I write this to the Wheaton community as a terribly flawed, straight person who tries to follow Christ.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)
Certainly, if our school claims to be under Christ as it does, we should be known by our love. Our reputation within and without the college should be one of love for all people, as International Justice Mission founder and CEO Gary Haugen recently reminded us in his early November 2016 chapel series. The difference between Haugen and me is this: I do not believe Wheaton is known for its love either in or outside of the college.
The Google search “wheaton college il” yields results such as “How a Leading Christian College Turned Against Its Gay Leader” (Time), “Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Professor Larycia Hawkins” (The Atlantic), “Lists Rank Wheaton College Among Worst Schools for LGBTQ Students” (Chicago Tribune), etc. Media has a negative bias, sure. But many Wheaton students know full well how real the negative national perception of Wheaton is. Events such as the college’s dealings with Dr. Hawkins, the “chapel apple” incident, and the football team’s skit involving dressing up like the KKK have damaged our reputation within and outside the school. Family members ask questions at holidays, students hear from friends all over the nation about what terrible things they’ve heard about Wheaton, graduates looking for jobs worry that being associated with Wheaton will hurt their chances of getting hired. None of this suggests Wheaton College is known by its love.
But maybe our reputation is unfounded, and we actually love much better than the news suggests. Maybe. I mean, I feel loved at Wheaton, mostly. But I’m a straight, white woman. In terms of privilege in an evangelical setting, I’m two for three, and though gender-relations aren’t perfect at Wheaton, Wheaton is perhaps one of the best Christian colleges to be a Christian woman, so I’m doing pretty well. The marginalization I experience is itself fairly marginal in comparison to that of racial and sexual minorities here, which brings me to my next point.
If you’re a student at Wheaton, you’ve heard a ton about the college’s desire for racial reconciliation. You might not think the college is actually doing anything great in that department, or you might think they’re making some progress with room for improvement, but the conversation is happening, even if it contains ugly words and refrains of “I wish we could just stop talking about this.”
On the other hand, if you’re a student at Wheaton, especially if you’re a newer student, you’ve heard maybe nothing about the college’s desire for sexual reconciliation. I’ve never personally heard the phrase. I just made it up. Not really even sure if it makes sense conceptually, but you get my point, I hope. The conversation about sexuality—different kinds of sexuality, that is (we talk about being straight plenty)—is simply nonexistent. Where’s the Solidarity Cabinet for the LGBTQ community? Currently, that’s not even a possibility, as care for sexual minority students is, according to the school, not a matter of diversity but a matter of health. The point is this: I’m convinced that students who are a part of the LGBTQ community are the most ostracized, overlooked, oppressed (read: least loved) people on campus, and this is unacceptable.
This is dumbfounding to me. God’s particular care for the “least of these” is evident throughout scripture, from constant remembrance of the orphan and widow, to Christ’s teaching, to the cross. Jesus says during the Sermon on the Mount: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48). Later nearing death, He says: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:45).
These teachings establish that the mark of real Christian neighbor-love is the love that is truly extended to the neighbor rather than confined to people-who-are-like-me (for most people on this campus, “people-who-are-like-me” means straight people). As Kierkegaard put it in Works of Love, “The Christian teaching is to love one’s neighbor, to love all [hu]mankind, all [people], even enemies, and not to make exceptions, neither in favouritism nor in aversion.” There’s no room in the gospel for withholding love from anyone, even if that anyone is a small minority in regards to sexuality. The test of true neighbor-love is love for “the least of these”—and that’s not a value statement Christ is placing on people; it’s a statement that Christian love is necessarily, first and foremost, extended to those who are most often deemed the least by society, to those who are most often robbed of their imago dei in the eyes of the people around them. Any other kind of emotion or action or inclination cannot be the Love that created and lived for and died for and rose again for the ostracized, the overlooked, the oppressed.
And so the mark of real Christian love at Wheaton would be a community of LGBTQ people who feel loved, accepted, valued as imago dei by the rest of campus. The LGBTQ community is here. The love for them is not. Please, Wheaton, no more “Why do you go to a Christian school if you’re gay?” or “But they have to know that I think it’s wrong.” Just—be a neighbor, for Christ’s sake.
When a lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is, Jesus gives the Parable of the Good Samaritan in reply and doesn’t answer the question like we might expect (Luke 10:25-37). Kierkegaard notes that “Christ does not speak about recognising one’s neighbour but about being a neighbour oneself, about proving oneself to be a neighbour, something the Samaritan showed by his compassion. By this he did not prove that the assaulted man was his neighbour but that he was a neighbour of the one assaulted. The Levite and the priest were in a stricter sense neighbours of the assaulted man, but they wished to ignore it. On the other hand, the Samaritan, who because of prejudice was predestined to misunderstanding, nevertheless understood rightly that he was a neighbour of the assaulted man. Choosing a lover, finding a friend, yes, that is a long, hard job, but one’s neighbour is easy to recognize, easy to find—if one … will only recognise [one’s] duty.”
Wheaton, no matter our personal sexuality, we must concern ourselves more with how we love each other than with how someone is (un)like us or with how someone is sinning (or not) or with why someone deserves love (or not). God’s love for us human beings is not contingent on our being like Him. We were very unlike Him even before the Fall. With our Fall we have marred the ways in which we are like Him, and yet still His love for us does not cease. So too must our love for one another not cease when we are tempted to oppress or when we feel oppressed.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Wheaton, “dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). We’re in luck; although we are horrendous lovers of our neighbor, the love we are commanded to have comes not of ourselves but of the One who gives the command. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are with the power of the Holy Spirit able to overcome the hatred that yields neighbor-oppression and the resentment that being oppressed can yield.
But heed this warning: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:20-21).
Neighbor-love means less chastising and less gossip and less apologetics and less assumption that the person across the Saga table from you is straight and less assumption that the LGBTQ neighbor can’t follow Jesus and less expectation that one’s neighbor change before loving them. Neighbor-love means more listening and more speech that accounts for the dignity of all image-bearers and more apologies and more willingness to love people as they are and more listening. Before we write off or correct someone we don’t know, let us remember (in a lived-out sort of way) that the greatest love is self-sacrifice (John 15:13). I promise you that LGBTQ image-bearers immersed in Wheaton’s cultural context do not need reminding that most Christians at most times in most places have thought that gay marriage is wrong. They know. Sometimes the most honest and loving thing we can do is to apologize for the failures of our traditions, for the failure of the Church to love as it ought (Jeremy Treat, “Sexuality and the Ecclesial Context: What the Pastoral Vocation Teaches Us about a Theology of Sexuality”).
I can’t imagine that Jesus would ever rank among the worst people to be around for LGBTQ students—but, Wheaton, we do.