Tag Archives: homosexuality

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.

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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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God doesn’t love you that much, Simba

Four or five years can do a lot to remove you from where you were. I forget, sometimes, that this is not such a long time. It wasn’t so long ago that I bought into the idea that being gay and being Christian meant being celibate – if you want to please God. And I did.

I still want to please God.

Having individuals run around promulgating this BS isn’t helping. It’s like white people telling black people that they’re OK with them – as long as they straighten their hair (pun not intentional) and use products to lighten their skin.

The fact that some members of our community have bought into this BS breaks my heart – and so we need to call it for what it is. Too many people are being left irrevocably, deeply damaged by these sorts of lies.

Qualifying God’s love means besmirching God’s goodness and grace. I’m excited by a new group I’ve just seen in the last few days on Facebook called On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground. They posted this little gem the other day. Everyone, I highly recommend checking them out. They have a lot of thought-provoking stuff that I’m looking forward to digging into once my schedule slows down at the end of the semester.

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