So like many of my peers, I’ve been shocked by the recent explosion of Harding University in the news. Anytime the topic of how Jesus followers treat homosexuals is a public conversation, I cringe. I love my Alma Mater and because I’m not privileged to know the conversations going on behind the scenes. I’m trusting that they are asking questions about the students who are there who don’t fit into the easy categories that are being created.
The truth is that this could happen at any Christian university in the country. It just happened to occur in Searcy.
I also need to say up front, that I affirm the orthodox position on what the Scriptures say on homosexuality. Because I know quite a few people who deal with this I wish I knew another way to interpret this, but I don’t. But I don’t think the way we’ve historically responded is Biblical either.
I wanted to ask a friend with a closer perspective on this to weigh in. I hoped that he could give us a creative third way to talk about what is going on. A couple of ground rules for comments on this post:
1. It’s okay to disagree with me, or what my friend wrote, but if you attack him personally I will not allow your comment to be posted.
2. Remember where this post is coming from. It’s not a slam on Harding University, or an invitation to do so. This is applicable to all the places that Christian gather. I’ve posted this because I know there are a lot of people who are out there who wrestle with their sexuality…and the one thing I took away from this is that there are a lot of students who don’t feel like they can talk about it. That’s got to stop. We’ve got to make our churches and religious institutions places where people can share their struggles safely and without fear of being rejected. If the church honestly believes that our sexuality isn’t our identity, than that should come out with our behavior. From what I heard my friend say, this isn’t just something for an administration to fix. This is something that happens on the student level just as much, if not more.
3. The person writing this is doing so from a good place. They aren’t bitter, God is healing their wounds, and he has great community that he is able to be honest and open with. You’d like him if you knew him, maybe you already do.
So with all that said, meet my friend:
Being gay is not easy. Being gay at Harding is hell. I don’t think it’s Harding’s intention that anyone on their campus feel miserable or disenfranchised. Being dedicated to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, it’s just long been accepted that homosexuality is wrong. For the longest time, the church at large and even the world were primarily in agreement. Homosexuality was a closed case – sinful, forbidden, wrong. However, from time immemorial homosexuality has existed and I dare say that since Harding University has been in existence that there have been homosexuals (admittedly primarily closeted ones until now) in attendance and likely as supporters, donors, faculty, and staff.
My story could have fit right in with some of the ones included in the HUQP zine, somewhere between Every Young Man’s Battle and Swings for a Cure. Being gay at Harding was one of the worst experiences of my life. I was in the proverbial closet almost the entire time, at least I never told anyone until just before graduation when I told my two best friends. I waited to the end to tell my two best friends because I feared that even these beloved friends might not accept me. Suffice it to say that if I worried that the two best friends of my life might not accept me, that I was convinced that the student body and the faculty, staff, and school leadership would not. My friends handled the news with surprising grace, though neither of them advocated for me to tell anyone else. As straights they both feared what coming out at Harding would look like for me. It might have been somewhat that they didn’t want their friends to know that they had a gay friend, but more than that I think they both feared what the response would be.
These were unchartered waters and the best advice they had was that they’d love and support me, but for me to keep a lid on it.
I heard rumors about myself, received awkward glances from peers frequently, was picked on by straight guys who primarily thought they were being good-natured about it, and felt my skin turn red when I heard the issue of homosexuality discussed in Bible classes and in peer discussions.
I wanted so desperately to fit in, to be normal, to be straight. There had been no more consistent prayer in my whole life than for God to heal or deliver me from homosexuality. I was scared to death in junior high and high school, having had a few very discrete same-sex experiences. I vowed that I would get healed at Harding. I had prayed, no, I had BEGGED God to make me straight. I bargained with him. I did good works for him. I gave up things for him. I went to Harding’s counseling center to two very different counselors with two very different approaches.
One counselor, whom I believe was as sincere as he knew how to be, scared me so horribly that I feared that I’d be kicked out of school and that my parents would be notified. I don’t think that he realized how harsh his words seemed to me. I don’t want to think that a Christian could knowingly tell a frightened college kid the things this man told me. My depression worsened and I switched counselors. My new counselor allowed me to talk about my sexuality, but focused on my depression and offered me hope and encouragement and ensured me that she would take no action to inform anyone of my behaviors – sexual or otherwise. She didn’t make me straight, but she shared my burden. To this day I thank God for her wisdom and for her loving-kindness.
Having heard about HUQP and Harding’s response to the zine has caused some old memories and feelings to resurface.
I cannot help but empathize with the contributors of HUQP. I cannot imagine how their hurts at the hands of what I assume have been well-intentioned people in their lives. I also cannot help but empathize with Harding University’s precarious position. Right or wrong, for good or ill, it’s their theology. It’s rooted in their sincere belief of what the bible requires of them.
No student deserves to be silenced or bullied or threatened or made to feel inferior in anyway. I think this would be accepted by both Harding and by the HUQP contributors and supporters. Furthermore, I think both would agree that we are called to not only love God, but love others as well. This is central and pivotal to the way of Christ. For the sake of those who identify as homosexual, I hope that meaningful dialogue can occur. I hope that our churches and universities can realize that this is not an issue that is going away.
We live in a day and age where the church is being asked to address these issues meaningfully. Had the Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve sermons actually worked there would be no need for this dialogue. However, those sermons were good entertainment and clever words that were as meaningless as they were silly. A little better is love the sinner, hate the sin, but this still misses the point.
When I was in college, what I needed was to be loved and accepted for who I was regardless of my sexual preference. I think every Harding student and every child of God could say the same. Maybe it’s cliché, but consider this statement nonetheless: No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
If the kneejerk reaction of our religious institutions is to silence or censor homosexual students or to indoctrinate them with their theology, then it’s highly doubtful that the students will be receptive. What the homosexual students need even more than being accepted is to be heard and respected. I am not asking Harding University to change their theology, but I would lovingly encourage my alma mater (students and administration) and the church to change their approach.
Our religious universities and members of the Churches of Christ have a tremendous opportunity before them. The issue of homosexuality is not a new one and in our society it is not one that is going to be kept hushed any longer. What an incredible opportunity for Christians to reach out to their own and to those in the world who are homosexuals. How awesome it would be if Christians could look to their homosexual friends, family, and neighbors and honestly admit that while they do not understand the issue in light of their biblical convictions that they know for certain that they are called to love their neighbor regardless of differences.
What a difference it would make to the homosexual student to realize that even if they are not yet understood by their peers, their professors, or the University leadership that they are on the most loving campus in the world. What is needed is for the homosexual student to be able to represent themselves completely without fear of expulsion, rejection or repercussion.
I believe that Harding’s theology can see fit to openly and enthusiastically love and accept homosexuals even while disapproving of homosexual behavior.
Consider for a moment the differences between sex and love, then look at this situation from the perspective that God asks us to look at all situations – through love.
Sexuality is not the theme of the New Testament – love is. Despite religious, cultural, and political differences, surely we can all agree that love is the answer. If the leadership in our religious institutions rely on religion and conservativism to defend themselves, they lose. If gay students focus upon their sexuality, they lose.
But regardless of how either group responds, love will win.