At Seattle Pacific University, my alma mater, a debate which has ebbed and flowed in and out of the public consciousness over the past few years reached a pinnacle in the last couple weeks. As a conservative, Evangelical institution, SPU fosters an environment less than congenial toward LGBTQqi students. With its implicit culture of heterosexism through operating as a foundation from which to launch safe, Christian marriages, SPU focuses much of its energy on matching up young women and men for eternal bliss. As a result, LGBTQqi students struggle to find a place of safety to discuss their feelings and sexual attractions which happen to be different from the powerful, hegemonic heterosexual culture. In response, a brave group of students on campus formed a weekly club called Haven to provide a space where students of sexualities other than heterosexual could speak about their experiences, feel comfortable with themselves, and be reassured that they would not be treated any differently simply because they were different than those in power.
In their years of existence, they faced various obstacles not only to their functional activities but to their very livelihood. Overshadowed by a tense relationship with the administration, Haven received nearly every signal to let them know they are not wanted by those who run SPU, primarily President Philip Eaton, Vice President Les Steele, and Dean of Students Jeff Jordan. For example, when Haven organized a worship event during which they would be serving communion, the administration blocked the event on the grounds of an ordination conflict despite dozens of events occurring on campus in which the Eucharist is enjoyed without the presence of an ordained minister. The refusal to grant official club status prevented them from meeting on campus for a time. Most importantly, the administration made it consistently clear in their discourse with Haven that a group who gives the image of promoting alternate sexualities to heterosexuality is unwelcome on SPU’s campus.
Now, the administration has taken the final step. They informed Haven there will be no more dialogue between the group and the administration. Furthermore, the group is banned from using any school facilities for meeting. Needless to say, Drs. Eaton, Steele, and Jordan (all heterosexual, white, upper-class males) have made it abundantly clear what they think about Haven. What seems conspicuously missing in the whole story is exactly why they seek to block Haven at every turn. Most of us involved or observing have been left to speculation. One theory holds that they fear losing money from donors who do not want an organization on campus promoting anything other than heterosexuality. Another postulation purports simply that they disagree with the group vehemently on moral grounds. A third yet related theory is that the group promotes sexualities in contradiction to SPU’s controversial statement on human sexuality. What is remains unclear is exactly why they dislike Haven. What is wrong with a group of both heterosexual and LGBTQqi students discussing openly and fearlessly their experiences of sexuality? In the Evangelical community, the ultimate measurement for whether or not sexualities other than heterosexuality are acceptable is the Bible.
Only a handful of people in the world claim people of the LGBTQqi community exist outside or beyond the love of G-d. Nearly every Christian person believes LGBTQqi people fully possess the capacity for receiving forgiveness from a loving G-d. These are givens. When we argue over sexuality, G-d’s posturing toward people rarely comes to the table. Furthermore, the relative merits and issues of sexualities other than heterosexuality rarely arise. We simply do not possess the evidence to prove how people are/become LGBTQqi (except for those born intersex). Is it genetic? Is it socialized? Does it spawn out of abuse? Can it be chosen against (probably not)? Some believe these questions find satisfactory answers. Some feel more research needs doing. What is important is that most people in debates over sexuality do not possess the useful information necessary to carry on an actual conversation about sexuality. Rather, what information they do have comes from the Bible, and the Bible is rather clear: at the very least, homosexual sex is unacceptable.
As a result, within Christian communities, no one actually argues over the relative morality of sexualities alternative to heterosexuality; instead, we argue over how to read the Bible. Unfortunately, we fail to acknowledge this truth. Those who stand against the open expression of LGBTQqi sexualities proclaim that they read the Bible at face value and follow it. Of course, such a claim is impossible. To purport that one follows all the ethical prescriptions of a library of writings written and compiled over more than a millennium, by hundreds possibly thousands of people living within a plurality of contexts, and in 3 different languages is not only naïve but downright dishonest. Such a statement would not only subject one to an impossible rulebook, it would make theological claims about moral exercise that the Bible itself quite clearly denounces. Additionally, no one does follow all the ethical mandates of the Bible, thank G-d. As Gandhi so aptly said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” In the meantime, the people who accept and promote people of LGBTQqi orientations struggle to read the Bible beyond the vision of their opponents without discrediting the entire library. We fear the question, “How can the Bible be authoritative if I disagree with what it says?” Thus, the anti-LGBTQqi community fears to speak of their hypocrisy considering that they themselves cannot live up to the Biblical morality they demand, and the pro-LGBTQqi community fears to speak of what they see as a dismissal of one of the pillars of their faith: their holy scriptures!
The truth can be frightening. In fact, it causes pain, but the truth always brings hope. We follow G-d. We believe in a G-d who presently involves G-d’s self in the affairs of humanity. G-d transforms us and pushes us into community, love, and liberation from the powers who seek to prevent us from living lives filled with love. Nothing within or outside the Bible can deny this. G-d loves us. What we have been given in the Bible is a breathing, living record of humanity in relationship with G-d. The most oft repeated phrase in it is, “Do not be afraid.” While much of what we find in the Bible is unsavory, we should not fear it. However, we should not falsely claim its absoluteness as though G-d finished interacting with humans after the last book of the Bible was written. If this were true, nobody would ever buy a book helping people live a Christian life, go to hear a sermon, or engage in any other community activity in which discipleship is discussed. The Bible would be enough. By the way we live, we testify that it is not.
The Bible is filled with stories, commands, and poems. It is like a person. We must familiarize ourselves with it. Like any person, its faults will show, but we will also learn to love it. Or perhaps we will learn to hate it. Whatever happens, the present arguments made against people in the LGBTQqi communities derives from people largely ignorant of the very library from which they claim authority to denounce sexualities alternative to heterosexuality. Likewise, those promoting the LGBTQqi communities stand equally as ignorant of the biblical texts. Sadly, the arguments for or against LGBTQqi peoples grows not out of truth but out of conflicting ways of reading scriptures. These ways of reading scripture more often than not flow from non-reading of the Bible. Discussions about sexuality start and begin with people with their minds made up protecting themselves from the threat of a different way of reading.
How do we move forward? We ask G-d! We meet, people in support of and in opposition to the LGBTQqi communities, and we pray. We love our heterosexual and our LGBTQqi neighbors as ourselves. We interact with those who would scandalize us in front of our families like Jesus with the Samaritan woman. We read our Bibles together. We let people wrestle with, fight against, embrace, and celebrate in the word of G-d. Above all else, we faithfully believe that G-d will speak to us G-d’s truth. We faithfully affirm the movement of the Holy Spirit in groups of people gathered in Jesus’ name.
What should we not do? We should not make LGBTQqi people feel unwanted. We should not exclude them from owning their emotions and feelings. We should not ban them from our churches, universities, and communities. We should not tell them they will burn in hell for something they feel is out of their control. We should not elevate ourselves over people of sexualities different than our own, heterosexual or not. We should let Haven meet on SPU’s campus. It is the only way we will be able to know what G-d truly desires.