Last week, the folks at Campus Pride, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for LGBTQ students, released its 2016 Shame List of the absolute worst campuses for LBGTQ youth. As I scrolled through the list of colleges and universities, I began to feel like I was scrolling through one of those old Campus Life guides to Christian colleges that we used to make available to youth group kids and their families. It was not at all surprising that the list was overwhelmingly populated by religiously-affiliated schools. Included on the list was my own alma mater, Geneva College.
The Campus Pride site includes these words about the list from Executive Director, Shane Windmeyer: “Religion-based bigotry is careless and life-threatening. LGBTQ young people face high rates of harassment and violence, especially our trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. The schools on this list openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth and many of these schools have requested or received Title IX exemptions for no other purpose than to discriminate, expel and ban LGBTQ youth from campus. It is shameful and wrong. . . Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are the worst for LGBTQ youth. They are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow – and nobody wants to got to a college that openly discriminates against anyone.”
I’ve been thinking about Shane Windmeyer’s words for several days. While my thoughts are still in process and therefore incomplete, here are some initial reflections. . .
Perhaps most troubling to me as I pondered the list is that fact that I know a small handful of the schools listed and believe that Shane Windmeyer’s characterization of those schools is a bit unfair. Granted, I can’t speak for all of the schools on the list. Most are schools I only know by name. Nor can I speak for the far-too-many people associated with many Christian colleges (and other institutions, for that matter) who horribly misrepresent Christ and Christianity when it comes to matters of sexuality. . . either through their own arrogant behavioral hypocrisy and failure to recognize that hypocrisy, and/or through hate-filled approaches to issues of sexuality that would be more like those crazy messed-up folks who show up at military funerals and pride events screaming, yelling, and condemning. The fact is, these people do not represent me, and their actions shouldn’t lead to hasty judgments regarding Christ, Christianity, and all Christians.
But what also left me troubled regarding the list and Shane Windmeyer’s comments is the all-or-nothing nature of his words that I believe unfairly box those of us in who are truly working hard to listen, to understand, and to respond in ways that reflect a humble attitude of repentance (where and when we’ve been wrong. . . and we have been), along with a clear Christ-like approach that oozes grace, while maintaining a proper perspective on God’s order and design for his created gift of sex and sexuality. My own college, Geneva College, unapologetically expects and strives to nurture all students to embrace a consistent Christian faith that is integrated into all of life. . . academics, relationships, play, work, sexuality, etc. Every faculty member and student who is honest will readily admit that to do so is, in fact, a daily struggle. This mission is rooted in the transformative message of the Gospel. In Geneva’s case, the whole of Biblical history and two-thousand years of Christian history continue to come together to shape an understanding and approach to all matters of life in ways that challenge every student on a personal level, while reflecting the way and will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. For me personally, I have struggled, worked, and at times failed miserably to see how the Scriptures do in fact speak to every nook and cranny of my life. . . including sex and sexuality. While it has been a difficult venture that usually challenges my beliefs and behaviors to the point of great discomfort, it has always been a journey that is life-giving and transformative.
To all those who would come to blanket conclusions based on the Shame List, I would simply ask that you understand that in the case of what I believe is true of most Christians, is that we endeavor to be people who represent love, welcome, and safety. This is who God has been to us. We endeavor to be those kind of people because we endeavor to be faithful to God and his revelation of himself in the Bible, which is why we believe that God’s good gift of sex and sexuality are given for a clear purpose and place. I would hope that as we endeavor to serve God and show grace, that you would not openly discriminate against us as we endeavor to follow and serve the God who has revealed himself to humanity in the Scriptures and called us to “come and follow me.” For me, to walk away from a Biblical sexual ethic would require me to turn my back on all that Christ has done in my life, and to jettison everything I’ve believed about everything. To do so would be a clear denial of Jesus Christ. . . which is not an option for me. Likewise, to stand on a corner and scream “God hates fags!” would be a denial of Jesus Christ as well. And in the midst of all of this, I continue to pray that I would be open to understanding where I have been in error in both beliefs and behaviors.
To my fellow followers of Christ, I highly recommend this short little conversation about how to speak to our culture about sex. . .