church

getting back together

getting back together

Something that you'll know about me if you've known me for a little while is my complicated relationship with the church. You could say that things have been on-and-off for the last several years since coming out, for all the obvious reasons. Calvinism. Complementarianism. Oh, and of course, the bigger kicker, non-affirming LGBTQ theology.

Just the other night, I was sitting in my car, talking to my sister in the driveway about how for about three or four weeks straight immediately prior to me beginning what would become my 3-year hiatus from church, the head pastor felt the URGENT NEED to sneak something into the sermon about how depraved or broken or lost queer people are, by virtue of existing. It didn't really matter that the sermon had been about Peter denying Jesus three times or the Great Commission or some other completely unrelated topic. Apparently, this particular pastor happened to be massively convicted that he had to speak against queer people. Cool. Not relevant. But I guess we'll go with it.

That was the last straw essentially. At that point, it didn't even feel like a pastor reiterating the church's established beliefs on sexuality. At that point, it just felt like a cruel reminder that at this particular church, queer people were certainly NOT welcome, unless of course they were willing to entertain notions of lifelong solitude or conversion therapy.

And so, I left. 

have we become the pharisees?

Currently doing some storyboarding for some more fiction I'm working on, but I discovered another piece hidden away in the archives that I had never published (seems like this is a semi-frequent occurrence). As I'm transitioning back to writing some fiction, I've been finding that it's taking me a lot longer to figure out how I want to write things and what kinds of ideas I want to use, but maybe that's more normal than I'm giving myself credit for.

With this piece, the primary idea behind it was conceived through a series of discussions I had at my Bible study where we talked about what it means to actually be a Christian in the 21st century, in 2016 and how we can sometimes read our own biases into the parables and stories we read in the Bible. Oftentimes, this manifests as us, as mostly privileged, American Christians, identifying more closely with the oppressed people groups described in the Bible rather than with the oppressors. However, something that we realized over the course of our discussion and Bible study was that while the Israelites and the entire nation of Israel have typically been the minority ethnic group and minority religion in the majority of eras, that's not really the case for most Westernized or American Christians. What we decided is that more often than not, our actual lived realities align more with those of the oppressing Pharisees than with those of the oppressed Israelites. Interesting food for thought for sure.

have we become the pharisees?

When I was younger and still in Sunday school or just in school for that matter, since I went to a Christian K-12 school for a long time, sitting in a sagging, scratchy couch in one of the many rooms scattered along the length of the Catholic church activities building that my school rented, I always thought that things were pretty straight forward. By the time I left that school after my sophomore year of high school, it was easy for me to assume that I had a lot of things about my faith and about the Bible all figured out, something that remains one of the most false thoughts I’ve ever had in my entire life. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind is the way that we learned to categorize people in Bible stories. I always used to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys in the Gospels, but something I’ve been realizing is that they really weren’t, at least not at the time. No, quite the contrary, the Pharisees were the good guys in their day, and they were probably viewed as the ones who were as good as anyone was going to get.

The Pharisees knew their Scriptures. They knew the Old Testament law. They could probably recite entire chapters from what they had of the Bible without missing a beat. To make a loose parallel, the Pharisees were the pastors’ kids who were born and raised in the church, the kids that showed up to church every Wednesday and Sunday, the kids that were on worship team and hospitality team and everything else in between. Unlike how we were taught to view the Pharisees in Sunday school, they were the good guys, the good Christian kids of Biblical times.

And Jesus and His disciples? They were probably seen as the rebels of youth group and Sunday school. Jesus was the lone rabbi who may or may not have actually had rabbi credentials who went around Israel with his ragtag group of twelve, give or take a few. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t work during His ministry, instead living primarily off the support of his followers such as Mary and Martha and perhaps His family. When you think about it that way, it’s actually not too hard to imagine why the Pharisees and the other religious folk didn’t like Him.

Jesus was the unemployed fake rabbi wannabe who lived in his parents’ basement and only seemed to stir up trouble wherever He went. He took out the moneychangers in the temple with a whip, he hung out with the other good-for-nothings in Jewish/Roman society like the tax collectors and prostitutes, and he repeatedly broke the Sabbath, which, last I checked, was probably just as central to the Pharisees’ theology as being pro-life and saying that marriage is between one man and one woman are to conservative Christian theology today. On top of all that, he told them over and over again that they were being too legalistic, using all kinds of relatively nasty metaphors to get that message across. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Whitewashed graves. Blind guides. Jesus didn’t hold back when it came to telling the Pharisees exactly what He thought of them.

The more I think about those dynamics, the more I think that perhaps I would’ve been pissed at Jesus had I been living during that time period too, and that’s a scary thought to have, because I think that many of us have been raised and taught to identify more with the oppression and hounding of Jesus and His disciples than with the self-righteousness of the Pharisees responsible when I don’t think that’s the place that we hold in modern Christian circles. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, it makes more sense to put ourselves in the Pharisees’ shoes than in those of Jesus and His disciples, if we’re being very, brutally honest.

Again, the Pharisees really knew their stuff. They knew what the law said about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath or the regulations stipulating this or that about ceremonial uncleanliness, and I think that’s really reflective of many of us today, myself included. Many of us were raised in the church, and we also know all the Bible stories as well as what they’re supposed to mean and what we’re supposed to get out of them. Along the same lines, we also know all the verses that tell us what’s good and what’s not. We know the verses that supposedly tell us that women shouldn’t be leaders in the church. We know the verses that say homosexuality is an abomination. And we know the verses that “clearly” state every other thing we’ve learned in church or in school, but because of that we’re missing the point, just like the Pharisees were.

Because the truth of the matter is that it’s not about the rules or the law or anything else that makes the world seem like it’s black and white to us. It’s always been about standing out and being different, with radical love as our banner, because that’s what Jesus did, even though it doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense all the time. If you think about it, Jesus didn’t have to heal or do miracles on the Sabbath. He didn’t have to be kind and loving to the tax collectors who were seen as sellouts to the Romans. He didn’t have to heal the Roman centurion’s servant. He didn’t have to do any of it if He really wanted to fit in with the Pharisees and live His days as the good Jewish boy that He could’ve been, but instead He chose to be radical in way that directly opposed many of the religious traditions and norms of His day. He prioritized people and meeting with them, touching them, and loving them individually over religious correctness, and I think that’s crazy. I also think that the saying is true that we would probably crucify Jesus all over again if He walked the earth today, regardless of whether that’s physically, politically, socially, or culturally and that saddens me, though I would also include myself in that statement.

Something else that I kept asking myself as I was going through elementary school and middle school was how all of these people missed what Jesus was trying to do and how they couldn’t seem to understand some of the most basic concepts that He was trying to teach them, but I think I understand now because our American world has become so similar to the world that Jesus lived in, filled with people who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who know theology like it’s their native language, who know facts about God and arguments for this doctrine or that doctrine, but also filled with people who don’t know what love looks like anymore. All of sudden, love looks like being right when it comes to this or that theological question and knowing all the proper motions to go through at church, because you know that your love for God is measured by how often you show up to church, or how good of notes you took at that last sermon, or whether or not you’re on the church or school worship team, or whether or not you support the right political candidate, or whether or not your views on a particular issue align exactly with those of your church. That’s what love and devotion to God look like in 21st century American culture, and I think that’s the exact same kind of religious atmosphere that Jesus was born into 2000 years ago, at least by my reading of the Bible, and that makes us the Pharisees, regardless of whether we like it or not. We’ve become the bad guys that we loved to hate in Sunday school, all without even realizing it, because just like them, we think that we’re the good guys.

In light of that, I think that we need to try and do what the Pharisees failed to do. We need to follow Jesus’ example and start worrying less about being the good guys and more about loving the way that He did, because that’s the only way that we’re truly going to transform and engage with culture, not by being right or good, but by being loving.

how I finally learned what love is

The air was cool for Minnesota summer, and a fire crackled and snapped over wet logs in the fire pit in front of me. I was about to tell a story I had only told once before, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the words still felt almost fake as they churned inside of me, bringing a new sensation of reality to the term word vomit. It just didn’t feel right. In a way, it felt selfish, what I was about to do. At a cursory glance, everything about my life seemed to be just as it should, if not better, but I was about to confess that for the majority of my life I had felt like I had to earn love and wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant to be loved.  

I mean, honestly, I’m 19 years old, have a college diploma hanging on my bedroom wall, my family is great to me and always has been, my friends are some of the best you could ask for, and I have everything I need, among other things, but I couldn’t escape the voice of God trying to convince me, for the umpteenth time in however many years, that there was no possible way for anyone to ever earn someone else’s love. But along with that, He also seemed to whisper that the reason was that you didn’t have to. His love, as well as anyone else’s authentic love, doesn’t need to be earned. That seems like such a simple, basic concept, but it’s one I’m honestly still processing and learning to be true.

 

I don’t know exactly when it started to why, but what I do know is that for most of my life, I’ve harbored this nagging voice constantly telling me I have to be smart enough, nice enough, Christian enough, musical enough, x enough, y enough, or z enough in order for people to like me, and by extension, love me. For most of grade school, and I suppose parts of college as well, I partially satisfied that voice by assuring myself I would be the smartest, and I guess that’s why I have a college diploma framed on my bedroom wall before my twenties. Beyond that, I fed that voice’s hunger by also telling myself I would have the most friends and be the best Christian person I could be, but all of those things have come under attack in the last few years as God has started breaking down those walls to show me what He’s really about, and what He’s about is unconditional love.

 

For about as long as I can remember, I believed it was my job to keep my friends around and stay in their good graces as well as God’s. In grade school and to this day, I was always the person wondering and freaking out about why someone hadn’t texted or messaged me back yet. Depending how long it had been, I would start thinking back to anything I had done recently, or even further in the past, to make them not want to talk to me anymore. Or if someone canceled plans with me, I would wonder if it was perhaps my fault that they didn’t want to get together anymore. With every little thing I was questioning myself, trying to find something I had done or maybe even just something about myself that had caused it, and this vicious cycle continued to perpetuate itself, only exacerbated by the fact that a handful of my former friends did just up and disappear off the face of the earth one day.

 

But the fact of the matter was that I was trying to earn and maintain the love of everyone around me, and it was eating away at me inside. By junior year of high school, I was having anxiety attacks on the regular, paralyzed by this gripping fear and panic that trapped me in my own mind, going through all the different reasons someone might’ve decided they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore or didn’t like me anymore, until the fated person or people messaged me back or rescheduled our plans or whatever it might have been. Then, everything would be fine, until it happened again. It created a constant fear and terror that the people I cared about and loved would all of a sudden decide one day that they didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, even if I had just seen them a few days before, and it was a mentally and emotionally draining.

 

At the same time, I was coming to grips with a lot of other things going on in life, and it was about the same time most mainstream churches were really cracking down and getting brutally honest with what they thought about LGBTQ topics. All the while another tempest was brewing inside of me, I was also sitting in church listening to pastors essentially telling me I was deformed by the Fall, doomed to a constant state of constant lust, and that the only way for me to be right with God was to relegate myself to being alone forever, and that’s if they were being kind about it. On social media, other evangelical Christian leaders were telling me I was an abomination, an insult to men, a spawn of the devil, just another step away from a pedophile, and a myriad of other things I could choose to repeat but won’t. It wasn’t much help that my youth pastors talked about people like me and treated me directly like I was spiritually sick, as if who I was could somehow be cured if I just prayed enough and had enough accountability, whatever that was supposed to mean (in my head, it sounded like weekly updates on what it was like to be gay that week, which I didn’t really understand the purpose of).

 

Combined, the world started to look like a really dark, bleak place to be. Already struggling with the idea that the people I loved and cared about most might just one day cast me aside, the message that I was either inherently bad by nature of existing or destined to be alone forever really supercharged my drive to prove that I was okay and that I could be good, and my need to earn the love of others only skyrocketed. I became convinced that if I was just good enough, if I was Christian enough, and if I could make a relationship work that I’d be able to prove to myself, to God, and to everyone else that I actually was good and that the way I was could be good and that the way I loved could be good, that I wasn’t all of those bad and awful things the church had told me that I was. And if I did all of those things, I’d also be able to convince God and everyone else to love me.

 

But all of those things crumbled to the ground as soon as this most recent season of life started, with college ending, me not going to church because it still stings too much, and me still being very much single. Suddenly, everything holding me together had disappeared and I was starting to feel it. But the thing is that God always seems to make the biggest breakthroughs when you don’t have anything left to give, which oddly enough, also happens to be the point right after He’s already taken away all the false hopes and defenses we’ve built up for ourselves.

 

Having stripped away everything else I thought I was hanging onto, what He taught me and is continuing to teach me is that you can never ever make anyone love you, at least if you’re talking about real love that is. And unlike normally, the same rules apply to God. You can’t make Him love you, and even though that sounds scary and out of your control (because it is), it’s actually the best thing He ever could’ve said, because the truth is that you don’t need to make Him love you. He already does, and He always will.

 

Maybe part of the truth is that my learning of this profound, but also incredibly basic idea was hindered due to the fact that 97% of the boys and men I encountered made fun of me and directly, straight up, no punches pulled told me I wasn’t good enough up or I was too different until my junior year of high school (when I finally met some real ones, mind you) or the fact that the church told me I was worse, dirtier, inherently flawed, and more sinful for so long, but I think another part of the truth is that God needs each of us to learn the insanely beautiful truth that we are loved by others and loved beyond compare by Him, without any restrictions, loopholes, conditions, or exceptions, on our own, in our own way, before we can really believe it for ourselves.

 

So, if you took the time to read this, just know that you are loved. You are so loved. Full stop.

when christian superstars come out

Perhaps you’ve heard and perhaps you haven’t yet, but Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday just came out as gay about a day or two ago. This follows similar coming out stories by the likes of Vicky Beeching and Jennifer Knapp who have gone on to lose much of their music careers, with Beeching instead moving on to religious commentary and other projects in the UK, including a book that she’s currently working on. But at any rate, just like those other coming out stories, this one has already generated its own fair share of controversy and reactions from the general Christian populace, both positive and negative, as larger outlets such as Yahoo and Religion News Service have picked up the story. Unsurprisingly, there have been quite a few opinionated responses coming from a handful of Christians, with many lamenting the fact that he has chosen to come out after having married a woman and having children among other things, and this is specifically what I want to address in this post. With more and more people finally acknowledging the basic fact that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is not a choice any more than being straight is a choice, what I’ve seen is that many Christians have instead chosen to go the route of lambasting Pearson for his decision to come out now after having been married to his wife for over 7 years and having had children with her, and I think that perhaps I understand a little bit of where that’s coming from, as misdirected as it might be.

Here’s the thing: I agree that there’s no way for most people to even grasp what kind of difficulties he and his family must be going through right now, and that is something lamentable, just like the fact that his general situation tragically isn’t too uncommon in Christian circles, but I disagree that his decision was the wrong one. I’ve read quite a few stories similar to his over the years, of LGBTQ Christians who have married someone of the opposite gender because the church refused to accept them as they were and essentially gave them no other options if they wanted to be a part of the larger Christian community. The church told them to find a way to be straight, or at least pretend to be straight for a while, or face what basically amounts to excommunication. I even personally know of at least one friend who has experienced this series of events in their own family, whether it was in their immediate family or extended, and it seems to be just as messy as many people on the internet are assuming that it’s going to be for Pearson, because I think that’s true. Whenever this happens, it’s always quite the sticky situation to sort through, and the unfortunate thing is that these kinds of situations can always be prevented, though perhaps not necessarily in the way that you might think.

It’s true that he chose to marry a woman with hopes that perhaps he might actually be able to fulfill his fantasy of becoming straight and fitting into Christian church culture, but I would argue that it’s also true that the entire set of circumstances that led him to that decision were put in place by the church and that we can learn from that.

Think about this. The church is obsessed with marriage, particularly straight marriage. It seems to be one of the unwritten rules of being a good Christian that you will get married someday and that it will be a straight marriage. This is the subliminal message that gets preached in probably every single church in the United States, that if you aren’t married, or perhaps don’t want to be married, that there’s something wrong with you, that you haven’t pleased God enough, that God just hasn’t sent the right person to you yet, or some other kind of old Christian cliché like that. It’s an addiction and an idol, and it’s one that I think maybe the church isn’t aware of yet or doesn’t want to address because it would be too uncomfortable, since marriage is such a good thing, which is what they keep telling everyone.

But this is a problem. This obsession with marriage creates harmful and toxic dynamics and assumptions that blind us from being able to recognize any other kind of close relationships or even singleness for that matter, which I think is something that the church likes to say is good, but also something that the church hasn’t modeled for us. If you think about it, a good number of key Biblical figures were never married that we know of like Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus Himself. And that’s part of the reason why I’m still at a loss as to why the church doesn’t know how to talk about singleness or why the church has such an odd inclination toward marriage when it’s definitely not the most important or central thing that’s talked about in Bible, even though that’s what any outside observer of American Christianity might tell you.

All of that being said, while people keep decrying Pearson for his decision to come out because of the impact that it will have on his marriage, I have to say that while he definitely did make the decision to get married to a woman and to come out, I also strongly believe that perhaps the church environment that he grew up in and that many of us have grown up in has set us up for failure, especially, ESPECIALLY if you happen to identify as LGBTQ. Again, think about it. At the time what else was he supposed to do? It's circa 2007 or 2008 and everything he’s ever heard about being gay is negative, and maybe not even negative but downright toxic and poisonous to his spiritual life and spiritual health. You hear over and over that being gay is an abomination and that God hates you, especially during that time period, or really any of the last few decades and beyond. Reparative and conversion therapy are in vogue and you hear that you can become straight if you just pray enough, if you just believe hard enough, if you just repent hard enough. So, naturally, you think that maybe if you marry a woman that might just do the trick, that it might make you straight, and maybe you even believe it (again, this is just some speculation coming from my own experiences and experiences of others who have gone the same thing since his full story hasn’t been published yet), but after a few years you come to the crushing conclusion that it didn’t work, that you’re not straight. And so what are you supposed to do?

To all of the critics, does that sound like a real, free choice now? I don’t think so. I think it sounds like spiritual bullying and a demand for conformity dressed up with lots of spiritual fanfare.

Beyond that, it might seem that a lot of the same critics are truly concerned about his wife and his children and his marriage, but are they? I’m not sure. I’m not going to be the judge of others’ intentions, but I think that something they’re missing is that perhaps staying in that marriage wouldn’t really be fair to his wife either. If you think about it, she deserves someone who’s going to be able to love her the same way that she loves him, and with the most respect for Pearson possible, that’s not going to be him, because I think that it’s just a fact that his current marriage relationship with her is never going to be the same as a marriage relationship with a straight man who loves her. Now, I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak for the situation with the children, and I truly hope that all goes for the best – God’s grace to them – but I think that if they’re going to separate, I do think that’s the most fair thing not only for him, but also for his wife, because with all the grace that he has attributed to her throughout all of this, I think that without even knowing her, she deserves someone who can love her the same way that she’s going to love him, and I think that’s something that people are missing when they talk about him throwing away his marriage or tearing his family apart. It’s true that his family situation is going to be quite different moving forward from here, but for lack of a better word, it was broken to begin with in my opinion, again, with no ill intent towards him or his wife. I just don't think that mixed orientation marriages can realistically work, and perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s what I also see as being the case here.

In light of all of these reflections, I fully support Trey in his coming out and pray for peace and strength as he begins navigating this new journey, especially with regards to how his family dynamic will likely be changing. It’s not going to be easy or smooth; that’s almost a guarantee, but I do think that he’s demonstrating quite a bit of bravery in coming out now, especially considering all of the different factors at play in his specific coming out story. People might disagree with that, but what he’s done and what he’s doing takes an incredible amount of guts and courage to do, particularly in 2016 when it seems like LGBTQ people, but almost even more so LGBTQ Christians, are a favorite target of the mainstream evangelical church and Christian community, a large segment of people who might never experience the fear, anxiety, and mental stress that come with trying to live a lie and put up a façade day in and day out, all the while praying that you’re doing the right thing and perhaps constantly fearing God’s wrath or what will happen to you if you do accept your own identity, depending on what kind of church tradition you were brought up in.

Something that I’ve thankful for is that Pearson’s story didn’t end in suicide or some other darker alternative that is all too common for LGBTQ people in Christian circles, or perhaps was more common, since that appears to be changing at least a little bit as the years pass. And contrary to what many fundamentalists or critics might be saying, I think that the recent string of high profile Christians coming out is not a sign of moral decay or backsliding within Christianity, but rather, I think that it’s an indicator that God is not confined to the little boxes that we might put Him in or the stereotypes that we might draw around Him. I think that it’s a positive step towards a more inclusive church for both affirming Christians and also maybe for non-affirming Christians who still know how to show grace and respect the convictions of others, which I also believe is an incredibly crucial piece that the church will continue to struggle with in the coming weeks, months, and years.

So, congratulations to Trey Pearson on coming out and being able to accept who you are and perhaps feeling a little freer and maybe even a little closer to Jesus as a result. It’s a scary and nerve wracking thing to do, especially in the spotlight, but I think that this will just help make coming out even more normal, so that people don’t have to feel afraid of it. I hope that moving forward people will see the negative reactions and learn how to be more graceful and loving, and I also hope that people will see the positive responses and know that their faith and their identity are compatible, that they aren’t dirtier or more sinful just because of who they are, that they are still image bearers of the Father of Lights and that they are so incredibly loved.

mark yarhouse talked to my christian college on sexuality and this is how it went

Alright, here's the full, unedited version of the article that was published in the Bethel Clarion earlier this week, detailing my stream of thought about the Mark Yarhouse sexuality event last week. The Clarion staff did a great job editing it, but it definitely read more like a newspaper article (as it should have) than some of my normal writing, so I wanted to stick the original version up on here. Take a read if you weren't at the event or haven't already. I checked the time on my phone as I speed walked through the BC on my way to the Underground. It was already 8:01pm and I was late, having just come from helping lead an exam review session for CWC.  Mark Yarhouse, a psychologist and professor from Regent University, was giving a talk on sexuality and I was going to be there, though a bit reluctant at first. From what I had heard and read of him in the past, I wasn’t incredibly optimistic about the event, but the Underground was relatively full, so I slid into the second row from the front and took out my notebook just as it was beginning.

Over the course of his talk, which consisted of a presentation of his research on sexual minorities at Christian colleges and a Q&A afterward, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well he handled the topic and how nuanced many of his answers were, a sentiment that I found many other LGBT students in attendance shared following the event.

Among the positives in his presentation, he gave a mildly muddled, but overall helpful explanation of why it’s important to LGBT people to identify as “gay,” “lesbian,” etc., rather than “same-sex attracted” or “homosexual.” This is an important distinction for the Bethel community to realize because using non-standard terminology can often carry dehumanizing connotations for LGBT students, even Christian LGBT students, because they often have roots that go back to ex-gay reparative therapy movements or when homosexuality was still considered a mental health disorder, two things that he also touched on briefly.

In addition, he affirmed several fundamental truths of existence for LGBT Christians that often get glossed over the highly politicized culture wars over LGBT issues. Among these, he made it clear that it is very possible to be gay or lesbian or transgender and also a Christian, defending that those two things are not mutually exclusive, something that is still debated in some Christian circles. Further, he noted that even though he doesn’t take an affirming stance in terms of same-sex marriage or sexual relationships, that doesn’t mean that people who do are necessarily wrong. He explained that many of his LGBT friends hold different positions there, but that doesn’t have any impact on the quality or legitimacy of their relationship, because there are many good Christians who happen to fall on different sides of that spectrum of belief. This is so significant because these types of differences tend to be highly polarized, with either side being alternately considered morally right or morally wrong, so the fact that he also explicitly stated that he never questioned the faith of his friends who held to differing beliefs is a good example of how non-affirming Christians can and should react to those kinds of differences, choosing to maintain relationships with people who hold other perspectives rather than feeling the constant need to remind them that we disagree with them. And this goes for both sides, affirming and non-affirming.

Finally, he also spoke quite a bit on what it might look like to engage with these kinds of issues on Christian college campuses, his main point being that we should strive to create safe spaces where LGBT students can still feel wanted and fully included in those communities. Thus, he spoke against using the phrase “love the sinner; hate the sin,” a popular saying that has been used in reference to LGBT Christians and only serves to reduce those people to their sexuality while simultaneously dehumanizing them. In addition, he indicated that he’s not a proponent of reparative therapy, meant to make LGBT Christians straight, and only reserves the right of sexual orientation change efforts to informed adults who voluntarily seek it out. Rather, he advocated for the climate change on Christian college campuses and support for LGBT students, pointing out that LGBT students have no fewer needs for intimacy than straight students, that coming from interpersonal relationships and social and institutional support among other sources. Thus, while his claims that policy change is probably not the most realistic expectation for LGBT students might upset some and be considered less than satisfactory, his calls for broader and deeper support for LGBT students at Christian colleges are a bright spot and definitely a good starting point for schools like Bethel.

Overall, it was refreshing to hear a speaker that represented our stories more or less accurately, portrayed us in a humanizing way, and helped other students and faculty understand what it’s like to walk the journeys that we do a little better. Though ideally we would be hearing these stories from LGBT Christians and students themselves, the mere fact that this event occurred and that he was willing to engage with the difficult questions many of us raised is a positive step toward the right direction for a place like Bethel, especially for students who still harbor fears of alienation, unacceptance, or backlash related to coming out.

Beyond that, though events like this may be considered to be only baby steps by students who are looking for more sweeping reform and change, they are still strides in the right direction and help raise greater awareness for topics like this at Bethel. It’s my opinion that events like these are the beginnings of creating places of openness and safety where LGBT students can feel comfortable and supported coming out and being a part the community fully, not fearing reprisal, condemnation, or questioning of their faith, but rather feeling wanted, included, and valued.

Obviously, there’s still more work to do, but I personally hope that all the positive progress will encourage more students to come out and share their stories, being willing to help drive the movement to create safe spaces and be the change that they’re looking for, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of students that will come to Bethel in the future. Though it might take a while to get there, the progress and openness that I’ve seen gives me a vision of Bethel possibly becoming a model of how Christian colleges, though non-affirming officially, can become safe spaces that advocate for the humanity and inclusion of LGBT students.