Gay Students at Christian Colleges: What’s Our Vision for Their Flourishing?

In January, I spoke to a room full of Christian college presidents for the annual gathering of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. The topic they set for me was how to talk about a Christian theology of marriage with real compassion for students wrestling through questions of sexual identity. The CCCU has now transcribed my remarks, and you can read them here.

An excerpt:

I want to suggest to you that one of the most important things you can do on your campuses is cast a vision of what a hopeful future could look like for your students who are same-sex attracted. For so many of us, when we think about living out our lives in the evangelical church as gay—and as celibate, probably, for most of us—the future looks blank. We can’t picture what it would look like because we don’t have models of how this goes. I’ve spent all my life in the church, and I have rarely seen people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are talking openly about what it looks like to embrace a vocation of celibacy.

I remember recently talking to a Roman Catholic friend of mine who grew up in the church. He said, “From the time I was 4 years old, it was a huge question in my mind as to whether God might call me to be celibate”—because God might call him to be a priest. As soon as I heard him say that, I thought, “Our childhoods were so profoundly different because it never occurred to me that God might call me to be celibate. It never occurred to me to contemplate the single life.” I always simply assumed I’d go to college and meet my spouse like my parents did and live a Christian life by having kids and being part of a family values church. That was the future; that was the path. It never occurred to me that God might have in mind a vocation of celibacy. I apparently never read 1 Corinthians 7.

But this is the challenge for you, to cast a vision—and it doesn’t have to be one vision; I think there are 100 different models that this could take for your students—but to cast a vision [for your students]: “This is what a hopeful future looks like for you. If you’re same-sex attracted, and you’ve tried everything, and you haven’t experienced one iota of change in your same-sex attraction, and you’re wanting to give your life to God in celibacy, that does not have to equal loneliness. That does not have to equal isolation. … There’s a life for you. There’s a future for you that doesn’t simply look like alienation from your fellow believers in the church who seem to be so fixated on the nuclear family.” … What I am praying for you is that you will find yourself thinking of your same-sex attracted students not as a liability on your campus, but as people you’re in solidarity with.

You can read the rest here.

3 thoughts on “Gay Students at Christian Colleges: What’s Our Vision for Their Flourishing?

  1. Thank you, Wesley, for your insights. It is true we need to be more attentive to teaching and providing examples for gay young people striving to know how to live their Christian values, particularly as a celibate Christian. This is an urgent need in the Catholic Church. The choice for living according to the church’s teachings often look, as you worded it so well, “blank.” And yet, we have a rich tapestry on which to draw from Scripture, the lived history of Christians (and others) and contemporary witnesses to the good life (although we need more!). Peace be with you and may God bless your witness. -Fr. James

  2. Hi Wesley,

    Thank you so much for your honesty, vulnerability, and thoughtfulness in how you engage in discussions both in writing and in your talks. I am so thankful God made smart people like you! You often seem to articulate so well the things I am feeling or trying to think but fail to articulate or formulate cohesive thoughts hah. You are a hero of the faith, and I know you’re still young and will hopefully have many years to go, but to me you’re one of my heroes!

    I find two things thought perplexing that I want to keep pondering: the idea of finding a vocation in my same-sex attractions vs the push to “recovery” only and the other one is how to cast a vision for a hopeful future that has more than three options for one who is navigating same-sex attractions and wants to honor God with their sexuality. I see how both of those actually can help each other.

  3. I wonder if this question isn’t too narrow. I’m asexual and don’t find myself to be well suited to domesticity. At this point, I’m single. But even if I were to marry, I suspect that my marriage would follow a different model from the hearth-and-home model that pervades the evangelical imagination.

    So, it’s not just that church life looks blank for gay people. It looks utterly blank for anyone who isn’t interested in settling into a traditionalist family structure.

    When I last attended church regularly, I was living in a city that was 45% single. And, if you excluded people without college degrees, it was about 70% single. Even so, at my PCA church there, more than 85% of members and 70% of regular attenders were married couples with children. Assuming that the church is only pulling from a college-educated demographic, that means that the church did only 1/6 as well at attracting single regular attenders and 1/12 as well at attracting single members. But this wasn’t a substantial concern at all. Instead, the church’s outreach efforts were focused on a Somali immigrant community in the city’s far reaches. Week after week, the church would pray about its outreach to this Muslim, non-English-speaking community that lay a good 7 miles away. Meanwhile, the church had no interest in reaching out to the litany of single professionals who lived within a three-minute walk.

    I fear that we miss the point when we focus too much on the narrow question of what the church is supposed to do with single gay Christians. Heck, the church doesn’t even know what to do with single non-gay Christians. If we can focus on the broader question of what the church is to do with single Christians generally, then I suspect that we’ll implicitly address many of the concerns of single gay Christians.

    I recently moved and decided to attend church after a 15-month hiatus. Big mistake! The couple next to me saw that I was single, and obnoxiously went out of their way to introduce me to a single woman during the passing of the peace. Then, when going to the front for communion, they asked me if I wanted to join them for communion so that I wouldn’t have to do it alone. After taking communion, I headed straight for the door. It’s clear that evangelical churches are deeply uncomfortable with singleness, and generally see it as a problem that needs to be fixed. Until that changes, I see little hope that we can find any adequate answer for what role single gay Christians are to play in the church.

    That said, I foresee little hope for change. In most cases, the “family values” theology is far more central to evangelical identity than anything in the Nicene Creed. I see no need in wasting my time trying to fit into the existing institutional structure of evangelicalism. In my view, it’s time for institutional evangelicalism to face some Schumpeterian creative destruction. I’m much more interested in exploring institutional alternatives to evangelicalism. that are more explicitly post-evangelical from the ground up.

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