian opposition to homosexuality and transgenderism, the letter began circulating to Kirkwood community members on Facebook.

Ricks’ 2016 letter to the Greentree congregation states that “gay and transgender lifestyles” are sinful and result from a recent cultural shift toward accepting human sexuality. He emphasizes loving LGBT people, saying “every sinner in the world is welcome at Greentree.” Since the initial post, social media has been abuzz with commentary.

“They’ve misrepresented our church, they’ve taken my comments about human sexuality out of context and ignored half of the message which calls everyone to love people equally and respect each other equally,” Ricks said. “I’ve been characterized as a person who hates people who have same-sex attraction. [My faith] tells me to love people unconditionally.”

Lyonfields said he worries that even with mention of love, Ricks’ view of homosexuality as purely sinful would harm LGBT students if he was in a position of power in the district.

“I have a deep concern about the message that [electing Ricks] would send to Kirkwood students,” Lyonfields said. “When a community elevates somebody who has published a letter detailing their beliefs about the immorality of people who are not cisgender, of people who are not straight, then we’re sending a message to queer youth that they don’t belong.”

In addition to the letter, Lyonfields endorsed Darnel Frost and Mark Boyko, the other candidates for Kirkwood School Board, although he is not professionally affiliated with either candidate. Jaco said he is concerned, however, with how Ricks’ religious beliefs would affect his job as a school board member since Ricks also blamed education for acceptance of homosexuality. Ricks said “cultural acceptance of unhealthy sexual expressions that are being endorsed by educators in many of our classrooms” is a “spiritual danger.”

If Ricks assumes that the Bible is a guide to human sexuality, I can only assume he thinks the Bible is also a guide to biology and astrophysics,” Jaco said. “This is a slippery slope and I think Ricks is very clear about what he believes and the kind of person he would be on the school board.”

Dr. Michael Havener, KHS principal, declined to comment on how strong religious affiliations could affect school board members’ decisions. Frost, who is the current school board director, said none of the current school board members’ religious beliefs intersect with their position in any way.

In the letter, Ricks said that in political situations “we must not let fear of what others think of us or laws our government may or may not pass drive our position on human sexuality.” Ricks said he takes his faith into everything he does, but that he would never discriminate against anyone in his position as a school board member.

Dr. Michele Condon, KSD superintendent, does not have a comment on the pastoral letter or how religious bias could affect the role of a school board member.

Jaco said the potential implications of a Ricks tenure in office would send a dangerous message to the members of the LGBT community living in Kirkwood. These students have already had a tough enough life, he said. In his Facebook post, Lyonfields cites a statistic from the Trevor Project that states lesbian, gay and bisexual people are five times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual ones, and 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide.

“While I have certain positions on morals and human choices of conduct, the greatest commandment that I have is to love my neighbor as myself,” Ricks said. “[When talking to someone] with whom I may have a respectful disagreement, I hope I would treat them with kindness and with love in the same way I hope they would treat me if they disagreed with me.”

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  • R

    Rebecca WiederkehrApr 1, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    To me the most important letter here for all of us to read is the one that speaks about a teen belonging to Rick’s church who came out because of the talk it was safe…everyone is loved, etc. Read his story, treated differently, dropped from possibility of leadership roles, etc. Read that letter and HEED! Words in action. It is from Denise March 30th.

  • L

    LisaMar 31, 2019 at 11:18 am

    I go to Greentree and I also have a different opinion on these topics than many Christians. In fact, I have always been outspoken in my belief that ALL people should be loved and embraced for who they are and for who God made them to be. In previous churches, I’ve felt ostracized for my beliefs in this matter. Not once have I ever felt like that at Greentree. I truly would not be a member at Greentree if I ever witnessed Tom treating anyone with anything less than kindness, respect and love. I find it worrisome that just because someone has a different opinion or thought about something they are considered wrong or a bigot. That is simply not true. When we make these assumptions about people without getting to know them, we are no better than them. I fully trust that Tom Ricks will make decisions based on what is best for ALL students. He wouldn’t have my vote if I doubted that for a second.

  • J

    JulieMar 31, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Those who want to criticize Mr. Ricks for “intolerance” might want to read a letter to the editor that appeared several months ago in the Webster-Kirkwood Times. In this letter, another school board candidate, Mark Boyko, bashed people who hold different viewpoints than his. Specifically, his letter was completely intolerant and demonizing of people with conservative opinions. I don’t see how this is any more acceptable than Mr. Rick’s personal opinions. The only difference is that Mr. Ricks advocates love to everyone, while Mr. Boyko show no tolerance whatsoever. Tolerance should go both ways; in this case it doesn’t.

  • K

    KurtMar 31, 2019 at 12:10 am

    The Pastoral letter is disturbing. As it concerns this article and the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community, the assertion of sexual orientation/ gender identity as a choice displays an ignorance of the psychological literature as well as the first hand experiences of that community.

    Underlying this disconnect is the belief espoused in an inerrant and infallible source of Truth, which runs counter to an educational system that is driven by inquiry, critical thinking, and weighing of evidence and perspectives. A board member must have this as a foundation.

    Moreover, if Ricks’ truth compass is “the” Bible, we have to ask, which Bible is the supposed inerrant, infallible one, as we have dozens of versions both historical and modern. Different books in different sequences for the Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant variants. And all versions have explicit or implicit support of slavery, misogyny, homophobia, genocide, death by stoning, etc. I’m not sure to what degree he is aware of this, but this strikes me as an extraordinarily strange platform from which to stand and speak of loving concern for students.

    Literalism in literature is deeply problematic, especially in an educational nexus, where we are teaching students to read with appreciation of cultural context, genre, rhetoric, and interpretation. Literalism is intellectually (if not morally) lazy, and it has no place in contemporary education, especially given the demands of the complex, rich culture that is Kirkwood. We can’t have laziness in our Board. Our kids deserve better.

  • K

    KarenMar 30, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    I was born and raised in Kirkwood and graduated from this High School. I have always thought SO highly of The Call, until now. Where are all the other candidates’ answers to these questions??? No where to be found. Very disappointing that the journalism is not being written fairly.

    With that being said, Tom Ricks is a man of upstanding character, treats those he comes across with kindness and love, and has served people of this community for a very long time. Anything that suggests otherwise is slanderous and based of off assumption and hate. Don’t believe everything you read, folks. And if you have a real issue with him, call the man up and sit down to talk to him like a human. Trashing others online, especially when you don’t know them, is a coward’s approach.

    I hope for the sake of the Kirkwood school district, that the community will have the opportunity to have someone like Tom in their corner. Truly.

  • N

    Nancy Nix-RiceMar 30, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    As the parent of an LGBTQ young adult who went through the Kirkwood school system, I can think of few phrases more disingenuous and deeply hurtful than that “hate the sin, love the sinner” garbage. It is essentially saying that my child’s very existence – her God-given identity – is a sin. I wouldn’t wish that man’s attitude on any group of young people. I wish I still lived in Kirkwood so I could vote against him.

  • D

    DeniseMar 30, 2019 at 10:27 am

    I found this article from a link on a Facebook post made by a member of Ricks’ church. He was an active teen member of the church, growing in faith and who felt so accepted that he thought it was safe to reveal to the church that he was gay. Suddenly he was dropped from leadership roles and eventually almost all of the activities he was in, and was singled out by Ricks who commented to him directly about coming out. A person as judgmental as Ricks has no business in a leadership role in an already inclusive and accepting school district. This is not about the media or having people of “varying beliefs” represented on the school board, it is about having adults who can responsibily represent ALL students’ best interests – gay or straight, black or white, Muslim or Christian or Atheist. Ricks’ homophobic attitude has been witnessed and shared by church members and documented on paper for all to see. How much more does a person have to do for you to recognize him as homophobic? LGBTQ Americans have fought incredibly hard to exist without being condemned, let alone receive the same civil rights as other Americans. To put a clearly identified homophobic man in a leadership position in a school district is to take a step back into the dark ages. Why isn’t he posting on this article instead of his wife to tout his so-called “inclusive” attitude. This close to an election, if he feels he has been misrepresented he should be all over the media and sociall media defending his views. It is wonderful that his wife loves him and says he loves kids, but she is not running for school board and he is. To “hate the sin but not the sinner” implies that there is something wrong with LGBTQ students (or adults). If Ricks had a public record of living a life “loving” LGBTQ individuals, then this would not be getting so much attention. But what someone says vs how someone acts sends a very strong message. If his church is so accepting of LGBTQ members, then where are they, speaking up to defend his honor? If Ricks won’t come out and defend his homophobia and biggoted beliefs openly and publicly, then what else is he hiding?

  • J

    JimMar 30, 2019 at 9:05 am

    I think it’s interesting that those who disagree with Pastor Rick’s Christian beliefs are demonizing them in much the same manner as they claim his beliefs demonize their beliefs. Jaco’s views can be viewed as self serving as he is a part of the media and controversy means ratings, views, etc. Does his views reflect his personal or religious beliefs or just views to inflame and fan flames of controversy? Should we demonize him as well? How many teachers, administrators, school board members, or candidates hold racist, homophobic, anti Semetic, chauvinistic, or other controversial beliefs that no one is aware of because they choose to keep them hidden away in order to keep their positions of power and influence? Isn’t it more likely, and thus more dangerous, that they can make decisions based on their views/beliefs without the spotlight shining on them? I think someone with the integrity to publicly state their beliefs, even if you don’t agree with him or her, is a better candidate than those who have a hidden agenda and state popular beliefs in order to get elected. It is possible to have different beliefs and still work together for the betterment of all.

  • S

    SarahMar 30, 2019 at 1:40 am

    This has made me not want my children to be a part of the KSD. We want to celebrate and promote diversity in the district.. unless it differs from a certain point of view. We want what’s best for children but all this is teaching them to do is either a) not accept somebody else thinks differently than you.. call them names, make sure you don’t get to know them or befriend them because they think differently than you or b) never speak up about what you believe in, in fear that you will be ripped to shreds as a human being.

    Yesterday I asked the daughter of a friend of mine, who happens to be a gay student at KHS, how she felt about all of this. She said 1) how can adults want us to grow up to be good people if they aren’t doing they themselves and 2) Kirkwood is a diverse community and opposing view points is part of that diversity. If we want to keep KSD diverse, we need to have a variety of decision makers that represent ALL students.

  • J

    JenniferMar 29, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Dave, are you a homosexual teenager? If not, I don’t think you can speak to how one would feel in the presence of someone he or she knows thinks that they are an abomination. Pastor Ricks says, “any sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman committed to each other for life is unhealthy and harmful”. For a queer teenager, sexual identity is typically a huge part of their self-identity, maybe moreso that their hetero counterparts. It is something that makes them ‘different’, which is hard for any teen. Developmentally, this is a time when they need the most acceptance, inclusion, and positivity. Pastor Rick is unable to provide this environment to them.

    Mrs. Ricks, rather than offer any kind of explanation for his words, simply says he is a good caring man. In fact, except for the weird political rant by Paul Bax, every other comment in support of Ricks focuses solely on his pastoral work and the fact that he is nice. There is a difference between the kinds of service projects he has led as a pastor and being in a position to make policy decisions for a public, non-religious school district. The fact that no evidence is provided that he has changed should be telling.

    Some of our neighboring school districts have had major issues because those with extremist views and agendas have made it onto their school boards. Comprehensive sex education is crucial to lowering teen pregnancy rates and contraction of STDs. Bible study has no place in a publicly-funded institution. That is what churches like Pastor Ricks’ are for. These are just a few instances of the issues some of our neighbors have faced when a board member who cares more for their religious views than for kids is elected.

    Pastor Ricks has made no statement retracting his letter or its contents. This should be huge red flag for anyone. Please vote for inclusivity and cast your ballot for Darnell Frost and Mark Boyko.

  • L

    Lennie LaBertaMar 29, 2019 at 8:26 am

    Pastor Ricks represents a dialogue that espoused racial prejudice and the inferiority of women. Now he’s using that tired nonsense to demonize LGBTQA folks who are our children, sisters, brothers, and friends. Stay strong, Kirkwood, resist the ugliness his rhetoric represents…..

  • T

    This dudeMar 29, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Anyone who believes a fundamental part of someone is wrong or sinful can not represent those people. This hate does not belong on the school board.

  • S

    Sharon Taysi, Former KHS GSA SponsorMar 29, 2019 at 1:57 am

    I want to know that all LGBTQA students feel loved and accepted as much as any other student in the Kirkwood School District. I hope that every current and future school board member will support the policies regarding harassment and discrimination. The letter was written 3 years ago, so I am hopeful that learning has occurred and that the rights of all students, staff, faculty, and district residents, no matter who they love, are acknowledged as superceeding the written religious statement. I deeply hope this is the case. I do not support the candidacy of a person who would stand by the content of the pastoral letter. This type of rhetoric cannot, shall not, must not be endured. Too many LGBTQA people have chosen to end their lives because of rhetoric and beliefs such as these.

  • D

    DaveMar 29, 2019 at 12:57 am

    Anyone that thinks being around Tom Ticks would be uncomfortable simply hasn’t been around Tom Ricks. He is an extremely polite and genuinely caring person. The thought that the statement “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not devisive at all as a previous commenter mentioned. If fact, it pushes FOR inclusion. Christians believe we are ALL sinners. Calling out sin is an act of love. Now we can all differ in what we believe is right and wrong (and guess what: we do, every single human), but just because someone believe a certain behavior may be sinful (theft, eating pork, homosexuality, or even dancing), does not mean that any love for that person in question is lost. Please keep this in mind. When it comes to serving our school systems, sexual orientation is the least of issues. No matter what or whom someone chooses to love, Tom Ricks isnt here to change that. He is a man of service and commitment. Ask ANYONE that knows him. Ain’t a mean bone in his body. Much love to you all. Please vote your mind, but don’t be distracted by intentionally distracting hype.

  • T

    Tyler GodbeyMar 28, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    Cindy, you and your husband are not as open to these communities as you claim to be. If you were, you would listen to the legitimate concerns of those affected, and recognize the place of hate and exclusion that beliefs like your husbands “hate the sin, not the sinner” come from. Language like that is used to express a division between two groups. It is used to reinforce the sense of superiority over another. Language like this leads to a myriad of horrific effects, from conflict in families, to abuse of queer children and teenagers, to disownment and homelessness of youth, to outright hate violence. The fact that you would defend this language not only shows that you are ignorant and unwilling to listen, but also quite frankly that you are unfit to appropriately and adequately listen to and represent the needs of the students in your care. No matter what you say, I am not confident in your ability to listen to the needs of your students, needs that might concern issues involving sexuality and gender identity, because you are not even able to listen to the LGBT community and its allies on this issue. It is unacceptable to defend these outdated and discriminatory beliefs, and anyone who does cannot be part of a system that protects and teaches the students in our community.

  • S

    SaraMar 28, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    @ Mrs. Ricks. I’m agnostic which is lack of religious belief so your comment about everyone having a belief system is false.
    A homophobic, transphobic man will make a LOT of students uncomfortable. He has a lot of explaining to do if he wants even a tiny chance to be accepted by Kirkwood.

  • C

    Cindy RicksMar 28, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    Well I’m going to be a little biased because Tom is my husband and this article does not show how he cares for people regardless of race, differences in faith or sexual orientation. Tom has been caring for kids in this school district behind the scenes for 22 years.
    We chose to raise our kids in the Kirkwood School District partly because of the diversity. Everyone has a belief or faith system. If you are an atheist that is still a belief system. We are involved in a public school system that tries to protect all those different belief systems. We come together as a community to care about each other and support each other. Our staff and our school board all come from different backgrounds and faith systems. We don’t try and force our beliefs on others. We concentrate on caring for and celebrating students. That is part of what makes KHS great.

  • M

    Marilou BecknerMar 28, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Please let’s not make this a one issue race.. Tom has been humble in service with addressing the needs of ALL the children of Kirkwood through such projects as Affordable Christmas, Matthew 20:28, Kirkcare and other out reach programs including early childhood tuition assistance for at risk children in the District. The list goes on.

  • A

    Asher WeinbergMar 28, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    Great article. Maybe go into how the students would feel if he got elected???