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.