Over at Christianity Today, Allison Althoff has a story about the growing attention to LGBT issues on evangelical Christian college campuses:
Same-sex attracted students at several Christian institutions have attempted to start on-campus organizations with varying degrees of success. Seattle Pacific University’s Haven is an “unofficial club” organized by students. It hosts weekly meetings on campus to encourage honest conversations about sexuality while holding to the school’s “Lifestyle Expectations” regarding sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
“Haven is recognized by the university administration, but not as a recognized student club through the student government system,” vice president of student life Jeff Jordan said.
“Haven has applied a couple of times for official club status through student government, but they have not attained that status. So administration has said, if indeed what’s important is having a safe place on campus for conversation, and you’re willing to work with university administration, whether that be through me, which is how it was for many years, or through an umbrella organization, then we’ll work with you on this.”
According to faculty advisor Kevin Neuhouser, the meetings function as support for same-sex attracted students on campus as well as a forum that hosts speakers who address human sexuality. “There are gay students on every Christian campus,” Neuhouser said. “What’s fundamental to respecting and caring for them is providing them a place they can feel safe. The main concern is the student, not the orientation.”
One of the notes this article strikes is the sense of ambiguity surrounding many of these student groups. Are gay students “welcome” at Christian colleges? What does “welcome” amount to? Reading the piece, I found myself recalling Eve Tushnet’s reflections on gay-straight alliances at Catholic high schools:
How could an openly-acknowledged GSA [at a Catholic school] aid in [helping students discern their vocations]? Well, for one thing, its relationship to the adults around it would not need to be antagonistic. The school chaplain or a local priest could attend some of the meetings, and talk with the kids about any misconceptions they may have about the faith. Specifically, I often hear that it’s okay for the Church to require (most) priests to be celibate, since they chose that way of life, but it’s cruel to require celibacy of gay people since we didn’t choose to be gay. This isn’t a good way to think about vocation—you don’t always choose what God is asking of you, and it’s rare that the greatest sacrifices in your life are the ones you chose entirely freely. A priest talking honestly about his own discernment process, and whether or not he felt directly “called” to celibacy, might offer a better model of discernment—and a better understanding of the purposes and challenges of a celibate life.
The group could be encouraged to spend some time volunteering in places—the most obvious example for me would be folding clothes or babysitting at a crisis pregnancy center—where they’d see how tough chastity and fidelity can be for heterosexuals. Married teachers, or single ones, could speak with them about their vocations and discernment process. They could be encouraged to see that all forms of love come with characteristic sufferings and lonelinesses: Every form of love has its own kind of cross. These priests and teachers could seek to learn from the kids, from their fears and questions and experiences, and encourage the kids to learn from the adults. (I do think straight adults often underestimate the loneliness–and fear of even greater future loneliness–of gay Christian teens. But it’s also, of course, very easy for teenagers of any sexual orientation to have unrealistic romantic ideas in which marriage solves the problem of the self, grants us our “soulmate” and ends our loneliness forever.) The solidarity implied by the “alliance” name could become more vivid and realistic—and more Catholic. None of this is likely to happen in a hidden, covert group.
Taking a cue from this kind of reflection, evangelical Christian colleges might consider LGBT student groups not simply as a problem waiting to happen but as an opportunity. The codes of conduct at Christian colleges, which usually include prohibitions of “homosexual behavior,” don’t at all prohibit the exploration of how same-sex attraction may become a gateway to the discovery of a vocation—to chaste friendship and other forms of sacrificial love. Encouraging same-sex attracted students to meet together and discuss their common faith—and put that faith into action—is entirely in keeping with the mission of evangelical colleges, and that encouragement could go a long way toward answering the question about “welcome.”
Keeping the prohibitions of gay sex in place at Christian colleges won’t satisfy the groups like CedarvilleOut that Althoff mentions in her article. But nor need those prohibitions prevent college staff from helping same-sex attracted students explore robust, beautiful ways of channeling their passions and energies in deeply evangelical directions.