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.