This continues our weekend Student Series: Homosexuality and the Adventist Campus.
Southern Adventist University has a reputation as a beacon of conservatism among Adventist colleges and universities. For many this is a positive thing but I see one glaring problem. I fear that the often sheltered culture that Southern operates in has left too many students ignorant of the nature and reality of homosexuality. Insensitivity is rampant.
Calling someone a “fag,” or referring to something or someone you don’t like as “gay,” is far too common on our campus. For awhile it was even popular for two guys to greet each other with a hug or close handshake and in unison say, “no homo,”– a phrase copied from a bigoted internet video that circulated the campus.
To be fair, these actions rarely stem from any sort of hatred. The Adventist community as a whole and Southern in particular needs simply to be educated. The presence of gays and lesbians at Southern is probably unknown to a large portion of our student body. Homosexuals are stereotyped as being non-Christian, and certainly non-Adventist.
Last year, three fellow students and I hosted a panel discussion to try to combat this prevalent ignorance. The discussion was presented as a formal debate but we four who participated were all close friends and the arguments were all laid out ahead of time. Raymond Thompson and I took the position that homosexuality is not a sin, while our counterparts, Jeremy Morell and Matthew Burdette, maintained the traditional perspective that it is. All four of us did our best to defend our positions logically and biblically but most of all compassionately. The summary of the discussion was a message we all shared: whether you believe homosexuality to be sinful or not we must embrace our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters into our fellowship. If God wills that they be changed then God will change them. We must fulfill our Christian duty to love one another.
The discussion was sponsored by the Social Work Department, the History Department, and the Chaplain’s Office. We had asked the School of Religion to be a sponsor but they declined to do so stating that if the department’s name was going to be used then the department ought to have authority in the content of the discussion. Just a week after the panel took place we found out what the School of Religion’s content would have been when they hosted their own panel discussion.
Theirs, like ours, had four panel members and one moderator. While ours had four student panelists and one faculty moderator, the Religion Department’s was comprised of a faculty moderator, three faculty and one student panelist. The most notable difference was that while we presented both a progressive and traditional position the School of Religion unanimously condemned the homosexual lifestyle as sinful. While some on this faculty panel were more sensitive than others, one statement still stands out in my memory as particularly crude and hurtful.
After making a grotesque description of homosexual relations a local pastor summarized that homosexuality is, “a reflection of Satan and his hatred of God.” What message did this send to the young homosexuals in the audience that night? Imagine what it would feel like to have someone tell you that your nature is unnatural; your love is hateful to God; your desire for companionship is a reflection of Satan’s will.
As a result of definitively judgmental statements like this the GLBT community at Southern is in hiding. The Collegedale Church has a website used by Southern students called Church Secrets. It’s advertised as a place to “anonymously voice your doubts, questions, and secrets.” People on the site have made confessions about doubting God, having various addictions, and general discouragement. On this website at least six different students anonymously admitted to being gay. Some of them said that only their close friends know while others confessed lying even to their own family.
These are young people in our own midst who, because of our judgmental spirit, are hiding from us. Their writing makes it obvious that these are people compelled with a love for Christ and a desire to serve him. They do not lament that they cannot serve the body of Christ. They can be active in the church because they keep their identities hidden. What breaks their hearts, and what ought to break ours, is that the church cannot truly serve them.
As one poster wrote, “When I look around and sense the people in His church who are as hollow and hurting and aching inside… I become the hands of God that I wish could be present in my own life. [Hands] that I wish could hold me when I’m the one wondering if there is anyone who can know me without judging me because I am created differently.”
The degree to which the school’s policies are intolerant is not clear. As it stands now in the Student Handbook, “sexual immorality,” is listed as an offense worthy of suspension. This vague and under-defined regulation concerns me. A boy on campus who has a girlfriend is not committing sexual immorality but is a boy with a boyfriend? It must be made clear to the GLBT community on campus that they will be not be punished or reprimanded for anything that would go unpunished among heterosexuals.
Whatever claim we may make to be a community dedicated to the message and ministry of Jesus is nullified when an entire demographic of students on our campus is forced into choosing between living a lie or being rejected. There are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Seventh-day Adventists and my hope is that Southern does not lag too far behind in accepting this reality. The church’s theology won’t change over night but that isn’t necessary. Southern’s administration, however, can and must reach out with a hand of tolerance and compassion to those whom we have forced into hiding.