Gay at a Christian College
A faculty member describes the choice of staying in the closet or losing a job.
An open letter to the presidents of member institutions of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities:
I am gay and I teach at a CCCU institution. I would like to tell you my name, my discipline, but I can’t because doing so would place my job at risk, as you well know.
My story is neither dramatic nor a profile in courage. Raised in a conservative Christian home, I only knew that homosexuality was a very serious sin. Then in graduate school, I fell in love with someone of the same sex -- ironically enough, a conservative Christian like myself. My feelings scared me greatly. This person loved me as well, but we never articulated what those feelings were to each other until much later, when the feelings had changed. Since that time I have loved other persons of my sex, but only recently have I accepted my sexual orientation, when I am already teaching at a CCCU institution.
On institutional websites at Christian colleges one can find statements titled "Community Covenant" or "What We Believe" that discuss homosexuality, sometimes accompanied by biblical proof texts or "texts of terror," as they are referred to by Christian gays and lesbians and our allies. Some institutions don’t have a separate statement on homosexuality, but do require faculty to conform to the student handbook that supports only heterosexual marriage. The language used in these statements includes "homosexual acts" or "homosexual practice" or "heterosexual marriage." Such language allows your institutions to admit gay students, but carries with it the message that the institution does not think that they can look forward to a loving, committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship in the future.
At my institution there are no out faculty members. It is unclear to me whether simple orientation would place a person’s job at risk or whether behavior would be the primary issue.
You probably have read the 2011 New York Times article titled, "Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity." I am perplexed by CCCU institutions whose student handbooks state that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, that refuse to hire openly gay faculty, and yet have clubs for gay and lesbian students in order to create a "safe" place for them. While I welcome such clubs, what does safety and hospitality mean if the real message is, "Here you can be safe as a gay student, but know that we think that you must be alone, without a partner, to be an obedient Christian"?
The Roman Catholic and gay theologian, James Alison, describes this situation: "However many caveats are put into it concerning the distinction between acts and orientation, this package grinds down on us and says, 'As you are, you really are not part of creation.'" And is the institution safe and hospitable for gay students who have no gay adult role models as professors? You work hard to hire faculty of color to have role models for students of color, but do not do the same for gay and lesbian students. The clear message is that you cannot be a faithful Christian and be in a committed, same-sex relationship. So how is such a college a safe and welcoming place for gay students?
As for gay faculty members, they must "pass" as straight or, as I have been told, an institution might have an implicit "don’t ask, don’t tell" approach, but, as the military demonstrated, such a policy provides no real safety. My support comes from several friends, but I am out to only one friend who teaches at my institution, although I think there are other allies. No CCCU institution is a safe place for gay and lesbian faculty.
Much of this debate at your institutions hinges on biblical hermeneutics. It dismays me how CCCU institutions (institutions of higher education!) will cite biblical passages as if the passages are self-interpreting, thus adopting a hermeneutical practice of simplistic literalism. I have been struck by the fact that while CCCU institutions will not hire faculty in monogamous, same-sex relationships, they do hire divorced faculty without asking the grounds for the divorce. Wheaton College in Illinois is tragically consistent in its foundationalist approach to biblical hermeneutics, allowing faculty to be divorced so long as the divorce is based on biblical grounds. Do you seriously think that the great professor ceases to be a great professor because his/her divorce was based on irreconcilable differences rather than adultery?
One year I received a teaching award. If I were to come out now, would I suddenly cease being a good teacher? Would I no longer be able to ask disciplinary-related questions that spring from my religious faith?
As you know, millennials’ views of religion and homosexuality are rapidly changing. Will your institutions continue to attract students? Some alumni will not want to donate, and some foundations will not want to make grants. A friend suggested that the CCCU, like the Republican Party, may need to change to survive, or that those institutions that want to be more prophetic, courageous, and progressive and who believe that God’s revelation continues to unfold will need to leave the CCCU.
The courageous thing for me to do would be to come out. Gay students, knowing that I was sympathetic, have talked to me about their struggles with family and church. I would have liked to have been open about my own journey in these conversations, but was silent. It pains me to think that my silence contributes to homophobia. But as I stated, my acceptance of my sexual orientation came later, rather than earlier, and thinking about making a move now is daunting.
I would like to be able to live my life in the open and, like many of you, share life with a loving partner; however, to borrow a phrase from Melissa Harris-Perry’s book, Sister Citizen, it is "hard to stand up in a crooked room."
The author requested anonymity.
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