In series this weekend, students from four Adventist colleges and universities - Andrews, PUC, La Sierra, Southern - share their experience of engaging the issues surrounding homosexual identity on campus.
Demographic data continues to show that beyond hermeneutics, geography and generation condition how folks approach this issue. The pat answers and concomitant silence that might have worked regarding same-gender relationships a generation or two ago now serves to slide the next generation back from a future of engaging faith and reason in an Adventist context.
Among the most successful parochial systems in the world Seventh-day Adventist education is one of the safest places where Adventists have the freedom to articulate their own future in the Adventist mission. Recent studies (Religion and Ethics) and (Faith in Public Life) show that a majority (56%) of evangelical Christians under 30 favor civil unions or same-gender marriage. Roger Dudley's recent data (published in Spectrum) reveals similar generational shifts among Seventh-day Adventists.
While it might be tempting for some to dismiss this as evidence of a generational standard slipperiness, the same studies show that there is no difference in beliefs between these same young evangelical Christians and their parents on other social issues such as abortion.
As with the prohibitions over interracial sex and marriage, the old phobias of the past are fading in culturally challenging ways. While there is some short-term discomfort among some in power, might the long term future of Adventism depend on their current administration, faculty and staff leadership living out Galatians 3? If the Lord should tarry, which institutions will leave a legacy of faithful action for oneness and which will sell their Advent movement birthright to conserve some pottage?
As Alan Wolfe, religion professor at Boston College noted recently:
Conservative Protestant colleges and universities have become too varied and interesting to pigeonhole into the categories of America's culture war. They can no longer be caricatured as simpleminded defenders of the old-time religion and hostile to reason, any more than secular colleges can be characterized as globally hostile to religion and traditional moral values.
With secular colleges tolerant to even religion, what does Adventist education offer?
An evangelical leader, Richard Cizik observed that,
these younger evangelicals, they disagree quite strongly with their elders on [same sex marriage]. . . . The influence of their generational peers is clear. Four in ten young evangelicals say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian.
As the FuTurE arrives from academies and public schools with out GLBT Christians, will Adventist higher education lag phobically behind or will it lead the way in preparing students for diverse lives of fearless professional, cultural and spiritual engagement?
In the 21st century, can Adventist campuses and their constituencies support open, fearless, inclusive conversations about Adventism and homosexuality?
Over this weekend we'll publish four testimonies from the future at Andrews, PUC, La Sierra, Southern.
First, meet Kristin from Andrews University.
The deafening silence of LGBT issues at Andrews University
I find it simply inconsistent that at a Christian institution like Andrews University topics such as gay and lesbian issues are treated as if they doesn’t even exist. So, what does that say about the actual people who are gay or lesbian on AU campus? When I first learned about Adventism about four years ago I thought of it as a Christian denomination, with a foundation based on God’s word. I didn't realize there would be other prerequisites into Adventism, especially at Andrews University. Now, I have contradictory feelings about telling the truth and being honest about who I am on this campus.
I used to be bitter at God because I didn’t know as much as my friends and I wasn’t immersed in Church all my life. However, I find myself only asking for God’s forgiveness for my anger towards Him because today as I sit in a classroom full of Christians and listen to my classmates discuss topics such as homosexuality, it’s as if they’ve all rehearsed and just regurgitate lines on this topic from the Bible as if robots.
I met my first friend on campus during one of my psychology classes and he just so happens to be gay and since we share that in common we became friends. After talking we realized we not only felt alone on campus but that there was really no outreach or support group for us to turn too. Here I am paying an absurd amount of money to be educated for my future profession, grow as a Christian and a person, yet I only feel oppressed, lonely, and unhappy. It’s so ridiculous and my brain can barely fathom how silly it sounds that I actually tried to contact surrounding universities and colleges along with outreach centers in hopes that they had a support group where we could socialize with other LGBT students, because we knew AU would never condone such a group.
I’ve heard from my psychology professor that the motto on campus concerning homosexuality is, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that there is or could be a support group for LGBT students on campus but it’s really underground. Note that the word really is actually an understatement. First of all, if you think about it, how does that help gay and lesbian students who are seeking support when they can’t even find the support group?
Therefore, I’ve taken the initiative to take whatever consequences come my way in order to start up an LGBT support group for not only gay and lesbian students at Andrews University but straight people also. My friend and I are only two people that I know of who are out about being homosexual, but that’s two people too many already without any support.
We have a free counseling service for students who can talk about homosexuality or anything really. Nevertheless, I do find it strange that the university finds it okay for a person and a psychologist to gather together and talk about LGBT issues but it’s not okay to have an open support group for people who would actually like to discuss the matter with others who actually understand where they’re coming from.
I’m embarrassed to say I attend a Christian university like AU where issues like homosexuality are everything but spoken about. I’m afraid if it weren’t for the textbooks that periodically touch up on the topic or political issues like Prop 8, homosexuality would cease to exist all together in the minds of your future theologians, social workers, and psychologists. As a Christian university I’d expect us to be the first to reach out and the last to judge.
Whatever happened to the phrase I often hear from my Christian counterparts, “It’s good to go outside of your comfort zone”?
I think as soon as we start feeling comfortable not talking about essential issues like homosexuality and teaching students to continue being ignorant or fearful, we hinder their growth as a person and everyone's Christian walk.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1492