comments 3

Allowing Affirming Voices: A Call to Open the LGBTQ Conversation at Wheaton

Wheaton has been a meaningful and growing four years for me. During my time at Wheaton, I was involved in the SAO, spent a summer at HoneyRock, learned from amazing professors, did Wheaton in Chicago, and interacted with administrators on a personal level, including spending time in their homes.  In short, I was privileged to have a great Wheaton experience and I truly love the people and institution of Wheaton College. Yet my love for this school is not blind. I love our community enough to see that it is fractured by fear and is hurting many of its own. I love our community enough to critique our shortcomings while valuing our progress. I love our community enough to advocate for changing how LGBTQ students are treated on campus. While making marginal advances in LGBTQ visibility, our community has reached a point where more progress is not possible due to the lack of an open conversation with affirming voices on campus. It is time to recognize the systematic silencing of LGBTQ affirming views and consider the theological and communal reasons to remove the barriers preventing an inclusive conversation that respects different viewpoints on Christianity, gender, and sexuality.

The Covenant explicitly defines a follower of Christ as someone who upholds “the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman (Heb. 13:4)” and condemns “homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).” The Student Handbook (pg. 40) defines homosexual behavior as “same-sex dating” and “physical expressions of romantic/sexual intimacy.” The Student Handbook also makes clear that the college would seek the removal of anyone who sought gender-affirming surgery or medical treatment. The codification of condemnation for any affirming view not only does not reflect our current community, but it also systematically prevents dissenting opinions.

Our current community includes LGBTQ students who hold a range of views, faculty who support same-sex marriage outside of the church, and other campus community members who affirm and celebrate the choices of LGBTQ individuals on campus and in the church. The fact that many immediately question the presence of members who hold these views in our community reveals how limited self-advocacy is for LGBTQ students. The institutional barriers to dialogue, such as the Covenant and Student Handbook, have already jeopardized gains the LGBTQ community has made on campus, exemplified by Julie Rodgers’ hiring and departure. Wheaton’s hiring of an openly gay staff member was a big step forward, yet as soon as a hint of affirmation was espoused it was made clear she was could no longer be a member of our community. Hiring Rodgers was a hopeful sign that the administration agreed that Wheaton’s LGBTQ community was best served by someone who could actually relate to their experiences. Her departure not only took away from other advances in visibility of LGBTQ individuals through events like Know Your Neighbor and the Living Room series, but it also caused an incredibly loving and Godly person to leave a community that still had much to learn from her. To be able to learn from people like Julie Rodgers or even have a conversation that includes affirming voices, our community must move past condemnation that wholly rejects differing views. This change would not require the institution of Wheaton to adopt an affirming stance, but rather would allow affirming views to enter into the conversation. The necessity of having an open conversation on sexuality, gender, and Christianity is justified on both theological and communal grounds.

First John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” Yet the administration, in particular, continues to act out of fear in regards to including affirming voices. Members of the administration have worked to remove any LGBTQ language from Refuge promotional material, have disinvited affirming voices (according to a member of Refuge), and actively suppressed Julie Rodgers’ witness due to concerns about negative backlash from conservative constituents. Instead of seeking to love better, leaders of our community have concerned themselves with legalistic, doctrinal purity on an issue that is not essential to salvation. By their actions, the administration has equated sexuality and gender to identity, despite paying lip service to the idea that one’s identity should be Christ alone. Within the body of the Church there are many who are LGBTQ and find their identity in the salvific work of Christ on the Cross. The Church even includes LGBTQ individuals who are able to sign Wheaton’s Statement of Faith (which does not mention same-sex relationships) but legitimately hold a different interpretation of Scripture than outlined in Covenant and Student Handbook. Rather than building a community based on the unified body of Christ, the institution of Wheaton has categorically defined persons who affirm LGBTQ individuals as unsuited to be members of our community. This stance continues to harm our community.

From every interaction I have had with administration officials, their care for  the wellbeing of students has been overwhelmingly clear. Yet the institution of Wheaton does not recognize the full weight of damage the stance against affirming LGBTQ students has caused. Students have suffered from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse in part because of their sexuality. In two cases, it is likely that members of the Wheaton community resorted to suicide because of struggles with sexuality. Beyond the damaging psychological effects to LGBTQ members of our community resulting from the lack of  an open dialogue about gender and sexuality, it is also harmful to the larger community. One communal harm is the creation of an environment where instead of discussing differences in theological views, a student throws an apple. The majority of students are exposed to only a small range of positions in regards to LGBTQ issues on campus and affirming views, if presented, are straw-man arguments at best. By not allowing affirming views, the institution stakes a position that jeopardizes its future relevancy. The current student body exemplifies the increasing diversity of viewpoints younger Evangelicals have toward LGBTQ brothers and sisters, one that has allowed for better witness in society. Evangelicals must find new ways to engage the topics of gender and sexuality, and continuing to prevent truly open dialogue will forfeit Wheaton’s position as an intellectual leader in the Evangelical community.

As with any institution, systemic change presents a difficult challenge for Wheaton. The institutional stance of complete condemnation for LGBTQ affirming views, as outlined in the Student Handbook and Community Covenant, is theologically problematic and harmful to our community. In practice, it has elevated fear over love and lacks the capacity to recognize someone’s identity in Christ before their sexuality and gender identity. Furthermore, it has harmed our community’s ability to care for LGBTQ students and engage an issue critical to the Church’s witness to society. I love our community and know it can better reflect the love and unity we are called to as members of God’s Kingdom if we take the time to listen and learn from LGBTQ individuals and their allies.

Filed under: Articles

About the Author

Posted by

Carter graduated Wheaton in December with a degree in Political Science and Urban Studies. He spent last Fall 2014 doing Wheaton in Chicago and has been involved with Student Government, Wheaton Improv, and Student Alumni Board. He enjoys spending his free time competing against his twin brother, but occasionally tries to cooperate with him for the greater good.

3 Comments

  1. Brian Howell

    Your post is rooted in compassion and concern, which I affirm. But I have questions about what it would look like for Wheaton to be “affirming” of LGBTQ people and whether this isn’t really a call for a substantive change in Wheaton’s identity and mission.

    I think an analogous argument can be made (and has been made by people outside the Wheaton community) that by defining ourselves as “Christian” we exclude and silence other religious voices on campus. By staking our identity in a form of faith that makes universal statements about the nature of God and salvation, we create boundaries that exclude.

    I think that is true. By claiming a Christian identity that is rooted in a universal declaration of humanity’s sinfulness and the need for salvation through Christ, we exclude Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, and other cosmologies that differ from what we espouse. If a student converts to one of these positions, or espouses one on campus, I have no doubt that s/he would feel silenced, excluded, and marginalized, even if people would be as loving, gracious, and kind as they could be. I would HOPE, of course, that if a student were to convert to Judaism, or when a student decides s/he is an atheist, that the community would love and include that person in every way possible. But the nature of the community is simply that we are something else, and we can’t “affirm” those views as simply a part of the community the way a Christian identity is part of the community.

    This is the same with the LGBTQ conversation. You cite a number of incidents that point to the hostility, fear, and lack of love with which students have been treated based on their sexual identity or even just their theology. This is a grievous lack of Christian love and we should definitely work to change that. And the theology of sexuality embraced and endorsed by Wheaton need not be changed to create a better environment. However, to become an “affirming” place, Wheaton would need to substantively change our understanding of human sexuality and scriptural hermeneutics. I don’t think that our theology is “acting in fear” when they do not “include affirming voices.” Rather, they’re reflecting the identity of Wheaton, our theology, and our understanding of scripture as God’s revealed truth. Of course there are those who have a different view of this truth. I don’t think any student or faculty or administrator is unaware of that. But just as Muslims, Jews, Atheists, have different views that aren’t affirmed, so too are some LGBTQ views not affirmed.

    Please continue to hold Wheaton to the highest standard of itself, Carter. But the change you’re calling for in the theology of Wheaton would be for Wheaton to really become a different kind of institution altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s