Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gay Students, Christian Colleges, and the Thought Process

There's been a bit of hubbub surrounding a proposed LGBTQ club at Point Loma Nazarene University. As an ordained Nazarene minister, a fifth generation member and a graduate of two Nazarene institutions of higher learning, this has been an interesting story to follow.

The group was founded in 2009 by a student leader who used an invitation for dialogue to challenge and undermine the school. They got burned and it's not difficult to see how the administration could be leery of the same group, albeit under different leadership, seeking a similar platform.

With the back story (and my lack of knowledge beyond what's been made public), I have to applaud the mission statement this group submitted:

We are aware that LGBT students are a suffering population on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), and we have realized that the common exclusiveness of the Christian community can overlook the spiritual and interpersonal needs of LGBT community. Through entering this place, we hope LGBT students at PLNU can share their neglected stories, lingering questions, and increasing trials with their Christian comrades, and together, we can learn what it means to practice listening to and dignifying your political or theological enemy and actively learning to live and love in real-time. We hope to seek reconciliation not based on a change of belief system but rather from a commitment to live in relationship with opposing worldviews while seeking to understand and dignify the humanity of the “other.”

This is a pretty powerful statement of charity and reconciliation, one that dovetails pretty well with what I've often used as an ethical motivation - we have to live together. If we believe in a future of peace where the world is as it's intended to be, then we're all going to get along. We might as well start now.

I don't think this means we have to agree. I think things work better when we come to different conclusions about things. I think things work poorly when we refuse to listen and learn from one another. I happen to believe that God's Holy Spirit is at work in the world, speaking and shaping us, even if we don't know it.

I am grateful for a school (Eastern Nazarene College) that created a supportive Christian community without dictating belief. I struggled mightily with issues of faith, belief, and ethics during my college years. I am convinced that were those struggles not undertaken within the context of a Christian community, I would not be a Christian today.

I said, did, and believed a lot of things that I disagree with today - but I did so in the midst of a community drenched in a commitment to God's prevenient grace. My peers and professors, for the most part, trusted that sincere questions of faith would be answered. People prayed for me and with me.

I didn't have a lot of direct conversations with people about faith - but I have a strong group of friends and a wonderful chaplain who were merely present and provided the kind of atmosphere necessary for me and the Holy Spirit to work things out.

Mike Schutz was the chaplain most of my time at ENC, but I don't recall having very many interactions with him during those four years. I do count his influence upon my life as extremely great - mostly because of the spiritual atmosphere he fostered and the space it provided me to grow without pressure.

I'm not sure Point Loma needs a group like this - I'm not really in a position to have an opinion one way or another - I do think the conversation suggested by the mission statement is a necessity. Conversations on faith and sexuality will take place, formally or informally. I think a Christian college does a great disservice to its mission and purpose by ignoring them or limiting them.

I think there's still some perception that we send our kids to a Christian school to protect them from the dangers of the world. Those dangers are just as real at a Nazarene school as they are anywhere else. We shouldn't be fueling this idea that our schools are bastions of purity. They're colleges with a specific mission to serve God and help young people learn to think critically. Refusing a group like this, at least from my perspective, fails to represent both Christian love and our confidence that God is bigger than theological differences. It makes us look scared - and we should be exhibiting a perfect love that casts out all fear.

If we are convinced of the Truth of Jesus Christ, the sufficiency of atonement, the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, we don't have anything to fear from honest (and by that I mean openness and a willingness to be affected by the other) dialogue.

We're going to lose a whole generation of young people in the Church of the Nazarene, not because of our positions or doctrines, but because we seem unwilling to allow a new generation to contribute to our understanding and actually participate.

I have said time and again that our position, at least the position officially outlined, is perfectly defensible and a responsible interpretation of scripture. I think there are reasonable and defensible positions on both "sides" of the debate (just as I think there are unreasonable and indefensible positions on both "sides"). If people who disagree (meaning both sides) are willing to have honest discussions, there is no reason why there can't be a building of respect, even if the end result continues to be disagreement.

Ultimately, I do think the problem is one of fear. We're afraid that people who accept even committed, monogamous homosexual relationships (marriages where denominations allow) might end up in hell - and if we're party to a discussion where even one person changes their mind from our position to the other, that we could be responsible for their eternal damnation.

I don't think that's an irrational fear at all.

I disagree with that line of thinking in a number of ways, certainly, but it does make sense to me. I can see were any kind of open engagement would be difficult to swallow.

I welcome this kind of dialogue because I don't share that fear - and what's more I see every day more and more young people I care about who are questioning faith altogether because of the fear inherent in that mindset. I welcome this kind of dialogue because I believe in hell - that it is full of selfishness and anger and fear all of which lead to pain - and that we experience hell when we allow any of those things to control our lives.

I cast no aspersions on anyone but myself here. I don't want this to sound like an attack. I am merely trying to illustrate the journey I've taken.

I faced down the fear I outlined above - what if I get swayed from the right path, what if I inadvertently sway others to their detriment? I've wallowed in that fear often. In the end, I had to make a choice not to let that fear or any fear - even a well-intentioned fear, hold me captive.

I believe God is in control and that God is big enough and smart enough to handle any problem we might create, but I have to move forward boldly without fear and in love.

Finally, (and I'm sorry this post is so long, but I've taken more than a month off, so you get what you get) I've been processing this alongside an investigation into why this kind of dialogue - not just about homosexuality and faith, but about anything - appears dangerous to many. I wonder if there isn't a bit of a modern-postmodern disconnect at work.

I do think the generation emerging is more comfortable with disagreements if relationship is strong - there's sort of an idea that if I can be confident you're earnestly seeking God, I can trust the Holy Spirit to work things out. It doesn't work so well for building and maintaining institutions, but then again the generation emerging doesn't care much about that either. I do think Nazarene higher education is as best placed to tackle this problem as anyone else. I have hope.

I'm not sure exactly what the solution is - beyond grace and love - but I do think it says something about the way we process and dialogue. I've been taught and value the idea that you enter every conversation willing to be changed or it isn't a real conversation. I want to hear how others have answered tough questions differently than I answered them. I want to share ideas or perspectives someone else might have missed or not considered and I want a light shined on my blind spots as well.

I'm excited about the possibilities that lay beyond the comfort and security of my decided opinions. I'm excited about people who wish to engage diversity of all kinds beyond our own labels and definitions, united solely in Jesus Christ.

Yes, the "other side" might be lying. They might not be willing to commit to the same honesty. They might be up to dirty tricks and sneaky schemes - maybe. I am willing to get burned a thousand times rather than be false myself.

*Big thanks to the community at Naznet for helping me formulate these thoughts - much of this post is adapted from my comments there.

1 comment:

C Newell said...

Enjoyed the read!