A plea to straight Christians

By Melissa Kohler, Guest Writer

Today’s guest post comes from a dear friend and straight ally at Wheaton College. Melissa Kohler, a senior rhetoric major, was inspired to write this post after observing the way many straight people in our community tend to interact within conversations about the LGBTQ community on campus, particularly this week as events have unfolded since the “apple-throwing incident”.

Dear Wheaton College Community,

I am not talking to the infamous apple thrower. I am talking to you, the one reading this right now. Yes, you. I am angry because we sit in our straight privilege. Yes, you read that correctly, straight privilege. I have straight privilege and so do you. We don’t experience judgment, animosity, and malcontent because of who we are attracted to; that my friend, is privilege. We aren’t condemned because of who we are attracted to; that is privilege. Yes, the apple-throwing guy did a bad thing. But what angers my soul? What makes my body shake with angry frustrated sobbing on the bathroom floor? The complacency of the everyday evangelical Christian, in particular the Wheaton College Community, toward our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.

We are all too concerned about “right” theology versus “wrong” theology when it comes to the “gay issue.” Theology matters. But do you know who else was more concerned about the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law? The Pharisees.

The Pharisees thought Jesus was a crazy heretic. He prioritized loving people and broke cultural and social norms. He loved the prostitutes and the tax collectors. Now, take a deep breath and think about that for a second. Have you ever been accused of being a heretic, because you were more concerned about loving and listening than figuring out whose hermeneutics of Scripture were superior?

I’m tired of hearing dismissive voices saying, “Well I didn’t throw the apple!” or “Oh, I don’t make gay jokes!” But do you go out of your way to figure out what this whole experience is like for an LGBTQ brother or sister in Christ? Do you look outside of your own worldview and consider that there are LGBTQ Christians in our communities, even if they go unacknowledged at Wheaton College? Their presence is a fact. They exist. You can engage in selective exposure, but you cannot wish them away.

You can choose to only read arguments that you agree with. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that a Liberal Arts education combined with the earnest search for truth should motivate you to look at all sides of a debate. You need to look at the best arguments on both sides, even if that terrifies you and might prove your original stance wrong. If you change your mind, I promise the world won’t end. God won’t change. Your perception of Him might, but He will not change. If you truly listen to the stories of LGBTQ people, your heart will bleed with tears. You may need to beg God for grace and kindness toward Christians who don’t give a second thought about LGBTQ people. But he will remind you that you too were once that way. You too once didn’t care about the “homosexuals”. He will teach you that love bears all. He will also forgive you when you fail to speak with gentleness.

We cannot simply ignore LGBTQ Christians and our own assumptions about them. So, are they all mindless heretics? Do they just succumb to their attractions?

We need to consider that they may actually take Scripture seriously. That they might look into the context, audience, author, translation etc. and don’t just “chuck out the parts of Scripture that make them uncomfortable.”

You think the LGBTQ vs. Christian debate is hard for the Church? Just imagine having that turmoil within your own soul, ripping you to shreds from the inside out. While we’re sitting in judgment (maybe covertly and quietly, but judgment nonetheless), they are working out their faith with fear and trembling. No, legitimately, I mean real fear and physical trembling.

So, I implore you: examine your heart. Examine your mind. Ask questions. Hold off your judgments. Allowing yourself to suspend your judgment is not weak, it’s indicative of a heart full of wisdom, compassion, and discernment. Make a friend who is LGBTQ and connect with other peers who care about these topics. Read a book about someone who is navigating their LGBTQ identity or is deeply committed to walking alongside those who are (i.e. books by Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, Andrew Marin or Kathy Baldock). Read books of all experiences, not just ones you agree with.

Like it or not, this is the issue of our day. Closing our eyes and holding our bibles closely to our chests is not going to change that. Let’s not be afraid use the Liberal Arts education we’re blessed with to fairly, and likely uncomfortably, examine our presuppositions.

The world is looking to us. How will you respond?

With concern,

Melissa Kohler

Rationalizing Injustice: How We Defend Acts Against Minority People

By Justin Massey

It is pressing that we start listening to the valid pain of minorities in our community and begin empowering the beloved of God rather than defending the actions of those who wrong them.

Yesterday morning the students of Wheaton College gathered together, eager to present candid questions to the college president at the annual Town Hall Chapel. Students approached the standing microphones—some asking light, comical questions and some engaging more controversial or serious matters.

The student body showed great respect, occasionally applauding, as these students spoke. However, there was no applause for one student who spoke against the injustice he has witnessed his LGBT peers experience. A brother in Christ and ally to the LGBT community, he boldly questioned the oppression and exclusion that has harmed a demographic we should be embracing and loving. Instead of being greeted by support, he faced mostly silence before an apple was thrown at him by a peer in the crowd. No matter why this individual decided to throw the apple, it was more than simply disruptive. It was hurtful. For some of us in Wheaton’s LGBT community, it felt as if this student was spitting in our face as this ally voiced the deep pain we experience day-to-day.

Interestingly, the response of others following the incident disturbs me more than the action itself. I saw peers exert more effort into rationalizing the offense rather than demonstrating support to the LGBT community whose experiences were disrespected. From three separate individuals I have heard that the disruptive student simply felt “the question was just too long,” “the tone of the inquiring student appeared rude,” and even “ it was simply a joke gone wrong.” Each of these answers has one thing in common: they take responsibility off of the offending individual in an attempt to absolve this student of displaying any prejudice against a minority group. This incident affected more people than just the student who was hit. While it is wrong to show disrespect to any person, acting against an individual who raises minority concerns holds a different weight. It affirms the hateful messages that tell these already disadvantaged persons that they are not valued and undeserving of respect. Therefore, the intent of the disruptive student does not need justification or clarification because, no matter the reason, the incident perpetuated the isolation and pain LGBT students experience. 

I find dismissive responses to be quite common in our society more generally. When a majority person offends a minority we are quick to offer up excuses. We live in a world that encourages us to rationalize our micro-aggressions rather than own up to them. As a male and a white person, I have seen this play out in my own privileged communities. We’ll do anything to avoid having to consider one of our own to “racist” or “sexist” as if coming to terms with the reality of our offenses and prejudices will bring more pain to our community than we have caused to minorities through our own actions. When we see a black person, a trans* person, a woman or any other minority attacked or offended we often brush this off and consider it to simply be a person in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” If that is the case it seems minority people are in a perpetual state of being in “the wrong place at the wrong time” as they face disproportionate rates of violence and discrimination just because of who they are.

We need to consider thoughtfully, especially as people of faith, why we are so quick to defend our actions when they hurt others. We are called to confess our errors and seek reconciliation with those we wrong. If we are more concerned about excusing the intent behind a disrespectful action than the impact it has on those affected, we are not adequately displaying Christ’s profound love and humility. We must demonstrate to our peers that we are unwilling to stand for homophobic disrespect and seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we have hurt our peers. We must be committed to loving and embracing those who are oppressed rather than rationalizing the actions of those who oppress. Let’s stop being defensive in our failings but rather join together as a confessional community united in our pursuit of justice.

Are Christian Colleges Oppressive to LGBT Students?

by Sara Kohler, Guest Writer

Justin Massey, Co-Writer

As a lesbian and a current student at Wheaton College, I feel it is important for me to speak out on an issue that concerns me. Each year I have studied here, Wheaton has ranked as one of the top 5 most LGBT-unfriendly campuses in the United States. Instead of being troubled, I have seen our community shrug off this ranking. The common response to this accusation is that Wheaton is only considered LGBT-unfriendly by ‘secular liberals’ or ‘progressive Christians’ who see our college as oppressive simply because same-sex relationships are not affirmed. This implies that Wheaton College is not actually an oppressive place for LGBT students. These skeptics would suggest that LGBT students only think they are oppressed by not being allowed to date, which isn’t oppression at all, just biblical living.

It’s true that Christians who support LGBT people often do—and should—believe Wheaton is oppressive to its LGBT students. However, the difficulties these students face are a result of much more than just the college’s policy which prohibits ‘homosexual behavior.’ While these vague policies are a source of frustration and confusion for some, the pain and isolation LGBT students experience is evidence of a culture of ignorance. The oppression they feel comes from a deeper message communicated to them, one which does not affirm their value as contributing members of the community or even their lives.

Not being allowed to date is not the worst thing in the world. There are messages communicated to me and my LGBT peers which are much more crushing, including the idea that our desire for intimacy is inherently sinful, utterly broken. This message is uniquely delivered to LGBT people and perpetuates serious shame within an already disadvantaged community.

Conversations happen around campus which try to address LGBT issues, but they often exclude the voices of current LGBT students. These attempts appear only mildly sympathetic, and they often suggest—if indirectly—that LGBT Christians must work to change something about themselves which they have no control over. It feels to many that our college is unwilling—or unable—to outright clarify the value of its LGBT students. This truth is clear in Wheaton’s refusal to speak out against the “hope for change” or reparative therapy which has been so clearly shown as dangerous again and again.

I have personally prayed for my orientation to change. I have sobbed in my room, begging God to take my feelings away. This mentality, this hope I had of one day being straight caused nothing but shame and hurt within me. I am not alone in this experience, as many other LGBT Christians have dealt with the deep pain associated with a practice some consider “hope,” but which is shown to be destructive. The fall of the ex-gay organization, Exodus International, along with many of their leaders rebuking the practice of orientation change is proof that what was previously an “option” for LGBT Christians, simply isn’t.

As Christians, we must listen to the voices of our LGBT brothers and sisters since only they can speak firsthand to their experience.  Yet, so many heterosexual believers still deny the plain evidence which shows orientation to be an inherent characteristic of LGBT persons. If Wheaton College, and other Christian institutions want to truly support their LGBT members they could start by demonstrating their love and support—this includes speaking out against practices which perpetuate misinformation and abuse.

Being LGBT at Wheaton is difficult for reasons far more significant than the college’s dating policy. Evangelical Christianity at times views LGBT people as a special group of broken, sinful people, but in reality we should embrace these members of Christ’s body as our own. Let’s speak out against practices like reparative therapy and demonstrate clearly the value that all people have as children of God. The lives of all people are important and beautiful regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I would encourage institutions like Wheaton College to engage LGBT people personally about their experiences and to learn how to engage in respectful, inclusive dialogue in order to create a safe, supportive environment. I don’t yet know if Wheaton can become a place where LGBT students can truly thrive or if we can ever get our ranking off of the list of most LGBT-unfriendly schools, yet we must attempt to make that possible. I believe God can accomplish incredible work in our communities. This is a ‘hope for change’ I can fully affirm.

Abandoning Inclusion: Rejecting Voices that Damage

By Justin Massey

I once advocated for absolute inclusion.

Now I admit I no longer support this ideal.

As a gay Christian, I experienced too many sleepless nights—overwhelmed with the exclusion and hurt I felt from well-intentioned people dedicated to Christ. In these moments of crisis, with tears in my eyes, I swore that I would make a space for all people. While I will always push for grace and love for all people, I now realize that sometimes my very faith calls me to reject particular voices that cause only damage and pain. The words of a few have wreaked havoc on God’s beloved for far too long.

Yesterday a dear friend and brilliant woman of God, Julie Rodgers, was disparaged by an article which intended to give ‘all sides of the story.’ Rodgers, a celibate gay woman, is a beloved mentor to many and a new addition to the Wheaton College staff this year. This article was allegedly written to provide a balanced conversation. However, all it did was 1) criticize my college for hiring a qualified staff member who is entirely committed to its theology and 2) promote ‘reparative therapy’ which so many have rejected, even in the conservative church, as highly dangerous and problematic.

This voice is one seat I will unapologetically remove from my table.

I like to think I am level-headed and promote broad inclusion that might make some uncomfortable. For instance, I embrace my LGBT brothers and sisters who believe God blesses same-sex relationships. At the same time I will always allow for those who are called to celibacy or even believe they must personally work to change their orientation.

However, I will not stand by as someone speaks in order to do little more than shamelessly attack my sister in Christ. LGBT individuals are hugely important to the Church. For a believer to condemn a person for simply having a non-heterosexual orientation (not talking about behavior here) is for them to blatantly reject an entire group of people. This leads not only to serious personal damage for the one marginalized, but also to the loss of something incredible value in our Church: diversity.

Senior student, Jordan-Ashley Barney, who was quoted in the aforementioned article under false pretenses, explained to me the value of including LGBT persons in our faith communities. She believes that “other orientations bring diversity and experience, [and] this experience makes us whole people. We experience God’s grace and love in different ways. If we had people of one experience…this would be lost.”

The hiring of Julie Rodgers has indeed been shown to be an incredible gain for community at Wheaton College. Sara Kohler, a senior at Wheaton who identifies as a lesbian, explained some of the difficulties of life at an evangelical college, “Half of my LGBTQ friends have dropped out due to psychological stress or worse. I have had friends try and commit suicide because of the messages the church sends LGBTQ people. The subsequent hopelessness is overwhelming.” In a space that often feels despairing Kohler went on to affirm “the hiring of Julie Rodgers [as] the first time [she has] seen Wheaton College listen to the needs of LGBTQ students…She is unanimously loved [and] to disparage her is completely inappropriate.”

If you are wondering whether or not we ought to demand LGBT persons to change, you are asking the wrong question. Rather than criticizing the story of those working according to traditional theology, lets applaud our brothers and sisters making huge strides for the Kingdom and ask how we can create a safer space in which we can share the hope of the Gospel.

While I used to support a balanced conversation in every context regardless of the consequences, I am realizing that the most Christian answer may not always to fully embrace every view point. In fact the most Christ-like response may be to rebuke those perspectives that fail to embody the profound love of our Savior.

All people are children of God including LGBT persons. It is against the very nature of Christ and His love to demonstrate the sort of insensitivity and aggression my community faces on a daily basis. Therefore, I will reject the voices of those who contribute to this injustice.

We are not called to make sure people feel comfortable.

We are called to love in the radical way that Christ has loved us.

An open letter to non-affirming Christians

By Nathan Barber

Dear non-affirming Christians,

You’ve told me a million times. You disagree with my ‘lifestyle’ (whatever that means) but you still love me. You completely affirm my humanity and believe that I, as a gay man, am just as much made in the image of God as you are. I get it. I wish you would affirm my relationships too, but I get it. I really do. It’s just that I’m not quite sure anymore that I believe that you love me as much as you say you do. In fact, I’m doubting whether you have ever actually meant it at all. Because if you really do love me, then where the heck have you been?

Circulating around Facebook and Twitter last week was an abhorrent video of a man who calls himself a “pastor” claiming that we should execute every gay person in an attempt to achieve an “AIDS-Free Christmas”. His disgusting “sermon” was received with applause and even laughter from his congregation. I’m not going to link to the video because I don’t want to give that man any more attention than he already has, but if you really feel like viewing this grotesque hate-filled sermon, a simple google search should take you right to the video. LGBT people were obviously outraged, and hurt by this man’s words, and they wasted no time dancing around how they really felt. But you, the non-affirming Christians in my life who claim to love me and affirm my full humanity? I didn’t hear a single one of you speak up in defense of me or of anyone in the LGBT community.

So what’s the deal? Where are on earth were you last week? A pastor of an actual church just said out loud that I and everyone like me should die, in order to rid the world of a disease that many of us don’t even have. And you say nothing? Really? I’m going to be honest here. That hurts.

I’ve spoken with a few of you about this recently. One of you gave me a grand speech and told me you don’t believe that this guy is a real Christian because of the hate that he preaches, and therefore he isn’t worth getting angry over. Another one of you said that this man’s craziness is “peripheral” and isn’t worth more than a roll of the eyes while scrolling through your news feed.

I might have been able to appreciate those sentiments if this was an isolated incident. But sadly, it’s not. As Eliel Cruz rightly points out in his Religion News Service article, this “pastor’s” comments are “…a product of decades of homophobic rhetoric that has been promoted from our pulpits.”

Yes, I agree that claims like the one made by this pastor are crazy and outlandish, and they don’t bear even the slightest hint of credibility. But day after day, and week after week, and year after year, people like him are allowed to continue broadcasting their hate, with almost no consequences and barely a peep is heard from other Christian’s in defense of the people these monsters are cursing.

Those of us in the LGBT Christian community, as well as some faithful allies, are fighting hard to create a counter-narrative and we are slowly succeeding. However, our efforts can only go so far as long as so many of you who claim to love us say nothing.

Non-affirming Christians, it’s time for a reality check. The time for privileged apathy is long past. If you really love us the way you say you do, then the very least you can do is speak up in some way to defend the humanity of your LGBT brothers and sisters. A simple Facebook status, would suffice. And we all know how much you love “Farewell Tweets”. Maybe you could actually put one to good use. Anything you can do to counter the narrative that LGBT people are hated by God is better than nothing. If that’s too much for you, then do us all a favor: cut the crap and admit that you in your complacency are no better than this vile man in his hate. Because love is more than a fuzzy feeling. Love is either a verb, or it is meaningless.

I challenge you, non-affirming Christians, to break out of your comfort zones, and boldly fight for justice for the oppressed, even the oppressed people with whom you disagree.

I want to believe that you love me, but I’m going to need a lot more convincing.

Sincerely,
Nathan

At Wheaton College, We Stand for Ferguson & Justice

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By Justin Massey

I wept silent, powerful tears as I left from chapel this morning at Wheaton College.

I was overwhelmed seeing my community demonstrate the radical love of Christ, which refuses to stand for injustice.

I walked down the steps of Edman Chapel to witness hundreds of students, faculty and staff standing with signs and chanting. The message was simple. They were there to proclaim to our community and to the world that “black lives matter.” Since the grand-jury decided against the indictment of the police officer who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, communities have been protesting across the country recognizing the broad systemic issues facing racial minorities in the United States. Occasionally someone will claim we live in a post-racial society, but increasingly people are speaking out with certainty that ours is a broken system that does not value all lives equally.

Michael Rau, senior, co-organized the event at Wheaton. He explained that “Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson by the hands of Officer Wilson is located within this larger context of repeated structural oppression…Thus, irrespective of the particularities of the Ferguson case, we must, at a minimum, decry the structural evils of our country that continue to disproportionately target and claim the lives of people of color.

My community came together today to stand in solidarity with the city of Ferguson and to mourn the valuable lives of racial minorities lost every day in our depraved, unfair world. A mass of participants marched across campus, and proceeded to lay down in public spaces on campus for 4.5 minutes to represent the 4.5 hours that Mike Brown lay in the street.

I find myself frustrated by the Christian response to systemic issues. We often have good intentions. We desire to respond to injustice in the world, but are afraid to directly speak to systems of power. We fear that explicit action would reflect poorly on our faith or end up “politicizing” the truth of the gospel. We mean well, but we are not mobilized to act boldly in the way we should. We must remember that the Lord requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8 ESV).

We must do justice.

This is exactly what took place today at Wheaton College.

Jennifer Fu, senior, co-organizer alongside Rau explained the event was an attempt “[to live] up to Wheaton College’s motto ‘For Christ and His Kingdom.’ As an institution that grew out of an abolitionist movement and an institution that has tremendous power and influence in the Evangelical realm, we…believe it is our responsibility to fight for justice, equality, and freedom with our voice and our action.”

Rau further explained the progress the event represents, “Today, with Dr. Ryken present at our final stop of our peaceful protest…we have rekindled that fire and vision [of racial justice] that has remained dormant for so long.”

Wheaton College is by no means perfect, but I’m uniquely moved by what I saw on campus this morning. I am excited to see the Spirit of God continue to work in this place. May we move forward encouraged, but continue to speak out because as we chanted this morning, “no justice; no peace.”


Confessions of an Imperfect Gay Christian

By Justin Massey

I’m done. I’m throwing in the towel.

I’m handing in my official resignation as the perfectionist, the ideal gay Christian.

I am one of few openly gay students at Wheaton College, and honestly, the pressure overwhelms me. The truth is I am a complicated, broken person struggling to find my place in a world I don’t quite understand. At times I find myself unintentionally speaking for all LGBT people just because I am uncomfortable staying silent. When I recognize the focus placed upon me I shut down any vulnerability, and I assert the elements of myself that I believe to be acceptable. However, I can no longer live in fear of making a mistake because of how that might reflect on my minority group, and I refuse to censor my desire for justice even if that means being labelled the ‘angry minority.’ While I hope my story will continue to encourage others, no person can thrive while carrying the weight of a community’s reputation on their shoulders.

I am not alone in this pressure. As Laura Statesir writes in her piece, Being the Token Gay Christian, “It is an unjust burden that LGBTQ Christians have to be on their best behavior; that we are not allowed to be human because we must be more than.” We come from unique backgrounds and experiences. We have different goals and different means to reach those goals. Yet, our narratives become marginalized and conflated, and society no longer recognizes our distinct voices. Instead, they hear one narrative, the voice of the one who speaks the loudest or the one whose story most closely aligns with the values of the majority.

Once we discover the eyes of the community upon us we find ourselves with a choice: face the pressure to perform or stay silent.

But we have every right to just be okay and still to speak out.

We should reject the generalization of us as weak and wounded people, but we also must allow ourselves to feel the pain and difficulty of the oppression we face. We can recognize our valuable contributions, while denying the pressure to be perfect. As LGBT people in the Church, we fight for our very existence. In order to even be respected, we feel forced to exert ourselves as perfect beings. We feel any flaw will hand those who oppose us all the evidence they need to consider us unworthy of love.  

At Wheaton, you might expect LGBT persons to demand less of each other than the rest of the community does on us, but this is often not the case. We often allow only those voices which fit within the realm we deem appropriate. We have a set of ideals which constitute what it means to be a valid, ‘good’ member of our body. Our understanding of ‘good’ caters specifically to the comfort of the majority. We forget to encourage the world to view us as unique individuals. We fear that negative perceptions of us would spread if we allowed space for all voices. Instead of tearing down the stereotypes and assumptions that marginalize us, we attempt to build socially appropriate ones for us to step into. We must recognize that stereotypes only simplify diverse, complex people. This runs contrary to what our goal should be as both Christians and marginalized people: to include and embrace all.

At times it feels we have the entire system set against us, trying to tear us down. We are in a society that has us swimming upstream; forcing us to move against the current. Let’s applaud those who excel, but let’s also encourage those who simply continue to swim at all.

Let’s recognize the value of all people. Let’s rebuke judgment and exclusion of one another as nothing short of immoral. As we love our neighbors as Christ has loved us, let us raise up high our community’s many complex stories. We have so much to share with the world. Therefore, let’s speak out from our own spaces and allow all the diversity among us to be heard. We cannot attempt to please others by changing ourselves. Rather, let’s push with perseverance for messy inclusion which recognizes us all as God’s beloved.