Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
A recent article on the CNN Belief Blog highlighted the trend of Evangelical colleges inching toward culturally acceptable views of homosexuality. The article highlighted Wheaton College, which in February established an official group for “students to explore questions of gender identity and sexual orientation.” Although Wheaton College receives the most attention because of its prominence, other Evangelical schools are making similar moves.
Last week at Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) student group called ‘Love of God Bringing Triumph,’ announced the college administration approved an LGBT support group through the school’s counseling and health services center. Although the administration denied the group’s initial request for an official club because of concerns about breaches in confidentiality, the new “support group” through the counseling center will ensure the privacy of all students involved.
The new group will only be open to those who identify as “members of the LGBT community, and will walk alongside them as they wrestle through issues that are common to being LGBT.” Some students complained that facilitating the group through the school’s counseling center implies homosexuality is a problem requiring counseling, rather than a legitimate orientation to be affirmed. One student told the college newspaper “I don’t want this to be an excuse for those kids to be put into counseling, because that’s not what they need, they need our support as a community.”
Dr. Vernon Wesley, vice president for Student Development at ENC acknowledged “The questions of ‘affirming’ and ‘condoning’ as a Christian college continue to hover over us.” Athena Horton, a senior who submitted the initial proposal for an official LGBT club said “By even allowing a group to happen in this format, ENC’s administration is saying to the student body that they care about the wellbeing of all of its students—not just the straight ones.” Further, she is “grateful that we have [this group], and that we are beginning a journey that is moving in a positive direction when it comes to the LGBT among us.”
In another article for the student newspaper, Horton said “Being LGBT in society today is difficult enough with the stigmas associated with it, but being a part of a Christian community whose denominational stance is that ‘Homosexuality is one means by which human sexuality is perverted … and subject to the wrath of God’ (as stated in the Church of the Nazarene Manual ’09-’13) is [even more difficult].’”
Conservative Christian colleges have become a battleground for the LGBT movement’s goal to gain universal acceptance and affirmation. Traditional Christian teachings on sexuality are an affront to their goals, so groups like Soulforce have aggressively targeted Christian campuses to further their agenda. ENC’s group is not the result of Soulforce activity, but illustrates the continued trend of students, alumni, faculty and staff of Christian colleges shifting toward a progressive approach to sexuality. Despite this shift, for LGBT activists establishing a student group within a counseling center is insufficient and even offensive because it indicates homosexual practice is aberrant behavior. Consequently, activists view such groups as a mere first step toward unqualified affirmation.
Soulforce was established in 1998 “to end the religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people” and they specifically target young Christian students through their “Equality Rides” to “hostile” campuses across the country. These “Rides” have “catalyzed conversations and dialogue at these otherwise silent institutions. [Soulforce has] witnessed real change in practices and policies.” They complain counseling given to students who openly identify as LGBT is “harmful,” “ex-gay,” or “‘reparative’ therapy.”
Through Equality Ride’s seven year history, 14 Christian colleges they visited have relaxed policies on homosexuality. In the same time, “Twenty-five schools and counting have some form of supportive student group, and at least 20 have LGBTQ alumni organizations [not necessarily Christian schools].”
Soulforce knows they will sway young Evangelicals by starting seemingly innocuous “conversations and dialogue,” because many students are unsure what they believe about homosexuality. “Equality Rides” include sessions on scriptural interpretation, intended to dismiss biblical prohibitions of homosexuality.
Without receiving clear instruction on traditional Christian and scriptural teachings about sexuality, often these young believers are ill equipped to defend a faithful perspective on homosexual practice. They are bombarded with messages about “equality,” “tolerance,” and are called “bigots” if they don’t affirm a homosexual lifestyle. When they don’t know how to respond to reinterpretations of scripture, some ultimately conclude there is no legitimate reason to view homosexuality as sinful; that such a belief has no place among their tolerant, nonjudgmental generation.
Christian institutions will have to clearly address homosexuality as the culture increasingly affirms it and more people within the Church openly struggle with same-sex attraction. It is understandable that administrators at these schools recognize the challenges Christian students experiencing same-sex attraction face and want to help and disciple them. At the same time, historically faithful Christian academic institutions should recognize that the ultimate goal of establishing groups expressly for students who identify as LGBT is to legitimize the idea that one’s “sexual orientation” is an inherent and defining characteristic of his personhood.
Christian colleges are communities of young people who are figuring out who they are and what direction their lives will take. They are made up of broken, human people struggling with innumerable sins, all needing discipleship, mentorship, and guidance. Homosexuality is one among many issues students face, and should be addressed with genuine Christian love. Our culture is confused about what it means to be human, and uniquely a man or woman and the Church ought to be a light of clarity amid the chaos. Although a campus is not a church, these institutions play a key role in shaping their students’ lives and they are responsible to clearly teach and equip Christian students to follow God’s design for their lives, including their sexuality.