Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I Support OneWheaton

Well, I didn't quite plan on doing it this way, but it looks like it's time to break blog silence. This post will be brief, with hopefully more to come.

Those of you close to the Wheaton College community may have seen this logo today:


OneWheaton--and its accompanying website and Facebook page--launched today with a letter campaign on the Wheaton College campus. You can read the letter in its entirety here

Though I didn't sign the letter due to my current employment situation, I'm in full support of OneWheaton. This morning as chapel got out, 20-30 of us handed these letters to what we hope was each and every current Wheaton College student. Afterward, during the celebratory Muldoon's run, I checked my iPhone and realized the OneWheaton website had a link to my essay Gay At Wheaton.

Welp, guess I'm "out" as affirming.

Since, when I last checked in on "I Like Guys", I still ascribed (albeit tentatively) to another view, I'll just get it out there now: I'm currently affirming of same-sex unions, and am gayer than I've ever been, without any of the accompanying "celibate" or "struggling" tags. This has been increasingly true of me for about a year and a half.

That said:
-I'm still a Christian
-I'm still an evangelical
-I'm still washed, still waiting

The blog silence has been due to the fact that this has been a two-year decision, and it's been excruciating. This was a major paradigm shift for me, and for a few months of it I was so unable to make strong statements that drive-thru windows were a major stressor. For awhile, though, it's felt like time to speak up again, and OneWheaton provides a good opportunity.

I don't agree with everything in OneWheaton's letter or press release, but for now I'll have to let them speak for me.
We are joining the conversation at Wheaton to show students that they have the option to live without shame and self-hatred. And, not only are there a multitude of ways to do so (as evidenced by every one of us), they already have friends who love and support them and will walk with them on their unique journey.
For my large readership in the ex-gay, struggling, and celibate communities (if any of you are still out there after two years, that is): please keep reading as I continue to post. You don't have to, but I hope you will. My time among you marked me forever and for good. Like my comrades at OneWheaton, I am consistently surprised by the diversity I see in paths for same-sex attracted Christians to take. But unlike many of my comrades, I don't believe that healing, heterosexual commitment, faithful celibate suffering, or even reparative therapy are bankrupt paths. My old friends who fall toward the traditional side of the gay Christian spectrum still outnumber my new ones who fall toward the progressive side. If I can't love all of you humbly and self-sacrificially, then all the self-acceptance in the world means nothing.

One closing thought on this disjointed post: my time at Wheaton taught me how valuable a working theology and provisional truth claims can be. I don't know if I'll affirm same-sex unions forever. I sure as hell don't know if I've made the right choice. I do believe God speaks to us with a gentle but powerful convicting voice, and I pray He'll continue to equip me to hear it.

More later.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Have I Ever Known a Damn Thing... Part 3

All right, Part 3 brings us back to the highway in Wyoming. We're getting to the home stretch, guys!

If you're just tuning in, go back to Part 1.



OK, Steve, what happened back there?

Under a more forgiving Wyoming sky, I looked back on the conversations with Kayla and Amber and saw them in a different light. Seeing them both laid out before me like that made some things stand out that hadn't before.

First, it was pretty clear that if I had ever had a strong conviction about what the Bible called me to do as a same-sex attracted Christian, it was pretty much gone after talking to Amber. And looking back, it did not appear that I had ever really held such a conviction in the first place. Why else would I be so challenged by the mere existence of gay Christians?

And if I was to be honest with myself, I'd known about my wishy-washiness for some time. When attempting to articulate my stance on homosexuality, as every same-sex attracted Christian is constantly being pressed to do, any meat in my answer was always drowned in a sea of qualifiers: "For the time being..." "As close as I can tell right now..." "Barring any future revelation, it seems as if..." You get the picture. The issue at root was that my convictions were hand-me-down and provisional: I just wasn't sure what the Bible said, and "for the time being", I was more than willing to defer to those who seemed to be a lot more sure, like my parents and the Wheaton College faculty.

But then, why all the fear? Why had I gotten so tongue-tied with Amber? Why had I gotten so frustrated with Kayla? And why did a Word document filled with gay-friendly theology feel like so heavy a burden that I was worried my car was going to stall out in the middle of Wyoming? The obvious reason was that I was afraid of the implications of either side. If Kayla and Amber were wrong, it really meant a life of celibacy. If they were right, it meant a lot of difficult conversations with my family and friends, not to mention a tricky place in the church.

But I think there was also a deeper, more complicated fear rooted in self-deception. If you haven't gotten to know any Wheaton grads yet, let me ruin the ending for you: we are all terrified of being wrong. That's true of a lot of college students, buut I have a hunch that this fear is deeper and more crippling in Wheaton students, because for us it's a holy fear. Since we believe we are learning God's truth--and I really think this is the case for more of us than would admit it--to get an answer wrong feels like sin.

My conversations with both Kayla and Amber had felt in part like pop oral quizzes, sprung on me before I was ready and with the professor breathing down my neck. With both Kayla and Amber there had been a moment for response, and instead of saying what I felt was right--"What's she like? Tell me about her."--I fumbled together the best I could manage of what I thought the professor wanted to hear, hoping I could fake it and figure out the right answer later.

Basic pedagogy tells us what the problem is here. A teacher needs her students to be wrong. Unless a student confidently gives a wrong answer she can't help him understand why he's wrong. If the answer is apple, the best student is the one who answers "Apple." The second best student is the one who answers, "Orange!" The second worst student is the one who says, "I don't know, I don't know, ask somebody else." The worst student is the one who says "Apple" a second after the best student, the one who memorizes The Cat in the Hat without learning what the letters mean, the one who pretends to get it, but, more than any of the other students, most definitely does not get it.

Pop quiz, Steve. Your only audience is a Wyoming Highway, so go out on a limb and go with your gut: What do you think? Is gay OK?

My answer: YES. Of course it is. I cannot comprehend how a God who creates, a God who loves beauty, could hate something that seems beautiful, something that makes so much sense. Look at my body: unanimous agreement. Every cell knows the answer. I turn to the Scriptures seeking condemnation and it feels like proof texting. I turn to the Scriptures seeking affirmation and it requires rhetorical gymnastics I'm not capable of. I turn to the Scriptures seeking ambivalence and I don't get that either. It's as if the Scriptures just require that gay people be extremely confused. So why am I turning to the Scriptures when I know in my gut what the answer is? It's yes. The answer is yes.

I stopped for a breath as my Big Gay Declaration resonated lamely off the windshield of my Buick. OK. That was "Orange."

Instantly, I started feeling sort of sexy and clandestine, except in a guilty way, as if by being honest with myself I had indulged in an emotional decadence reserved for theater students or the Emergent church. I could just see the disapproving ghosts of Wheaton's faculty rushing in from the horizon to descend on me and make me start over again as a freshman, because I clearly still didn't get it. (Actually, I regularly get that feeling for other reasons as well, like every time I get rejected from a job, give up on a blog post or scratch my head while doing simple math.)

Ironically, it was in response to the sexy, clandestine feeling that I believe God spoke to me.

When God has actually spoken to me, two things tend to happen. Sometimes I think He has spoken to me and later realize He hasn't; usually in that case one of these two things hasn't happened. Both of them happened in that moment: I was overcome with relief, and I suddenly wanted to fall to my knees and confess.

Here is what I think God said. I think he said, "I demand obedience." Here is why I was relieved: there is nothing sexy about obedience. My ghost faculty fled in the wake of a higher authority, with much higher standards and a much easier yoke. In this case the relief was tied to the confession: I was relieved to be able to confess the right thing--not the intellectual copout I was so afraid (yet so much wanted) to make, but something much more important.

Here is what I confessed. I confessed placing an idolic importance on being right. I confessed my impossibly high standards of what right is. I confessed lying to myself and others to appear to be right. I confessed an underlying fear of being wrong. I confessed avoiding Amber and slandering Kayla out of fear that they were wrong.

And then I confessed being wrong. How to even articulate this? "As high as the sky is above Wyoming, so are Your ways higher than mine." I am wrong about so many things. For every thing I know there are a hundred I don't. The things I do know I don't even know; I know that because that's the idea that keeps me up at night, the idea that makes being wrong so scary--because if I'm wrong about one thing, am I wrong about everything? Have I ever known a damn thing in my whole life? All creation starts to slip away through a sieve--ideas, beliefs, even relationships--until it's just me, alone, at 2AM, in a bed I don't recognize, with a snoring roommate who could be Florence Nightingale for all I know.

This problem scares me so much, and I'm sad to say that fear drives almost everything I do. This is something bigger and deeper than Gay and Not Gay; if you really want to know what troubles me, read that last paragraph again.

So I confessed that.

And here I have this God--this God who knows me more than I can ever know, a God who I know, in some complicated way that I do not understand. There He is and has always been, just as plain as the sky I see through this windshield darkly, just as close, just as incomprehensible. If I have the capacity to know anything, even one thing, even half-well, it is only in that He knows me. And if I can know more, not in full but in part, it is because He is a God who teaches. Here is why I think God told me he demands obedience--because I came to Him seeking knowledge. Seek the Scriptures--obedience trumps knowing, and it frequently precedes it.

That said, what do I know? I am in a car in Wyoming. I am driving to Bend, Oregon. I like guys. I was loved into existence by the God of the universe. By His grace I know that, if nothing else. And for the first time ever, I really believe gay is OK. But I might be wrong. I'm probably wrong, in fact. I just don't know. I do know I don't know, which is all I need to know right now. And I know I follow a God who does not desire to lead me into untruth. And I know He demands obedience.

So I kept driving.

I drove for hours, and then days, until I reached Oregon's Highway 20, which shoots straight as an arrow for 100 miles into the heart of Bend. Delirious from driving and with nothing left to think about, I leaned my chin on the steering wheel and focused dumbly on the sky ahead. As I drove without turning or stopping, the five peaks that make up the Bend "skyline"--Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and the Three Sisters--emerged from the haze of the sky: nothing, then nothing, then wisps on the horizon that could be clouds, then peaks that grew visibly by the hour, slowly distinguishing themselves from one another until I could count two, then three, then all five, until they grew so big I could no longer see them because I was in them, in the cradle of mountains that holds Bend. The Bend city lights slowly separated and grew, becoming streetlights and buildings, one of which was the house that had been my destination since that afternoon in Angel's apartment. I parked in front of the house, got out of the car, stretched my legs, and took in the smell and feel of this wholly different place. People emerged from the house, greeted me, took my things and led me inside to my room, where, without another thought, I went to sleep.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Have I Ever Known a Damn Thing... Part 2

I apologize for the LOST-esque cliffhanger nature of all this; it's a drawback of writing essays that are too freaking huge for a single blog post.

Anyway, not to continue drawing from LOST, but today's installment is a flashback. Get excited!




As I said earlier, I had already encountered gay-affirming Christians before. The protest group Soulforce had come to Wheaton's campus during my freshman year. Soulforce is an ecumenical organization that seeks to put an end to religious intolerance toward homosexuals. It views policies that prohibit same-sex behavior, such as Wheaton's Community Covenant, as oppressive. Its founder, Mel White, wrote a landmark manifesto called "What the Bible Says--and Doesn't Say--About Homosexuality". It's one of the more popular pieces of pro-gay apologetics, and most of its arguments are pretty well-known. His premise is that religious communities who prohibit homosexual behavior do so out of an institutionalized homophobia that they project onto the Bible. Though these communities appeal to the Bible to defend this homophobia, they do so because of an outdated hermeneutic that allows them--knowingly or not--to use the Bible as a mouthpiece which projects their own views back at them like a feedback loop.

In preparation for Soulforce's visit, the Wheaton administration made White's pamphlet available, along with a companion article by our provost, Stan Jones, which countered White's arguments. From a rhetorical stance, there was no question that Jones came out ahead. At best, he made it clear that White and Soulforce were operating on a hermeneutical foundation that most Wheaton students had already rejected if we had signed up to attend an evangelical college. At worst, he pointed out that many of White's premises also represented universally flawed thinking--false dichotomies and category mistakes that most Wheaton students were too smart to fall for. After presenting us with both arguments, Wheaton's administration encouraged us to decide for ourselves, and it was not difficult. We have read your literature, Soulforce, and we are unimpressed.

Before arriving on Wheaton's campus, Soulforce got wind of Wheaton's strategy and changed its rhetoric. Instead of arguing the Bible and opening up an argument that the campus community had already opened and closed a week before, they eliminated all such presentations from the program and instead focused on a rhetoric of dialogue. They came and sat for a day and a half in our student center with open hands--two dozen or so gay people waiting to tell us their stories.

This was a good move, and not just because it spared them from being told about hermeneutical lenses and category mistakes by a patronizing parade of 19-year-olds. More importantly than that, it was a service to Wheaton's community, most of whom had never met a gay person. I was gay and I'd never known a gay person before I came out. Now we had two dozen of them within arm's reach--and real ones, some of whom actually had same-gender lovers. Some of them were just like us--I watched one grad student bond with several of my floormates over dressing up as Jar Jar Binks for the Star Wars: Episode Two premiere. Many of them were nothing like us--butch women, flamboyant guys, and even a transgender person who patiently endured being asked several hundred times how he wanted to be addressed.

Somehow I found both challenging--both the like-me and the unlike-me. All these new people my friends and I were meeting--even the lesbian woman with cropped hair or the trans guy with piercings in his face--held something significant in common with me that almost nobody else at Wheaton did. I hadn't thought about it until just then, but it suddenly seemed plain as day. We're told the Spirit recognizes itself when one believer meets another; something else in me recognized itself in our visitors, something that had never been recognized in that way before, that I may not have been able to recognize on my own. Looking around the student center that afternoon, it felt like a bizarre family reunion where two distant branches were coming together for the first time in years, and I was the common relative. I did not know or even want to know every person there, but every single one of them was an important part of my story whether I liked it or not.

For awhile I lingered around, sizing them up, overwhelmed by their numbers. Then I found someone more like-me than unlike-me--a mellow, sardonic woman named Kayla who was telling a roomful of students about going through seminary and living with her partner. After she was done telling her story, the room dispersed and I approached her with my schpiel: "I came out a month ago to the whole campus, can we talk?" She agreed, and we moved to a more private corner of the student center, flanked by a semicircle remnant of students from the larger discussion.

I don't remember all we talked about, though I have a strong visual memory that I know to be false: Kayla and I, sitting across from one another with our foreheads nearly touching, speaking in low voices and looking into one another's eyes for the entire hour. Perhaps that visual took place for a brief moment in the conversation, but it couldn't have been true for much of it--there were actually five or six of us there, and several of the other students contributed to the conversation as well. Still, that's the memory I have.

What I do remember of our "dialogue" was actually more of an interrogation. Forgive me; we were two ships passing and I had many questions. Namely: "Kayla, are you sure? How did you justify this? Did God really lead you into a relationship? And what do you do with the Bible?" Seeing those questions spelled out on the page, they can be read two different ways: confrontationally, as spoken by a Wheaton student seeking to put Kayla's theology on trial, or frantically, as spoken by a gay 19-year old who desperately wanted Kayla's words to be true. If you could find a good actor who could read those questions in one voice that conveyed both of those intentions, you would nail the conversation as I remember it. I'm not sure how it would play back in Kayla's memory, though I imagine I probably came off as mostly confrontational.

Either way it was selfish, so if you're reading this, Kayla, I'm sorry. My questions were motivated by twin fears: I was afraid you were wrong, and I was afraid you were right. If the Spirit in me recognized the Spirit in you I was paying too much attention to those fears to notice. I sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; forgive me.

When it came down to it, Kayla was wrong. She was barely wrong, but she was wrong enough. Though I was more impressed by her exegesis than by Mel White's, it just wasn't good enough for me. With measured speech, she told us the arguments that had helped her make one of the most important decisions of her life, and with disproportionate ease my friends and I started chiming off responses: "I think you're underestimating this element of Paul's argument," and "Have you read Slaves, Women and Homosexuals? That author makes a really convincing point..."

To my supreme dismay, Kayla eventually stopped having answers. Not only that, but she seemed to be somewhat shaken by what we were saying. Near the end of the conversation, she looked wearily at me and said, "Listen. I think you're probably right. I think that's what the Bible probably says. Everything you're saying makes sense, and on some level it made sense to me too. Then I met someone. And I guess she made more sense."

Just like I would later with Amber, I became suddenly overwhelmed with questions. Most of them were some variation on "What's she like? What's she like? Tell me about her." But just like I would later with Amber, I held my tongue. Too aware of my semicircle of peers, the low ceiling of the Student Center, and Kayla's tired face, I just nodded.

Kayla went on. "Steve, when I met someone, not only did she make more sense, but I realized that none of this stuff had really made sense before, even though I thought it did. When I met her, I could quit bending over backward to understand something that made no sense to me, and I could finally just be. And that was such a relief. Listen, I'm glad this seems to be working for you. I'm glad you're happy here, and I'm glad all this stuff seems to be making sense. But one day you might meet somebody and all of that will change. I don't know if I pray that happens or if I pray it doesn't. Listen, I'm so glad things are going well."

As she spoke I had a sense that I needed to collect her words somehow, write them down or memorize them, because there was something important and true in what she was saying. Kayla and the rest of the semicircle got up to leave, but I stayed at the table, trying to retain it all. She had just said something to me that really mattered. What was it?
After awhile, one of my friends came back to the table to get me and I got up to leave. On our way out of the Student Center, we passed Kayla in the hallway. I signaled her. "Hey--thanks again. Thank you so much." Kayla gave me a weak smile and nod and went in the other direction. My friend leaned over to me. "Did she seem shaken?" she asked.

I don't know about Kayla, but I definitely was. The whole conversation left me feeling strange. I spent several days trying to figure out why. I especially dwelt on Kayla's last words to me. They still seemed important somehow, as if I needed to pay extra close attention to them.

But at the same time I was frustrated with her. I had gone into the conversation hoping she would catch me in some unseen technicality, that she would say the one magic thing that would loose my conscience to just let me be gay. She hadn't. Even worse, she was on her way to convincing me that her whole stance was bunk. She'd practically admitted that she just disregarded the Bible!

As time went on, my curiosity about Kayla's last words faded, and my frustration with her increased. After a couple weeks I closed the case: the conversation had upset me solely because Kayla was wrong. If her closing words had seemed important, it was because I was tempted to believe them even though I knew she was wrong. By the time I spoke with Amber and Angel, my memory of the conversation with Kayla--and the whole Soulforce visit--had long ago crystallized into a fixed event: The Afternoon When I Realized Gay People Don't Care About the Bible, Actually.

...

Please comment if you're familiar with Soulforce and feel I've misrepresented them in any way. And stay tuned for Part 3 and Part 4!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Have I Ever Known a Damn Thing... Part 1

Forgive the long silence, guys. It's been six tongue-tied months.

I started this blog in July with an essay that had originally been finished and published in April. The problem was, in about May some stuff had happened that made me a whole lot less sure about all my ideas regarding homosexuality and the church. And the next thing I knew I had 70 comments and no idea what to say. So, sorry about that.

But I have something to show for it! I spent Christmas at home writing about post-Wheaton gayness, and the new direction my thoughts have been taking. Since it's too long for one post, I'm splitting it up: a Blog Opera in Four Parts. The first three posts will be different chapters of the narrative, and the fourth post will point toward discussion.

So, without further ado, Part 1:

Two days after I graduated from Wheaton College last May, I got to know my first ever lesbians. This might sound surprising, given that by the end of my time on campus I had found community with a number of same-sex attracted men. For whatever reason, though, I didn't meet a single same-sex attracted woman in four years.

My friends and I had often wondered why this was. Wheaton sometimes felt like an incubator for repressed male homosexuality--my friends and I could hardly make it out of the cafeteria without one of our male friends disclosing his sexual identity crisis to us. But where were all the women? Sometimes I wondered if there simply weren't any. Maybe something about Wheaton (the Conservatory of Music? the creative writing program?) drew all the young SSA-prone men of the evangelical community to itself, and all the lesbians were ending up somewhere else--maybe Biola? That didn't hold much water, though. Certainly they were here, and that seemed to leave two other options. What I feared was that there were plenty of Wheaton lesbians, and all of them were keeping quiet. What I hoped was that all the lesbians were meeting up unbeknownst to us in another pocket of Wheaton, wondering where all the gay guys were.

As it turned out, that was exactly what was going on. A month before graduating I mentioned my curiosity to my friend Leigh, and she told me her experience had been nearly the opposite of mine--several of her close girlfriends had come out to her since she came to Wheaton, but I was the first same-sex attracted man she'd met. Apparently, the Safe Communities for gay men and women at Wheaton had been flourishing parallel to each other, like the two circles of a Venn Diagram, with Leigh and me hanging out in the shaded middle. Lovely!

I asked Leigh to mention my name to her friends and see if any of them wanted to talk to me. She called me back with the names and phone numbers of two of them. Three weeks later I found myself in an apartment in downtown Wheaton, freshly graduated and surrounded by half-packed moving boxes, eating plain spaghetti and discussing homosexuality with two women named Angel and Amber.*

We had a good conversation, fueled maybe by all the moving boxes and the weirdly transient feeling that hovered over the apartment and the whole campus--we were ships passing and we knew it. We tried to cover everything in as little time as possible. We talked about homosexuality, but mostly we talked about faith. We shared our testimonies with one another, and we identified with one another's stories.

It felt somehow miraculous, me and these two women who I had been seeing around for the last four years, living alongside and sharing space with, meeting up not two days before we would all get the hell out of there, and finally owning up to one another: "Yeah, me too. Could you tell?" I was extremely encouraged by Angel and Amber's testimonies, as if they were representing all lesbians, at Wheaton and everywhere--and the news was optimistic: "Steve - not only do we exist, but you know things could be way worse!" God was moving, and we were excited.

Then, toward the end of our conversation, Amber shared the latest part of her story: that she had recently gotten engaged to her girlfriend, another Wheaton student I had not met. This surprised me, and I wasn't sure how to respond. I shoved some scraps of spaghetti around on my plate and tried to act natural, but I suddenly wanted to ask her the weirdest questions: Do you guys have a date set? When did you meet? Haven't you read Romans? I want to buy you a Cuisinart. Are you absolutely sure this is OK? Oh my gosh, tell me about her, tell me about her. What's she like? What's she like? Tell me about her.

I didn't say any of those things; in fact, I can't remember exactly what I said. I think I probably expressed a conflicted mix of congratulations and curiosity. Then I admitted my concern and asked her sheepishly about her theology. At this she brightened, which was also a surprise--she said her relationship was a celebration of a Biblically-grounded theological conviction she and her girlfriend had considered for a long time and now held very deeply. She mentioned some readings that had helped her and promised to email them to me. Soon after that I had to go.

I left Angel's apartment and walked down the street, across Wheaton's strangely empty campus, my head spinning. Something had just changed, right there in that apartment, something I didn't understand yet. Why on earth had the conversation affected me this much? The more I thought about it, I started to remember that I had been fully aware of Amber's relationship status before the conversation--Leigh had mentioned it to me and I'd forgotten. And regardless, I had certainly encountered gay-affirming Christians before. So what was the big deal? This was different; it felt like I had just lost an intellectual limb. But which one? What was missing? My mind was working overtime to find and fill the hole, firing off questions to test which assumptions just weren't there anymore. Did I still believe homosexuality was wrong? Had I ever?

I didn't get a chance to figure it out. Talking to Amber and Angel had been the last thing on my schedule at Wheaton, and I was due in a week at a summer internship across the country. The next thing I knew I was on a Megabus home to Missouri, where I spent a couple days frantically unpacking and repacking before getting in a car with most of my possessions and driving 2000 miles, alone, to Bend, Oregon.

Finally, midway across Wyoming I let my mind settle on the subject again. I was completely outside the protective umbrella of the Wheaton community for the first time in four years. I was a thousand miles from anyone I knew. And somewhere in cyberspace was an extremely loving email from Amber and Angel that included a 60kb Word document of gay-friendly theology I had not yet allowed myself to read.

OK, Steve, what happened back there?

(Stay tuned for Part 2!)

*names have been changed to those of awesome female rock stars

Friday, September 4, 2009

Unemployed At Wheaton

Oh man, it's been awhile. Here, in outline form, is how I've been occupying myself for the past month, (and why the blog hasn't been updated):

1. Drove from Oregon to Missouri
A. Saw Old Faithful about two days before the Obamas
B. Devoured The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
2. A week of car repairs and sleep at home
A. Watched Season 1 of the new BBC drama Being Human
-it is about a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost who are roommates
-there are so many SSA parallels
3. Drove from Missouri back to Wheaton
4. Back at Wheaton
A. Move into my house
-Craigslist furnishing
-We have an upright piano and a Lutheran hymnal!
B. Search frantically for a job
-Crossway Publishing (UNDERQUALIFIED!)
-Popmatters.com internship (shoot I lost the Craigslist link and now the post is gone!)
-Trader Joe's (check back weekly)
-Tour guide for Ghost Tours of Naperville (we have your e-mail on file)
-Moving some rocks at a professor's house for money (n/m, don't need help anymore actually, thanks!)
5. Unemployed At Wheaton
A. Marathons of The West Wing
B. Obsess over the new (as yet unreleased) album by my friends The McMakens
C. Plan, with housemates, a stage production called 32 Short Plays About Homosexuality
-excerpt:
Freshman Roommate 1: Hey, bud, are you going to that Roulette group date with the sister floor on Friday?
Freshman Roommate 2: ...no.
(lights)


And so on.

Anyway, perpetual displacement coupled with inconsistent internet have meant I've been lousy about posting or even replying to comments, but I'm ready to get back into the swing of things now. Sorry for the lapse!

I've been reading through Mario Bergner's Setting Love In Order, which has been alternately enlightening and frustrating. I'm also trying to work my way through Richard Hays's The Moral Vision of the New Testament, which is slow going. And Love Is An Orientation came in the mail while I was in Missouri, but I haven't seen it since. It's either still buried and unpacked or I left it there. So there's plenty of fodder for future posts. Be back soon, I promise!


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Everybody! Everybody!

After posting Gay at Wheaton a friend came to visit for a weekend, I bought a new computer, and somebody backed into my car. Needless to say I've been busy, and next thing I knew I had 44 comments.

Wow.

I did not expect this in the least when I started this blog, so thanks for the votes of confidence, everybody. I hope my remaining output doesn't seriously disappoint everyone.

Longer post later, obviously--your comments definitely stirred the pot and gave me some idea for direction in future posts. But for now can I exploit you guys for some info since you're reading?

First, I heard from some friends that the Exodus conference went on a couple weeks ago, right in Wheaton College's own Edman Chapel. Apparently the requisite protesters showed up as well. I almost stayed at Wheaton as media staff for the summer solely so I could attend this and satisfy my curiosity. Anyone attend this or know someone who did? I'm pretty uninitiated to the whole Exodus thing and I guess I'm Ex-curious.

Second, I'm a summer ministry intern at a church in Oregon, and they have me compiling resources on homosexuality for the pastoral staff. So far this is my list:

Theological Ethics
  • Richard Hays' Moral Vision of the New Testament's chapter on homosexuality (promotes celibacy)
  • Lewis Smedes' Like the Wideness of the Sea? (promotes committed partnerships)
Ministry to Homosexuals Outside the Church Community
  • Chad Thompson's Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would
  • Andy Marin's Love Is an Orientation (in the mail!)
Discipleship to Homosexuals Within the Church Community
  • Chad Thompson's Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would (conditionally recommended--I like his voice and a lot of what he says [plus, we're buds] but don't really I dig his overall attitude that if you make all the same choices he makes you'll turn straight, presto)
  • ???
General Christian Sexuality
  • Lisa McMinn's Sexuality and Holy Longing
  • Lauren Winner's Real Sex
Narratives
  • This completely demolishing essay about there being no right answers in some situations
  • My essay (Gotta self-promote, yeah?)
  • Several of y'all's blogs

Right now my most lacking area is definitely Discipleship to Homosexuals Within the Church Community. Thompson is just not enough. Any help there? Any other narratives would also be great.

I'm really trying to keep it pretty all over the place, since this is a young church and I'm not sure they've even really come to a firm decision where they stand in the ethical discussion, which is obviously going to affect their ministry and discipleship. One of the pastors mentioned that a lesbian couple has been attending church, and usually sits in the back. I love these pastors, but at this point their approach seems to mostly be, "We obviously want to welcome them, but, like, yeah..." So my *protect everybody* alarms are going off and I want to do whatever I can to help out before I leave, especially given the story I linked to. So anything you can point me to would be a huge help. I can sort through it or they can.

Finally, does anyone have any experience with Mario Bergner's program Redeemed Lives? Or its brother course, Returning Sons? I'm seriously considering doing RL this fall/spring at my local church in Wheaton but know next to nothing about it. I'm shooting an e-mail to my clergy about it, obvs, but if anyone here has experience with it I'm all ears.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gay At Wheaton

This blog is an extension of an essay I wrote for The Pub, Wheaton College's unofficial undergraduate journal. If you don't know, Wheaton is an evangelical Christian college in the Chicago suburbs. I wrote this essay to the campus community. I'm posting it in its entirety here, as the first entry. If you've read it before, read it again. It's edited to make sense outside of Wheaton, I added some sentences, and there are a couple new ideas (most notably the "well-meaning" strain).

I like guys. There, I said it. I am a male student at Wheaton and I’m exclusively attracted to other males. This essay is about having to be both of those things at the same time.

This is not my first time being publicly open about my sexuality at Wheaton. I started coming out as a freshman, telling close friends and family after years of silence. Soon I felt the need to talk to my floor, Fischer 5E, and several campus groups I was involved in. As word spread about my willingness to talk I was approached by campus newspaper The Record to do an interview, and in the spring semester of my freshman year it was printed, with my name and face appearing under the headline Gay at Wheaton. It was a terrible picture. I looked like a missing child on the back of a milk carton.

That’s how I became Wheaton’s gay poster boy as a freshman. Since then campus turnover has taken its toll and only a handful of people know anymore. And that’s been fine with me.

Yet I’ve found myself wishing I’d had more to say when I gave that interview as a freshman. I was eager to share my experience with the world then, but I hardly had any experience to share. Since then I’ve lived in the Wheaton community, attempting to reconcile my sexuality with my faith, for three years. I’ve gotten to know dozens of others here in the same situation. And I’ve gotten to know Wheaton—the ways it’s both the worst and the best place in the world for someone like me. Now I look at the awkward kid staring out at me from a three-year-old Record and wish he knew any of what I know now.

So even though it’s nobody’s business, I now find myself writing to whoever wants to read, once again Gay at Wheaton for all to see. My intentions are three-fold. I want to tell my story to the campus at large, many of whom have no idea what it’s like for their same-sex attracted fellows, or even that they have them. I also realize that there are more students than even I’m aware of who are at some point on the spectrum of gay experience and could benefit from hearing my story as well. Finally, I hope to open the conversation on the subject of homosexual students at Wheaton, a subject I’ve found to be conspicuously absent, despite much talk of homosexuality.

Rather than attempt to tell my story chronologically, I will arrange it topically. I’ve found that the most difficult part of reconciling homosexuality with Christian faith is that there is no shared language to describe the experience. No one has gone before and named the specific trials, questions and problems we face. The language we do have to choose from is weighed down with political and theological baggage we don’t completely understand. [1]

Because of this lack of shared language, as often as not the homosexual Christian has to come up with his or her own language to speak about his or her experiences. After wrestling with a problem for months, all I may have to show for it is one sentence where there used to be confusion. What follows are the results of three of my battles at Wheaton, one sentence at a time.

The first sentence is this:

We exist.

The most harmful and pervasive lie I’ve encountered at Wheaton has been that homosexual students at Wheaton either don’t exist or aren’t worth considering. Outrageously enough, I believed this lie for most of my freshman year.

I came to Wheaton desperate for answers, knowing my faith and sexuality seemed to be at odds, but having no idea how to reconcile them. I hoped I would find Wheaton to be a place that was ready to help me answer some of those questions. I didn’t even know what that would look like at the time. I think I hoped I would find an environment where people felt safe to be open about their sexuality, and where someone more experienced than me could take me aside and tell me what it was I was supposed to do with myself. I didn’t quite find that.

What I did find was a community of mostly straight friends who admitted their ignorance with regard to my struggle, but promised they would be alongside me no matter what. I also met several other same-sex attracted students who had the same questions I had: Did we have to become straight? Was that possible? Were we destined to be lonely? Surely we weren't the only ones in our situation, right?

What I didn’t find was answers, or even any well-worn route toward them. Now I had friends, and we were confused together—we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, and nobody else was telling us. There seemed to be no protocol for us.

Eventually one of my gay friends told me about a support group at the counseling center for same-sex attracted students. I went, hoping this would be a step toward answers. Every Friday, five of us sat in a circle and talked about our experiences with two mostly silent grad student practicum counselors.

It’s hard to describe the way I felt about those meetings. I looked forward to them every week—I’d never been able to talk candidly with others in my situation before. At the same time, though, I felt worse after every session. The more we talked, the more we all felt irrevocably isolated from the rest of the Wheaton community—holed up in the counseling center on Friday mornings, crying because we liked guys. I was even more confused than I’d been before.

Meanwhile, outside our little room in the counseling center, everybody at Wheaton was talking about homosexuality. In April, a gay activist group called Soulforce visited our campus as part of its Equality Ride, which visited dozens of institutions across the country to protest their policies regarding homosexuality. Since Wheaton's covenant does not allow its students to engage in homosexual behavior, Soulforce viewed it as "oppressive" to gay students. In preparation for the Riders' visit, the college hosted speakers, forums and events to educate the student body. Ex-gay speakers gave testimonies in chapel about their miraculous changes in orientation, giving anecdotes about their current spouses and kids. The provost and other administrators took a closer look at Scripture passages that prohibit homosexual behavior, explaining why Wheaton's covenant held its stance.

On one level, this was exactly what I’d been waiting for. Wheaton was suddenly a flurry of information about same-sex attraction, and some of it was extremely helpful. But at the same time the attention on the issue was extremely alienating for those of us at those Friday morning meetings. Despite the floodlights being thrown on the issue of homosexuality, we the homosexual students were still in the dark. Not one of the sessions reached out to same-sex attracted students or illuminated straight students to our struggle. We were occasionally mentioned as a liability—the concern seemed to be that one of us would hear Soulforce’s rhetoric and be won over to the wrong side of a moral debate.

This is one example of a pattern I’ve seen at Wheaton. Every once in awhile, like during the Soulforce visit, the issue of homosexuality flares up on campus, and this usually serves as a valuable time for the campus community to revisit its stance on homosexual behavior and address Wheaton’s place in a wider moral debate. I won’t argue that this is unimportant. Sexual ethics matters, and the entire campus--gay and straight--benefits from discussions like these.

But I want to argue that this type of discussion is always harmful to homosexual students unless coupled with an acknowledgment of our struggle and an active attempt to reach out to our needs. The reason for this is that for us, the issue is one of self-identification. The moral issue for us is not just an issue--it’s an identity crisis. And we can’t be expected to deal with those questions until more urgent needs of community and self-identification have been met. I’ll describe more what this looks like in my third section.

As for Soulforce, they came and went, and I felt unsatisfied by the whole experience. They claimed that Wheaton’s policy prohibiting homosexual behavior was oppressive, but I didn't buy it. Regardless of what I may or may not have believed given my soup of ethical confusion at the time, I knew that the last thing I needed to be doing was having sex with anybody, and I was glad for the paper restriction to hold me to it. Further, the main purpose of the Wheaton prep sessions for Soulforce’s visit was to show us that Wheaton’s stance is based on the overarching story of Scripture, and I was mostly convinced.

Still, what about the six of us wasting away in the Counseling Center? If the Soulforce visit, and the three-month focus on homosexuality it prompted, hadn’t helped me figure out what to do with myself, what would? As the group disbanded at the end of my freshman year, I concluded that nothing would. I felt I had reached the glass ceiling, and from there on out I was on my own. We may exist, but barely.

It took another year and a tragedy to gain a second sentence:

Wheaton is oppressive.

In June 2007, the summer before my junior year, my friend Stephen stepped in front of a train in Germany and killed himself.

Stephen was also in the counseling center group, and had been the first gay student at Wheaton to approach me after I came out. He was a year older than me, and had been coming out to people for a couple months when we met. I had already known him for his brilliant sense of humor and love of philosophy. When I told him I was gay we were in a large group of people. He gave me a bear hug, lifted me off the ground, walked me over to another side of the room, set me down, and told me he was gay too. After that, we frequently met and talked for hours. He was the closest thing to a mentor I had during my first year at Wheaton. Though he was as confused as I was, he was older and smarter and he cared about me. Most importantly, he understood. When he died, it felt like I had lost a comrade in battle.

Stephen and I had talked numerous times about a previous gay Wheaton student, also named Steven, who had committed suicide at a train crossing in the 80s or 90s. We wondered if he was an urban legend, but after Stephen died, a friend sent me a scan of an article about Steven in The Record. Below his picture was a brief description of him, along with remembrances from friends and professors. He was a part of Arena Theater. He wrote poetry. He killed himself on campus, at the President St. train crossing, in March 1988.

The danger of stories like this is that after awhile they become legendary. The 1988 Steven has achieved campus lore status, and after just two years, Stephen is already approaching that status too. But for those of us who knew one of these men or shared their struggles, these stories are far too close to home. In my time at Wheaton, I have known probably two dozen gay students, and almost all of them have shared with me that they were (or had recently been) suicidal.

I have written and re-written that sentence, and I can’t seem to make it painful enough. As it is, it sounds like a statistic, because I can’t share every story. But these people are my friends; they are dozens of my friends. And Stephen was my friend. Of course, Stephen was everyone’s friend. His death was a wake up call to many who had no idea they were so close to someone in so much pain. Chances are, my friends are also your friends.

I remember one specific evening, talking to one of my friends who was at the end of his rope, then walking home, waiting for a train at the President crossing, where 20 years ago Steven died. I didn’t know him, but I have seen his face in the Record I have saved as a PDF on my computer. And I did know Stephen. When I see his face I see it exhausted, across from me at a Saga table, or grinning, cracking me up with poetry about Kant's Categorical Imperative. Sometimes I have to remind myself to remember him that way, as my friend, and not as a legend.

Waiting for the train that night, exhausted, I asked God why so many of my friends wished they were dead. Sometimes it seems like we’ve been told the lie that we don't exist for so long it was bound to start coming true. In many ways, these two deaths, separated by 20 years, are nothing more than isolated tragedies, each with its own set of circumstances. But for me, they are a reminder that “We exist” is a sentence we have to fight for. Dozens of people on campus—your friends and my friends—are buying into the lie at any given time. The only thing that sets these two men apart is that they acted on it.

That’s really all I can say about oppression at Wheaton. Wheaton is not oppressive for the reasons Soulforce was protesting. Homosexual students aren’t actively oppressed under the community covenant. We just can't have sex--which puts us in the same boat as all unmarried Wheaton students. Wheaton is also not oppressively anti-gay, like some other communities. When we finally share our stories, we are usually well received. The community really does desire to help and love us. But they don't necessarily know how, so they keep quiet. As a result, many of us are wasting away, even in the midst of a loving community, under the burden of a well-meaning but deadly silence.

The argument will be made that depression and suicide rates are higher among homosexuals across the board, not just at Wheaton. And it’s true, a radical paradigm shift like coming to grips with one’s sexuality, especially in the Christian faith, is extremely stressful for anyone, and a lowered emotional state is par for the course, at least for awhile. It’s not right, it’s often tragic, and it’s nobody’s fault.

But I’d like to argue that it could be made so much easier for gay Wheaton students. As impossible as it may be to believe here, thousands of Christians outside the Wheaton community (and some inside the Wheaton community) live relatively well-adjusted lives, doing the hard work of reconciling their sexuality with their faith. They do this in community with other Christians, both gay and straight. They deal with the issue the way normal people deal with normal issues, alongside other normal, fallen Christians with normal, fallen, Christian issues.

That’s the truth that kills the lie, the truth I wanted to hear my first day at Wheaton, the truth that needs to be shouted from the rooftops so every closeted gay Christian can hear it. The reason the silence is so oppressive is that it has hidden this truth under a bushel, hidden it from generations of Wheaton students, gay and straight, except those who were willing to search for it like some stupid gay holy grail. Put more simply, it’s my third sentence:

You are not alone.

I learned this truth by mistake. As I said earlier, when I came out I found myself in a wonderful community of mostly straight friends who promised to stick with me. And they did. That community, over and against the support group, has been what has made my Wheaton experience positive. Though it may be obvious, it’s important to say that community was not centered on my sexuality. What bound us together, ironically, was grief—for Stephen, for other loved ones and losses—out of which grew celebration with and for one another in our different, normal struggles.

The other community I discovered accidentally was Church of the Resurrection (Rez). At Rez I found the healthy, intentional community Wheaton is not. While Rez is active in the moral discussion over the issue of homosexuality, it is equally active in reaching within the church to its same-sex attracted members. Rez ushers its homosexual members into communities of discipleship where they are free to be transparent about their struggles just like everybody else.

These communities have two main elements: community for those who are same-sex attracted, and community between those who are same-sex attracted and those who are not. In my experience, both of these elements are necessary for healthy existence as a same-sex attracted Christian.

To define what this type of community would look like at Wheaton, I first have to describe what it isn’t. First, it’s not a support group. As I stated earlier, the support group I was placed me in an isolated community with other same-sex attracted students, and we mostly reinforced each others’ feelings of alienation.

Second, it’s not a dating service. Wherever two or more same-sex attracted students are gathered, people worry they will have sex with each other. This simple fact is the biggest hindrance to community between homosexual students. Same-sex attracted students are afraid to seek each other out because of this fear. Administrators and faculty are afraid to encourage this type of community because of this fear. Though it is a legitimate concern, it is a foolish stumbling block if it is preventing such community entirely. The solution is openness and accountability both among gay students, and between gay students and their straight peers. This is how straight students maintain chastity, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for us.

Third, it's not an underground. Part of the reason students are still hesitant to reach out to one another, either by being honest about their own struggle or by being willing to talk to those who are, is because we have little guidance from above. Students at a Christian college look to the administration and faculty for their example. If our elders keep quiet, the student body keeps quiet, and our attempts at real community feel like a clandestine grope for acceptance that doesn't seem to be sanctioned.

Finally, the community I’m describing isn’t a gay-straight alliance. Community between homosexual Christians and heterosexual Christians is community between Christians. We meet not to celebrate our differences but to remember that we are the same. When I share about my sexuality with straight men, we find that our experiences are more similar than different. With this focus on our sameness, we are willing to learn about our differences so we can love each other better.

Since Wheaton isn’t a church, this community can’t be enacted here the way it is at Rez and other churches. Still, I would argue that some type of intentional, organized community that strives to be what I’ve described above is possible and necessary here. It would likely be a student led, informal but regular meeting of straight and gay students, focused on swapping experiences, confessing and forgiving hurts, answering each others' questions about sexuality, and seeking out more experienced resources who can teach us how to love one another.

More important than any intentional group, however, is to seek out this type of community as an attitude of openness and awareness among the student body. Straight students, you are not alone either: remember that you are surrounded by gay Christians whether you know it or not, and be transparently open to hear their stories. Gay students, be ready to talk, wherever you are in your experience. This conversation has to start with you.

I said before that Wheaton was both the best and the worst place for me to be a same-sex attracted Christian. And I meant it. It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t trade my Wheaton experience for anything. The resources here for someone like me are unparalleled—people here take their faith very seriously, and I’ve finally (though it took until my senior year) started to find answers to questions I’ve been asking since I first realized I liked guys. I’ve caught a glimpse of a Wheaton that is the best place for someone like me, and I dream of a Wheaton that knows how to love its gay students, rather than oppressing them in a well-meaning but deadly silence.



[1] In this essay, I use the phrases “gay”, “homosexual”, and “same-sex attracted” interchangeably. Each of these phrases has a set of political or cultural connotations I’d rather not use, but they’re the words we have. My definition for each is this: one who is sexually attracted, exclusively or not, to the same gender.





...






Though this essay is obviously written to the specific Wheaton College audience, I think it's helpful beyond that audience, because Wheaton really is in many ways a microcosm of evangelical Christianity. I can't speak for the fundamentalists, mainliners or liberals, but we evangelicals seem to both understand where we stand on the issue of homosexuality, and that we need to actively love homosexuals, both inside and outside our churches. But we are only beginning to learn how. I stumbled across the term "well-meaning but deadly silence" but I think it accurately describes the atmosphere in the evangelical church faced by same-sex attracted believers.

So, this blog. The only way to combat silence is with language. The first language I ever wrote about this subject was a sentence in my journal over four years ago, when I first confessed to an audience of me that I was same-sex attracted. It was an MS Word document, not a college-ruled notebook page, and the exact words were not "I like guys." That simple sentence is how I usually say it now--and it is much more true than the sentence I did write ("I am gay,")--but I never used it until I wrote the essay. Still, that first sentence inspired the blog header image (written in my roommate Blade's entirely straight handwriting), and as such this blog will be pretty much devoted to the discussion of homosexuality in the church, using the essay as a starting point. There is plenty more to say.

Second, I would never have written the essay if it weren't for the profound effect other bloggers like Eve Tushnet, Johnny Heard, collegejay, Disputed Mutability and (though I just discovered her) Misty Irons had on me. They were the first role models I had in actively and intelligently working through the specific, practical and myriad problems homosexuality poses for me and for the church. They were also a constant reminder that I wasn't alone. Maybe this blog can serve that purpose too, or at least join them in the conversation.

Finally, I'm not a Wheaton student anymore. Even though I will still be hanging out there for another nine months, looking for a job and living a block away, it's time for me to recognize that there's a world beyond the bubble. So, this blog is also a chance for me to start thinking about The Problem of Everybody Else. Hopefully it will attract some readers who aren't my roommates, and who hold different viewpoints than I do. I don't know a whole lot of mainliners, liberals or fundamentalists, but we are all the church. I know a few more non-Christians, and a lot of this stuff seems really bizarre to them. Hopefully they can benefit from hearing me express it a little more carefully. I always benefit from being told my head is up my ass.

Oh, and since this is the first post and I'm going to staple it to the sidebar: if you randomly discovered this blog, and you are gay, and you have never told anybody, email me. Right now. Let's talk.

There it is. Hopefully there will be many more posts, and hopefully none of them will be this long.