Tag Archives: Calvin College

Something to be thankful for

While most people are out shopping or enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, I’m trying to finally find the words of gratitude for an unlooked for moment of healing and reconciliation.

If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to go take a look at the comments left on my last post from Nov. 16. Julia Smith, program coordinator at Student Life and director of the Sexuality Series at Calvin College, left some very heartfelt, honest, and perceptive thoughts that, frankly, took me aback.

Years removed from “Memogate” (a nickname I’m hereby disavowing for its crass intonations), I expected that this was something I had gotten over. In the ensuing e-mail exchange between Julia and myself, however, I came to realize how much hurt and resentment I was still carrying around.

As you may see documented in past writing in the Chimes and message board discussions, the response towards the LGBT community’s outrage was pretty condescending. Though they too were indignant, some in the faculty told us to settle down and let them sort it out because it was nothing to do with us, it was purely a question of academic freedom. Let the adults handle this one, kids. Meanwhile, the administration insisted that nothing had changed and that we were simply clarifying and reaffirming our stance in regards to homosexuality.

As I read back through the words I wrote in September of that year, my own anger surprises me.

If we wish to move forward together, then we must act visibly together from the top of the administration all the way down to the student body. Panels on academic freedom are not enough; running the Synod’s prayer for reconciliation into the ground with overuse only exacerbates the issue after a point. Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi’s words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” might be a place to start as we think about practically living out our call to reconciliation rather than just praying it once or twice every year. Rather than simply clarifying the Memo, a public apology to an already ostracized minority and a public reaffirmation to strive for a more hospitable campus could be in order — if such a commitment still stands.

To move on, we must remember the grievance. To rejoice in the new direction we are taking, we must acknowledge where we’ve been. And I do believe that we’re headed in a new direction.

Just a brief aside that I would like to make clear:

Although Julia took it upon herself to apologize, I have never held her responsible for the actions taken by the Calvin administration. She was a bystander in what took place. I find it all the more humbling that she took it upon herself to intervene here where there was no need on her part, and I take inspiration in her actions as an example of what it means to take part in that great Reformed tradition of the renewal of God’s creation. She’s showing us a beautiful example of what it means to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for renewed hope, new beginnings, and new friendships in unexpected places. Though there’s work to be done, I’m grateful for a bright future for members of the LGBT community at Calvin College and the progress that’s being made year-by-year, one conversation at a time, through the diligence of some remarkable students and dedicated folks in the faculty and administration. I’m grateful for the power of one voice speaking out in truth and love.

Julia, you are an inspiration for us all in your desire to heal, your desire to learn, your desire to undo injustice.

jrm

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Kudos to the Calvin Chimes

Wanted to give a shout-out to the folks at the Calvin Chimes, the student newspaper at Calvin College, for the great feature story that they ran this week.

Allowing minorities to define themselves and put their own stories in writing is a powerful thing, particularly in the sort of atmosphere fostered by Calvin College where, as one writer this week pointed out, LGBT related questions are so often purely speculative or “academic,” since few students are willing to put themselves forward as members of the community.

Other writers pointed out that they felt unsure of being able to find their place on campus were they to come out of the closet.

The articles are all pretty short. Go ahead and check them out for yourself.

I suppose I was pretty struck by how all the stories sound like the stories we were telling when I was a student at Calvin College. Reading through many of the articles, I thought to myself, “I remember when I thought that! I remember that point in my life when I said that, too.”

Although I haven’t been gone from Calvin all that long (I graduated in 2010), it’s disheartening to see that little has changed. I don’t go back, so I’m only peripherally aware of what’s going on at Calvin through reading the Chimes, the Facebook grapevine, etc. but I felt as though everything I’d been hearing from folks was that “things are changing, things are getting better.”

I have only one critique to offer the good folks at Chimes, which I do so lovingly: Everyone in this story is, so far as we can tell (there are a couple silhouetted photos), white, and almost everyone is male. Calvin is such a white institution as it is, I believe that it must be downright isolating to try and establish a place for yourself on campus as both a racial minority and also as a member of the LGBT community. There are stories there that need to be told. A writer I already linked to pointed out how very few queer women are out at Calvin College. I’m not quite sure why the atmosphere at Calvin lends itself to this sort of climate where there are lots of gay men and relatively few queer women.

What are your thoughts? Any other Calvin alums seeing this as a sign of positive change? 

Again, kudos to you, Calvin Chimes. You are the best thing about Calvin College. (And how I miss that old office.)

jrm

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So close, and yet so far

Two weeks ago, my alma mater, Calvin College, hosted gay Christian theologian Wesley Hill to share his thoughts about friendship, intimacy, and the Church’s responsibility towards its gay and lesbian members.

Hill’s talk was particularly frustrating for me because, in many ways, he’s right on the money in what he has to say about our society under-appreciating deep friendship and overstating romantic love as a be-all, end-all; yet the way in which he framed his discussion seemed to be completely off. LGBT people already understand the fundamental need for deep friendship in a world where we often face rejection – from our families, our religious communities, our neighbors, etc. Deep friendship is how we survive.

Hill’s talk seemed eager to get this point across to the Church while seeking some form of approbation for these relationships. I wrote a former professor of mine on the subject.

I don’t understand Wesley’s needs for a legitimacy from outside forces for his friendships. I realize that I’m a crazy, left-field progressive, but the whole talk seemed a little Eyeore-ish to me, and that’s precisely what breaks my heart.

The only thing that I can say in my own defense for making that comment is that I once believed all of this. Up until I was 20 or so, I was wholeheartedly committed to lifelong celibacy. I think that this mindset of, “I can’t, I’m gay” is unhealthy and rotten to the core and needs to be dismantled as swiftly as possible. If God has called you to be celibate, then I admire you and your calling. However, I don’t believe God calls people on such shallow and superficial grounds as their orientation. I don’t mean that smugly, either. Perhaps I shall be called to celibacy in my life. I could accept this. I cannot accept that choice being made for me by others, however, when they know so little of my situation. I don’t want to see others buy into this mindset that the choice has already been made simply because they are LGB.

I wish to reiterate that I do appreciate the prophetic call Hill offered, asking the Church to reconsider the way that we have placed marriage on a pedestal as the ultimate form of love.

One of my biggest critiques of this sort of discussion is that it perpetuates an obsession by the heterosexual world with the sex lives of LGBT people. I think that the deeper longing most of us feel for a significant other is not about someone to have sex with but someone to wake up to in the morning, someone with whom you can share life’s big moments, someone who will tell you that everything is going to be okay when you have more bills due than money in the bank.

Hill himself pointed this out in his comments, pointing to a letter which he received from a friend who poured out his longing for a companion who could be there with him and for him in such times.

So why can’t we be content with friends to share these moments with? Why don’t we simply live in intentional community? Well, why don’t we pose this question to the heterosexual community?

Here’s some of my reaction I wrote to a former professor of mine from Calvin College who took the time to write me some of her own thoughts:

There is an implied choice: relationship or friends. I don’t consider that a legitimate choice that needs to be made and, in all fairness, I imagine Wesley would agree. The talk, however, is quite explicitly targeted to LGB folks and how they might be able to compensate for lacking a significant other. I find this troubling because I think that there are many straight folks out there as well who are celibate and could use a word of encouragement in this. What troubles me is not the talk of celibacy but rather the implications that this is a special domain specifically for LGB folks. When we talk about the need to move away from a church that glorifies the bourgeois family, I’m all on board… I think that there is a real place for this discussion. I don’t believe in creating a false choice, however. 

Hill later went on to talk about the coinciding need for friendship and romantic partnership during the Q&A session. While straight folks got brought into the discussion a little bit more during this time for Q&A, the question of how the Church community can support celibate folks is not on equal ground when you are pulling aside a subset of your congregation and telling them, “The choice has been made for you.”

Calvin President Michael Le Roy gave an interview to Christianity Today a while back where he brought up the issue of loving the LGBT community at Calvin and what that might look like.

All of the language of serious, committed faith is obedience language—take up the cross and follow. It’s the cost of discipleship. It’s not pretty stuff that you can make nice. It’s pretty rugged stuff, but that’s the gospel. Theologically, how do we convey that truth in a graceful way and not water it down? Then that has implications for all the other issues.

Of course every Christian college president is worried about this, but homosexuality is a very real issue for campuses. We have gay and lesbian students here. I have met with them. I have talked with them. They are Christians and they are trying to figure out, “What does this mean? How do I live?”

I wonder, is this what Michael Le Roy meant when he told Christianity Today that we need to find a way to communicate our love to the LGBT students at Calvin without watering down our theology? By finding a water-carrier who is in fact gay? I for one don’t happen to believe that it’s loving to pat someone on the back, tell them we’re sorry, but this is the way it’s gotta be, and then invite them over for dinner afterwards.

I am reminded of the poem “Dinner Guest: Me” by Langston Hughes. Although it is written on a very different topic, it makes me think of my time at Calvin and how people love to talk about “the problem,” people love to talk about love and loving the LGBT community; “Solutions to the problem,/of course, can wait.”

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Calvin College’s new president speaks out

Over the weekend, someone who is a member of the Calvin College Support and Celebration group shared an interview of Calvin College’s new president, Michael Le Roy.

Don’t let the article’s subtitle mislead you when it promises that we’re going to talk about something besides homosexuality.

At the bottom of page three he starts talking about the “biggest theological challenge” facing Calvin College in general terms of how do we call others to follow Christ? How do we gracefully ask people to carry their cross without watering down our message and yet communicate compassion and sympathy when the message seems hard?

By the top of page four, Dr. Le Roy is directly applying these questions to the college’s gay student population and that’s how the article ends with the president reflecting on Calvin College’s continued desire to avoid “political” issues.

Go ahead and read the article for yourself. I myself am very disappointed in Dr. Le Roy’s seeming commitment to keep on keepin’ on with regards to the LGBT community on campus. But I’m disappointed not simply because Calvin College and its new president are keeping to the same path they’ve been on for years – that’s no real surprise. What’s more surprising is that Dr. Le Roy, unprompted, decided to make the connection between the call to carry one’s cross and Calvin’s LGBT community – as if they needed any reminding of the cross they have to carry!

To a certain point I appreciate the humility that comes through when Dr. Le Roy says, “Anybody who speaks in platitudes or thinks it’s simple to be a faithful and wise Christian in these issues [regarding homosexuality] is overlooking something.” When you consider that the group he’s speaking to is primarily hostile to the LGBT crowd, this kind of aside matters.

Dr. Le Roy and many others at Calvin College don’t want to be “political”, which I interpret as meaning controversial – which you may also interpret, if you wish, as meaning that they don’t want to upset donors.

By my definition of what it means to be “political” in this context, Calvin College is ignoring the Gospels. Jesus was never one to avoid controversy. During his ministry, Jesus associated with tax collectors and Samaritans – two groups of people who were viewed in many ways as the LGBT community is viewed by many in the Church today.

Jesus called on the Samaritan woman and the tax collector both to go and lead good and honest lives – which he calls each of us to. He didn’t tell the Samaritan woman to be Samaritan no more or the tax collector to change professions.

This comparison, of course, is far from perfect so I don’t want to push it too far.

When Jesus went to oppressed groups of people or when he spoke to those who were looked down upon by the who’s who of religious society, he never went to them with a message of, “Here. Take this cross and follow me.” He went to them with a message of liberation and freedom that he had to offer. He went to them with hope.

The most difficult message that Jesus had to give was to the wealthy man, the individual of privilege, who was respected and virtuous. When he asked what else he must do to enter God’s kingdom, Jesus said that he must adhere to the law – which he already did, the man said. What else? Go, Jesus told him, sell all you have and follow me. The message was difficult for him since he was so well off.

That’s quite the burden! And Jesus didn’t go giving this burden to the downtrodden. He gave this message to the well-off and powerful.

A little bit of humility from those who carry on Jesus’ message today would be a good starting point. Simply saying, “I’m sorry you feel bad about our message to you” is hardly an embodiment of humility or grace.

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Assumptions

I’d like to thank MLive’s Brian McVicar for a very good article that was published today.

I’m also pleased by Shirley Hoogstra’s comments in McVicar’s article where she is quoted as saying, “I think the petition is very worthy and gives us a lot to focus on and it’s a great gut check.” It’s definitely an improvement over comments that were made back when the annual list was announced back in September.

The only thing I find disheartening : a couple of comments on the news story – but even that wasn’t as harrowing as I expected.

In response to the question Why would LGBT students even want to go there? one reader suggested that the petition is “just to promote an agenda”.

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. McVicar for doing a great job moderating the comments. I really appreciate that. Second of all, I would simply like to add that this is exactly the thinking that we’re trying to combat. This reader couldn’t be bothered to read the petition to see what we’re about; she/he simply reacted with a set of assumptions. The Christian/gay question isn’t an either/or proposition.

As for the rest of the comment, I’m only dignifying it with a response because I saw this same line of thinking before while I was working at Calvin Chimes from some of our readers.

“I’ve always been perplexed when people don’t like an organization (religious or otherwise), but insist on joining it and later gripe about it and look for things to change within it. ”

There is no perfect organization. Just as an example: I go to a state school now where I have support and protection if anyone were to discriminate against me for being gay – and I love it. I get to spend more time doing my job as a TA/grad student, I no longer feel defined by my sexual orientation or reduced to a label; I am no longer asked to represent the LGBT community or educate others.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don’t understand why I identify as a religious person. (Which brings us back to the initial comment.) Is it perfect? No. Like I said, no organization is. We have three choices: A) Remain silent, B) Complain or C) Try to do something about it.

I choose C.

Our society’s common wisdom remains stuck in this dichotomous thinking: Gay or Christian. This is exactly what we’re trying to change and we think that Calvin College has a great potential to be the start of something remarkable.

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Happy Inauguration Week, Calvin College

INAUGURATION WEEK! Excited? Us too!

Please join us at the Calvin College LGBTQ Support and Celebration group in calling on our new president to address the situation on campus for the LGBTQ community. As we welcome our new president, we don’t want to forget that for many in our community, Calvin College is not always a welcoming place.

We are excited about the future of Calvin College. By signing this petition, we affirm that Calvin has much to offer the world; as members of the LGBT community and their friends, family and supporters, we would like to be a part of that future.

Click here to sign!

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No more excuses

Calvin College was recently ranked in the Princeton Review’s top schools in the United States. Among other distinctions, Calvin has been (once again) recognized as one of the most unwelcoming schools for LGBT students in the country.

As I’ve already said (and I’ll probably say again next year and the year after): This is nothing new.

Neither is Calvin’s response.

According to VP Shirley Hoogstra, we can’t put too much confidence in this category. According to an interview with the Calvin Chimes, Hoogstra is quoted as saying, “I don’t like the category label… I am not a fan of dividing students over a particular quality.”

This is what we hear every single year from Hoogstra. In fact, I’m scrounging around the internet to see if these quotes were actually pulled from last year. Or maybe there’s a robot Shirley Hoogstra programmed to say the same things every year when the survey is released.

The bottom line from the administration is always: We love all of our students, whether they’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi or trans. But we don’t like this poll.

And in fact there seems to be no consistent mobility: This year Calvin was no. 11. Last year, we were no. 16. In 2010, we were no. 14. So maybe we’re actually getting worse since we’re moving closer to the top 10? Or maybe there is simply greater consciousness of the need to improve and the issues that face our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Regardless, the appropriate response should be alarm, not shrugging your shoulders with a smile and saying “Well, we’re not perfect. But then again, who is?”

It’s telling that the school tries to distance itself from this list on the one hand, but at the same time is jubilant at being placed on the “stone-cold sober” list. Hoogstra said, “I can say I really like it that students have smart fun and they don’t have to be intoxicated to have fun, but it’s students who are saying that.” Hoogstra is particularly pleased by this bit since it’s voted on by students themselves – so it must be accurate.

Then why aren’t you worried about your own students telling you that the school isn’t welcoming towards LGBT students?

Oh yeah, because we’re all one in Christ and we don’t really see inconvenient, messy, problematic things like gender presentation or the person you’re holding hands with… Unless they happen to be another Calvin student and the same sex. Then we’ll have to ask you to leave.

Saying that you can’t see distinctions between people is a classic move for majority groups who don’t want to be accused of racism or sexism or homophobia or any other like prejudices. The only person who can really pull this off is Stephen Colbert, but at least when he does it, you know that you’re supposed to laugh. When Calvin College keeps saying that they can’t tell the difference and that they love all of us, you don’t know if it’s a joke gone wrong or some sort of theatre of the absurd.

Maybe it’s both.

This is consistent with interaction between all sorts of minority/majority groups. The majority group is often OK with the minority group until members of said group start acting in ways that aren’t in keeping with the majority group’s expectations or desires. So, in this instance, it means that as long as members of the community who identify as LGBTQ are silent and willing to constrain or gender expression to some semblance of hetero-normativity and as long as they suppress their desires for meaningful relationships, we’re cool. As long as we pretend that we’re just like everyone else, there’s no problem.

It’s that moment when you clear your throat to speak that the perma-grin starts looking a little strained.

If Calvin College really strove to care for and love all of its students, the response would not be “We don’t like this category.” It’s time for the administration to wake up and own their responsibility in this. It’s not time to sit on your hands and wait for the story to pass. We’re talking about students who come to Calvin because they want to be fully authentic. The overwhelming majority of students, gay, straight or otherwise, come to Calvin because they believe it to be an institution that promotes thoughtful engagement with the world from a discerning, Christian point of view.

By ignoring the plight of LGBT students, Calvin is only perpetuating the cycle of violence done by religious institutions against LGBT people. Sure, we can congratulate ourselves on being better than Brigham Young and Wheaton, but Spiritual Violence Lite is still Spiritual Violence.

Calvin has the opportunity to be a really unique, exciting place. In some ways, it already is and I know that that’s what draws a lot of students to it (myself included back in 2006). We could do so much better. We could be leaders that people across the country look to. And until we look ourselves in the mirror and face up to that, we’re no better than Brigham Young, Bob Jones, Cornerstone University or any other school in the country.

For once, I would love to hear the administration start a sentence with an apology rather than an excuse. Then we can finally get to the heart of the problem instead of pretending like there isn’t one.

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