Tag Archives: CRC

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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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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Calvin 11th most unwelcoming school in the country

Another year, another pathetic ranking for Calvin College on the Princeton Review’s list of most unwelcoming campuses for LGBT students.

This year’s magic number? 11.

While I’m not shocked in the least, I don’t want the amazing students and faculty at Calvin who are working so hard to make campus more welcoming to get lost in the shuffle. There is a band of heroes actively working to make things better on Calvin’s campus, a group of under-appreciated, under-recognized leaders who go through hell on that campus to create a better tomorrow.

If you want to stand with them, regardless of where you’re from or who you are, I know that they can use all the support they can get. Join the LGBTQ Support and Celebration Facebook group. We’d love to have you!

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Calvin College LGBTQ Support and Celebration

Are you on Facebook?

Do you like Calvin College?

Do you like the gays?

Have I got a Facebook group for you.

 

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