I’m here at Calvin College attending the Festival of Faith and Writing, one of the most amazing, one of the best, writing conferences out there. The quality of the speakers—Gary Schmidt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Marilynne Robinson–not to mention the different seminars I’ve already taken–gives depth and urgency to writers who hope to change the world. I have never felt such deep emotional responses to these calls and challenges to be good writers and write good stories. Calvin College does a great thing for writers of faith.
And yet…. I find myself, as I knew I would, disturbed by Calvin College’s policy towards GLBT students. It’s an ethical dilemma.
Calvin’s stance on GLBT issues
To their credit, Calvin is far more liberal than most Christian colleges. They do not run them off campus, as they did in my day. So by that measure, I should be pleased. I have read their FAQs on their policy towards homosexuality and GLBT students, and you can read it here: Calvin’s FAQs about homosexuality.
You’ll notice that it’s very kind and generous. It acknowledges that gays and lesbians are attracted to same sex people.
“While the orientation seems usually to lie outside the scope of an individual’s will, by God’s power and grace, behavior lies within it.
Calvin College is also concerned that homosexual members of our community are treated with respect, justice, grace and understanding in the Spirit of Christ. We recognize the complexity of current issues around homosexuality and desire to engage this conversation with courage, humility, prayerfulness and convicted civility.” (I use the quotation marks here because my pic makes it difficult to know where the quote starts and ends.)
It’s that sexual behavior that seems so SEPARATE to Calvin; it’s almost ridiculous. However, they want to frame a “conversation” in respectful terms. Conversation, of course, means that both sides are listening. But I appreciate their dedication to civility, a civility that they have the authority to enforce.
In the classroom, Calvin College notes that multiple perspectives may be explored by students:
In exploring the full range of human experience, faculty will certainly acquaint students with many perspectives that are inconsistent with the confessions, but will do so from a perspective of adherence to the confessions.
That policy– the adherence to confessions–can be found in the the newest document on academic freedom for professors and students. Mentioned in these FAQs, it addresses how faculty should approach difficult topics. The underlying conclusion, as you read here, is that the administration is not wrong, and that they are not the ones listening, but the ones correcting:
We have learned that the best outcomes for such conversations are those in which an inquirer later reports “I’m glad I asked. I really do see this now from another, more biblical, point of view,” or where the faculty or staff member reports “I’m glad you raised this. I hadn’t been aware of all the ramifications of my view, and I’ve now refined it to take other concerns into account,” or where both later say “we disagree, but we remain open to learning from each other” or “I realize that I need to learn more and think further about any position I advance.” Not every inquiry will end in this way. But we have learned to give such questions every chance to end with a positive outcome.
I like to point out that their “positive outcome” is one where there is learning on the inquirer’s side only. However, Calvin’s new policies on homosexuality do protect gays and lesbians from negative slurs, prejudice, etc.— however, they don’t realize the institutionalized creation of prejudice they engender by their different treatment of gays and lesbians. Watch the FAQs carefully:
[SAGA–Sexuality Awareness, Gender Acceptance] is not a ‘student organization,’ but a group of students with a counselor mentor from the Broene Counseling Center, who seek to educate others at Calvin about the challenges faced by homosexual students.
Gays are given groups within the auspices of counseling. “These are not student organizations” the policy says emphatically, thereby denying them student rights. They are, instead, places of refuge for gays and lesbians and places where they can, apparently, come to terms with the fact that God wants them to remain celibate–and teach others how to treat them better because of their “challenges”. *note the student response below for a great insight into SAGA and Calvin College that I didn’t know, and am very pleased to hear. While policy may be against gays at Calvin, the people there aren’t.
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The new message given to gays these days by evangelical churches is one of acceptance– with a catch. Several mainstream evangelical churches have begun preaching that, as long as gays stay celibate, they can be fully accepted by the church. Unfortunately, this message has convinced straight Christians, and some gay Christians, that gay sex is the problem.
The history of the church’s reaction to gays
Clearly, churches have been much worse to the GLBTQ community. They used to burn us. Certainly early Church fathers condemned us, saying that we were aberrations (at best) or the devil (at worst)–with a midscale reaction that lasted through my lifetime, that gays were normally heterosexual people who got seduced by the devil to turn to homosexuality which was unnatural. (As if no normal person could ever BE gay…this fooled me for a long time.)
In my lifetime I have seen that stance change. It went from condemnation, saying that God never created gay folks, to an acceptance of the fact that gay people might be innately attracted to the same-sex–or born that way. Created gay–but abnormal, in the sense that some children are born with defects, and that gay is just another defect. Right now, pastors are calling it “not God’s best”–and they are willing to embrace gays if they remain celibate. Well, it just so happens that Evangelicals have stumbled on an accidental “agreement” with a smaller percentage of gays, called Side B Christians, who believe the Bible has “no room for gay sexuality.”
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There are some tempests in coffeecups that need to be examined closely. I think Willow Creek Community Church is doing good things for the cause of Christ. I think they have great ways of ministering to people and challenging Christians to be better people. But I am concerned that their stance on gays and lesbians will cost them in the end because it doesn’t reflect God’s stance, and because it hurts families, and ultimately hurts Christ’s message to the world. Below I go through the recent Leadership Summit situation and try to find some answers within Willow Creek’s response.
Things were going fine for Willow Creek Community Church as they were the sponsor and host for a Leadership Summit in 2011 that had on its list of speakers CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Then Change.org sponsored a petition that asked Mr. Schultz to cancel his speaking engagement at Willow Creek based on Willow Creek’s past association with Exodus International, which promotes ex-gay conversion therapy. Willow Creek had dissolved relationships with Exodus International years ago, but not on belief issues, but moreso based on where the church wanted to focus its activity. They got a lot of heat for that from evangelicals and other Christians on the far right who saw their dissolution with Exodus International a sign that they were going soft on gays. Still, the petition mentioned that Willow Creek still had anti-gay messages of its own. They wanted Starbucks not to associate itself with anti-gay anything.
So Schultz canceled his speaking engagement at the Leadership Summit.
The World, watching, reported and discussed Willow Creek Community Church in a negative light. So, Willow Creek started doing damage control. They came out with a statement that said they were not “anti-gay” nor were they “anti-anybody”. In fact, they touted the hundreds of people with “same-sex attraction” that attended their church on a regular basis as proof they weren’t anti-gay. Just ask them, Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek, seemed to say. They don’t feel unwelcome, he implied. He went on to say that his church challenges everyone to live up to the “sexual ethics” as presented in the Scriptures. And these are: “full sexual expression between men and women in the confines of marriage” and “sexual abstinence and purity for everyone else.”
The Video Response:
Of course, in the video statement below, he is on home field. He gets lots of hoots and hollers from supportive congregation members. It’s a safe place for Hybels to make that kind of statement. He gets to compliment them. He gets to tell them they are doing fine. He gets to re-brand them as the nice people they know they are. Who would question Hybels at WCCC? A whole room full of people who felt a bit stung by the media’s labeling them “anti-gay” give him clapping and happiness when they are re-labeled as not “anti-anything”, but welcoming of everyone–by the person who most needs to re-label the church, Bill Hybels, because of the bad PR he and his church are getting. It’s always nice to show your mother your artwork. You know she’ll love it. But she’s not the best critic.
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