A wise man once told me that “everything is political and everything is theological.” Unfortunately, that man was my father so I ignored him. So, as these things often go, I had to learn their truth the hard way.
My lesson in practical politics and theology arrived rather intensely last year as I was involved in planning “Break the Silence” for the National Day of Silence. Our goal was to share experiences of LGBTQSSA students at Wheaton College with the wider student body as a means to foster healthy conversation and understanding. A panel of recent LGBT alumni was organized to talk about their experiences at Wheaton: what made them uniquely hard or happy, what responses were helpful, what was hurtful. We wanted to approach their experiences on a personal level while avoiding the political and theological arguments that so easily overshadow the people at the heart of the conversation. I still wish that was possible.
As you might expect the whole thing got very messy and I won’t get into it here. All you really need to know is that alumni did not speak, Student Care ran an event, and no one left happy. However, that’s not why I’m writing this letter. I’m writing to ask you, current students, to please take charge of your education before it’s too late and you end up with regrets similar to my own.
The stated ‘Educational Purpose of Wheaton College’ is to “relate Christian liberal arts education to the needs of contemporary society…in order to produce a biblical perspective needed to relate Christian experience to the demands of those needs.” The challenge is defining “biblical perspective”, “Christian experience”, and “the needs of contemporary society”. Ask four different people from four different denominations in four different countries and you will certainly get four different answers which may even contradict each other. Within Christianity, even within the Evangelical tradition, there exists a wide diversity of beliefs, some of which necessarily exclude the others. There’s pacifism versus just war, egalitarianism versus complementarianism, creationism versus theistic evolution, free will versus predestination and the list goes on.
“Everything is political and everything is theological.”
We disagree. We argue. We emphasize one Scriptural theme over another, prioritize certain passages, and, ultimately, pull together our own understanding of Scripture. Then we split off into our own little sub-groupings so we can hang out with people who think and practice like us. However, at the end of the day we (hopefully) call each other brother and sister regardless of sub-group. We agree to disagree without calling into question the other party’s entire faith and place within the Church. In the end, the incarnation, death, and resurrection are enough.
But then we approach the topic of sexual identity…and HALT! This “issue” is a make it or break it. This is a black and white. It demands a clear yes or no. The afore mentioned “-isms” we discuss and debate. Campus events are held to discuss pacifism, gender issues, human origins, and various theologies regarding human nature, means of salvation or sanctification, and the sovereignty of God. A diversity of beliefs is diligently surveyed and they are all presented as potentially valid biblical perspectives.
When it comes to talking about sexual identity in the church, however, the message is all the same. We have Wesley Hill, the Ruth Institute, Christopher Yuan, and one message: “It’s okay if you’re attracted to people of the same sex. It’s ok to feel that way. Just be faithful and don’t act on it. It’ll be hard but God can fill that gap, and the best is yet to come” (my interpretation). The catch is that this interpretation is not the only perspective regarding sexual identity that is currently present in the Church at large. However, it’s the only perspective presented on the Wheaton campus.
Yes, this is all political and theological. But I’m not asking you to ascribe to one particular perspective or another. I’m just asking you to listen. I’m asking you to stop for a moment and make room for a voice with which you may not ultimately agree. Whether we recognize it or not, there is a strong base of believers who hold that LGBT Christians can form relationships, get married, and remain faithful followers of Christ. So why are these individuals sidelined? This point of view does not make Jesus any less Christ. It does not invalidate scripture. It is a different interpretation that we can learn from whether we agree or not. So what is there to be afraid of?
The discussion regarding sexual identity and the church is only a part of a much larger discussion about sexuality in general. However, we all too easily isolate it, choose sides, and prepare for battle. We forget there are hearts and lives, stories and identities, relationships and community at stake. We are not talking about a theological abstract. We are talking about people who are drawn to Christ and trying to understand how to live in the context of a complicated and confusing reality. Isn’t that all of us? If we all affirm the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism and if we all wrestle with the same Scripture, why do we pick and choose those who may come to the table.
By limiting the discussion to one point of view, we send the message that if an individual or group does not fit nicely within the accepted bounds of a “Washed and Waiting” Christianity then their entire experience with Christ is invalid. It creates an either/or decision rather than a genuine, informed search for God’s will for our lives. This isn’t to say that celibacy isn’t a valid interpretation of the Scriptures or a valuable way to live. I want to be very clear when I say that it is. My point is simply that the Church already consists of many who believe it is not the only way, and that we can create a lot of hurt and ignorance when it is the only perspective spoken of.
If Wheaton College is to be an educational institution raising effective Christian leaders for “contemporary society” its students must receive an education that engages with society as it actually is and not as our evangelical subculture wishes it was or would remain. It is absolutely ridiculous that an educational institution of any standing should actively exclude voices of differing opinions from the forum of legitimate consideration and thoughtful debate. How are students to learn and make informed decisions when they are denied access to opinions and beliefs which are, for whatever reason, held in disregard by the institution? How are they to function in society outside of Wheaton where they will most assuredly run into not only fellow believers but secularists who hold to very different perspectives? I’m not asking the college to change any policy or affirm any action it may not wish to take. I’m simply asking that all voices be given space to speak and to undergo due consideration. If Wheaton College undergraduates are not permitted to do so while at Wheaton they most certainly will after graduation. And, if the present approach continues, then Wheaton College will have failed to prepare them.
By limiting the discussion to one point of view, we send the message that if an individual or group does not fit nicely within the accepted bounds of a “Washed
and Waiting” Christianity then their entire experience with Christ is invalid.
However, changes will not come unprovoked. Alumni often have little influence on campus and it is arguably not our place to have excessive input. You, however, are the students and you can, do, and must have a say in your own education. I’m writing this in the hopes that someone can learn from my regret that I did not stand up sooner and more effectively on the issue. In the end, if students don’t push for changes, it is likely that those changes will never come.
So what can you do? Do your research. Invite speakers with diverse perspectives regarding sexual identity and the church. Organize a group to parallel Solidarity on topics of sexual identity. Maybe even politely push to allow recent LGBT alumni to talk about their experiences at Wheaton. These are just ideas. I’m sure you can come up with better ones. If Wheaton is going to effectively raise Christian leaders relevant to contemporary culture, however, something has to change and someone has to speak up. These voices need to be heard. These voices deserve to be respected. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in Christ there is no fear.
-Elyse Masson ’12
Bravo, Elyse, on writing this article! It’s beautifully written and well-put! And its point doesn’t go unnoticed. I think there’s an obvious reason that LGBT-friendly interpretations of Scripture are silenced as “totally off-base” and “illegitimate” in evangelical communities: because the Powers That Be know that once LGBT-friendly interpretations are accepted as a legitimate option, it’s game over for them. In my experience going to Wheaton, probably a majority of kids *wanted* to accept gay relationships but felt conflicted by “what the bible says”. Once LGBT-friendly interpretations gain legitimacy, that majority will come around….
Thank you for your great article. A breath of fresh air!