A Place to Belong

I was on the basketball team at Wheaton my freshman year in college, and I imagine I’m one of the few players in the history of Wheaton College to sit out the second half of the season due to failing fitness class. My coach called me into the office, remained as calm as I could’ve hoped, and asked how on earth I could possibly fail fitness class. “I have no idea,” I told her with puppy dog eyes. “This is totally shocking.” After going to bat for me with the Fitness for Living prof, she returned to say: “Julie, maybe you failed fitness class because you missed eighteen out of twenty-four classes.”

I missed eighteen out of twenty-four classes because I was too depressed to get out of bed in the morning. So it was an 11am class: too early to face another day. Wheaton is an incredible place, but ten years ago I felt like the only gay in a sea of straight people—straight perfect people at that. I’d been involved in ex-gay ministries; I was seeing a professional counselor; I had Jesus and my Bible; and I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t get out of bed because I was convinced there wasn’t a single girl on campus who liked other girls, and I was positive people would reject me if they really knew why I was in pajamas at Sunday lunch when all the girls sported their Sunday best. There were two professors who knew about “my past” at that time, and they still reach out to me with affectionate Hallmark cards to this day. But on the whole, I felt like the only safe place was in the closet—under my covers—where no one would discover exactly why I felt so toxic.

Christians seem conflicted about groups like OneWheaton, or Fuller’s OneTable, or Biola Queer Underground.  There seem to be fears that gay people are gathering on these campuses to affirm one another on a journey toward Revisionist Theology or an acceptance of gay relationships. If these groups are actually imposing a particular ideology or seeking to persuade Christians to depart from their convictions, then I’m concerned as well. But my guess would be that most students are simply looking for a place to belong, and they’re not finding it anywhere else. They’re looking for a place where they can ask honest questions and find Christians to walk with them through the turbulent times of finding congruence between their faith and sexuality. I imagine many of them are passionately in love with Jesus, yet feel invisible amidst a crowd of Christian brothers and sisters.

These students need a safe space where they can reveal their unedited selves and resonate with those who share similar stories of shame, fear, conflict, confusion, excitement, grace, and all those other human experiences that straight people share more freely on college campuses. Rather than panicking over the emergence of gay Christian groups on college campus, it might be wise to ask why they’re emerging in the first place. It appears there’s a legitimate need for community and support among gay Christian students because that need isn’t met elsewhere. Wouldn’t we rather them have this place to be known and loved than no place at all?

Ideally, groups specifically for gay people wouldn’t need to exist because they’d have a home in the church. If everyone could be open and known, they’d have a small group with a couple people figuring out their sexuality, a few folks who are honest about other insecurities, some who keep it real about various hang-ups, and a family to grill burgers with when they need to decompress. Unfortunately, most gay people don’t feel the freedom to keep it real because they’re afraid they’ll be viewed as a project, or worse, a leper. I see signs that we’re growing as a church and learning to walk with people through the questions, but we’ve still got a ways to go. Until we can provide that place for them, I think we’d be wise to listen to the needs of the gay students on campuses and celebrate the fact that spaces of refuge are sprouting up, where their spirits can finally find solace. There won’t be a flawless space for support, and I know there are downsides to the various networks available, but there’s simply no substitute for solidarity. This is a sensitive topic, and I’m eager to hear thoughtful responses about more beneficial ways to meet the needs of these students. But keep in mind that If you’re concerned about the nature of the gay groups emerging on campuses, railing against the groups won’t be the answer—creating a compelling alternative would be.

Julie RodgersJulie Rodgers shares life with inner city youth in West Dallas. She also writes and speaks about faith and sexuality, so check out her blog or find her on Twitter:@Julie_rodgers.

29 thoughts on “A Place to Belong

  1. “Rather than panicking over the emergence of gay Christian groups on college campus, it might be wise to ask why they’re emerging in the first place. It appears there’s a legitimate need for community and support among gay Christian students because that need isn’t met elsewhere.” Absolutely. Thank you for pointing that out, Julie. Bless you.

    • Not only that, but it’s a response to the spiritual needs of gay people who are not going to passively accept that the only religious experience they can have is an undignified, antigay, antifamily one. In other words, gay people are engaging religion, and we’re not letting the antigays monopolize us anymore.

      Huzzah!

  2. Pingback: Spiritual Friendship | Julie Rodgers

  3. I find it interesting that you would be concerned if these groups were trying to affirm gay relationships. So you are only comfortable with these groups as long as they subscribe to your opinion that same sex relationships are sinful?

    • So much of this sounds good until you really read in between the lines. You couldn’t get out of bed at Wheaton because you like girls and believe you can’t do anything about it. I couldn’t get out of bed because I like girls and believed I could, but at the cost of my entire Christian family. You want a group for people like yourself to belong, but where is the same grace extended to a gay Christian college student in a relationship? Do we need to divide colleges now between Christians who believe in gay relationships and those who don’t? Surely Jesus simply says come, not leave your girlfriend and come, or come and then after meeting me leave your girlfriend. You expect grace from Christians for “your struggle”, is a Christian a Wheaton dating a same sex partner really cause for such “concern”? Should just people with your beliefs be allowed to belong without all the concern?

      • Thank you for asking this, Tim, and for carrying the question further, Kris. It makes me sad that you lost your entire Christian family because you were in a relationship with a girl—really sad. I’m hoping to see Christians walking with gay people no matter what: meeting them where they are, encouraging them in their relationship with the Lord, and offering intimate relationships regardless of where their path leads.

        Ryan was spot on in saying I wouldn’t want gay students to be coerced in any direction. I think people need to encounter the Lord in a deep and intimate way, and discern together, in the context of community, how to honor Him with the whole of their lives. If they’re being coerced in a particular direction then they probably won’t feel the freedom to be totally honest before God and others, and their choices would most likely be tied to a need for approval. I like what Karen described below about the group she was a part of, where everyone was welcomed and given the space to be in a process in relationship with others.

    • Since this comment of hers was imbedded within a piece speaking of the need of a place of support for LGBTQ individuals, I believe a more charitable reading would be something other than what you are suggesting. The exact quote in question reads, “are actually imposing a particular ideology or seeking to persuade Christians to depart from their convictions.” If these groups are imposing a non-affirming view for their members, I believe Julie would be just as concerned. These groups ought not be primarily about a political statement or change, but rather a place where individuals can be safe to be themselves, to grow in community.

      • I hope that is true and I tried to see it that way, but it just didn’t read that way to me, I think because of sentence about fearing “an acceptance of gay relationships”. In the absence of that statement I would fully support this post, and of course I want everyone safe to be themselves. However, how safe can you be when people express a fear of accepting your relationship?

      • Ryan, I’d argue that that’s great- because the more likely they are to have those places available, and be around healthy, mature, well-adjusted gay persons, the far more likely they’ll turn out accepting and affirming their own dignity, and be healthy and well adjusted members of society.

        And not antigay. 😀

    • Tim,
      Through a serious of unintentional happenings, I was messaged by a friend who is now a professor at a Christian College. She opens her home to the same group, that Julie describes. She is re-examining what she has been taught and does not bind these students by scriptures that render them “less than or conditional” I know baby steps are needed to ease the fear ingrained in good people on college campus. I am so thankful to be free of that fear, and know it is a process.

    • Julie, I think the reason my side always balks our eyes at the claim you make of ‘not wanting youth to be coerced into anything’ is because, frankly, we’ve seen how your movement has been built up entirely on that practice. You go to places like JONAH, NARTH, the Mormon version of it all in Utah, etc., and what you end up seeing is that over 50% of the clientele are young people, very often teenagers still, pursuing this at the behest of family and religious teachings(which I believe are inherently wrong), etc.

      If memory serves me right, weren’t you were taken by your mom to antigay counseling groups, or ‘support groups for same-sex attracted persons’, at a fairly young age? I realize your family situation might be more nuanced than that, and people now aren’t always the way they were *then*, but that really isn’t very reassuring to me, from where I’m coming from. If anything, it makes what you say in particular very, very suspect.

      I’d argue, harshly, that we have every justifiable reason to assume the desires and motivations of people like you, and the ones who write and read these sorts of blogs, are certainly less than beneficial.

      I genuinely believe you, though- that you want a safe environment for all people, for both those groups in this particular debate, mine and the one’s whose families and religion have hoisted this yoke of conflict upon them.

      However, when I believe so strongly that the alternative to being gay affirming is a likely hard life, a conflicted one, (eventual) loneliness, a propensity to engage in unstable mock heterosexual relationships(which I think basically endanger children), etc., then it’s hard for me to ever get into an area where I would outright applaud any of the efforts people like you, and the ones who come to these blogs, champion.

      Hence, why I’m always muddling around and trying to talk to you people. /O/ Coooooommunication!

  4. Love this Julie! Having a place to go and be yourself must be such a relief for these students. Being “known” and accepted was so life affirming for me. I can only hope and pray that these groups provide a safe place for these kids to grow and become connected to others. I so admire your willingness to be transparent Julie! You are an inspiration to me!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Ruth. Yes, I share your hope that students will have a safe place to be connected with others. Hopefully the local church will provide that kind of space for people to be in a process and encounter the love of Christ.

  5. I think conservatives can have misconceptions about these campus groups. For example I was participating on a panel at a Christian alma mater on sexuality and one the audience members was the leader of the LGBT affirming group. The leader stood up during the Q and A and relayed how she was still trying to figure out her own sexuality and faith even though she was the leader of the group. Meaning she still had questions about how to reconcile them and such. So, we can make assumptions about where people are at. It was just assumed she was a die-hard affirming advocate for one view. But in reality she often didn’t feel she could be honest about her questions because people expected her to have it figured out–including allies who made her feel even more lonely because they didn’t understand why she would have questions.

    Anyway, this all led to some great discussions where we worked together to create new guidelines for being welcoming to all LGBT people regardless of theological views. We passed it on to the incoming leaders. But I don’t know what became of it. My hope is that these LGBT groups would truly be accepting of people wherever they are at. Unfortunately both conservatives and progressives often have difficulty creating that space because there is the desire to advocate particular views.

    In case anyone is interested, this is the blurb we wrote up:

    Group Description (note I remove identifiers)
    “X Group” is an intentionally caring and supportive group for Christian students who experience same-gender attraction and/or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or have questions about their sexual identity (LGBTQ). The group is welcoming to participants of diverse theological positions. It is a place of friendship that is not conditioned upon identity markers or theological persuasions. We value confidentiality and respect all people in order to create a safe space within “X University” for sexual minorities to be in fellowship with each other.

    Group Norms:
    1. We treat each other with dignity, respect, and grace recognizing that the journey through faith and sexuality is often complex and challenging.

    2. We affirm our identity as Christians as our foremost goal. We seek to deepen our relationship with God. We edify each other toward Christ-likeness for the purpose of fulfilling the callings God has placed on our lives. And we listen well and comfort those who are struggling with doubts about God’s care and love.

    3. We do not withhold kindness from those with whom we disagree on the issue of same-sex relationships. The purpose of the group is not debate, but friendship and honest conversation about our lives as Christian sexual minorities. The group is welcoming of diverse perspectives including gay-affirming, traditional/conservative, uncertain, or anywhere in-between.

    4. We respect the bodies and emotions of others. The group is a safe space free from romantic/sexual pressures from others and respectful of those who are choosing not to be in relationships.

    5. We maintain strict confidentiality. Anything shared in the group remains in the group. This includes not “outing” others under any circumstances. Each person has a right to become open about his/her sexuality at his/her own pace.

    • Love this, Karen! Thank you for sharing some of your experience with this group. I think you’re right that it’s difficult for this kind of place to exist because both conservatives and progressives tend to advocate particular views. That makes sense because if we’re in a relationship with others, then we’re going to be honest about what we believe. The ground rules you noted here seem like a good way to create an environment of honesty, humility, and care for one another, with Christ remaining the main focus regardless. Really helpful!

    • In theory, those are the same ground rules used at GCN. In reality, tensions still creep in – mainly because in a therapeutic/support setting affirming Christians are not discouraged from making remarks about self-esteem or other social health indicators to discredit the other theological “side”.

    • Karen, this sounds like such a safe place. I love this part: “We do not withhold kindness from those with whom we disagree on the issue of same-sex relationships.” This is my prayer for myself, and for the church.

    • Karen I find what you shared inspiring- to see thoughtful discussion around this. I like the statement “The purpose of the group is not debate, but friendship and honest conversation about our lives as Christian sexual minorities.” All debate does is fuel an adversarial environment rather than bring people together. So it is good to see these groups and yourself taking initiative.

  6. I understand exactly how you felt back then. Same scenario: college, in love with Jesus, part of the ex gay ministry, counseling and depression. I was on the soccer team. The coach was born again and knew of my struggles. But I still felt like a leper and like I had to hide.

    I like your suggestion that there needs to be a safe place to walk with those who are questioning. To truly question something, one needs the freedom to look at all the possible answers and to come to their own conclusion. Can this kind of group be a place where everyone is welcome despite coming to different conclusions about whether it’s okay to fall in love with someone of the same sex?

    • Jules! I’m glad you don’t have to hide anymore, and hate that you felt like a leper in school. I think some of these groups are doing what you’re suggesting: welcoming everyone regardless of whether or not they come to different conclusions about same sex relationships. Even if people land in different places on this point, wouldn’t we rather them live that out in the context of a loving community than to walk it out in isolation? I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what you and Kris describe as your college experience.

      • I totally agree. I used to wonder how two people could co-exist peacefully if one thought the other was not walking a moral path. Or if both thought that of eachother. But this is judgment. I no longer have the energy to be anything other than me and life is so much better when we choose love over that which separates. I think the key is to honor one another and keep our eyes on God.

  7. Why is it that everyone else who has a sin is required to change except the homosexual? The Apostle Paul addresses 10 groups of sins I Corinthians 6:9-10 among which are adultery, drunkenness, thievery, and pre marital sex, and homosexuality. Then Paul states ‘and such were some of you’ (vs 11) but you now are changed through the power of Christ (washed, sanctified and justified). What if college campuses had fornicator’s club, or how about an adultery club (I was a married student once at a small Christian College). Would it be ok to have a drunkards club as well as a gay club?

    • Hey Larry! I think one differences would be that gay people aren’t sinning by nature of being gay. Fornication is an act that one chooses to engage in, but the natural draw for a man to be with a woman is not a sin. Likewise, fornication for gay people would be a sin, but the draw that many men feel toward other men is not a sin in itself. Homosexual desires emerge in people and, more often than not, don’t go away (despite endless prayers that they will). Also, there’s a lot more that goes into being gay than a desire for gay sex. That’s typically not on our radar screen and it’s not what we have in mind when we discuss our sexuality. I hope the church will be a place that walks with people through all the questions and complexities of having an orientation we didn’t choose and a deep desire to honor the Lord.

      I say this with all respect, but comments like this will have a negative affect on most gay people and cause them to feel the church is not a safe place to be real, known, and loved. I highly doubt that’s your heart, and hope you’ll continue asking questions as you discern how to better love the gay people in your congregation.

      • Julie, I believe that organizations need to exist to help people deal with unwanted desires and reactions. One is Celebrate Recovery in which the participants take a vow not to share publically what is shared in the group. Many people who have lived a dysfunctional emotional scarred life and found help and healing in groups like Celebrate Recovery. Another is AA. I just don’t think it helps for a person to share in a large group of people who do not struggle with a certain problem because they can misunderstood and misapplied. Make sense?

  8. I have recently began a foundation called whosoever. (the period is intentional) Our very purpose is to show love and build bridges for those in the gay community who are floundering, drowning on dry land as it were, for lack of community, safe spaces to grow and walk out a journey that is by and large marginalized by mainstream faith communities.

    We are working from the sole premise that it is our job to display the love of Christ and let Christ do any changing in the heart of the person, IF any change is to be made at all.

    We believe gay people, gay Christians, are not broken and do not need fixing, but like any other person on this planet, are in need of a chance to be introduced to and loved by an all consuming Savior.

    It boggles my human, finite mind how great this need is. Additionally, the vacuum and lack of love is overwhelming.

    Keep up the good work and the awesome blogging …

  9. Pingback: Sexuality Conversations at Evangelical Colleges | Spiritual Friendship

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s