This past Monday we hosted a visit from an activist group called SoulForce. Quoting from their letter, “Groups of young adults have brought the Equality Ride bus to more than 70 campuses over the last four years with the heartfelt mission of creating dialogue about the inclusion and community climate of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) people.” The group was respectful, congenial, and informed. They came in a spirit of friendship and left in the same spirit. We were able to converse with each other in a manner befitting respect and charity. They spoke on behalf of a hurting minority in the church and on the campus whose gender orientation makes life challenging for them. They left us with 3 requests:
1) that we change the wording of our behavioral policies to more equally treat gay, lesbian, and queer persons (their preferred titles),
2) that we specifically name our opposition to bullying on the basis of gender orientation by naming the LGBTQ in our policy, and
3) that we create a LGBTQ Club on the campus as a safe place for students to discuss their sexual orientation.
I will reply to each of these below.
Our viewpoints regarding human sexuality, sexual ethics, and Biblical interpretation differ significantly. Our common bond is the concern we both have for these students. Based on a survey by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, about 2% of our students are other-than-heterosexually oriented. As Christians, we are taught by our own story to care specifically for the marginalized, the forgotten, the minority. In the words of Deuteronomy…”because you were once such a people in Egypt”. The visit of SoulForce has led me to think even more carefully about how we care for our Trevecca students who suffer quietly over issues of sexual orientation. While I believe our campus to be a safe place with ample opportunity for safe conversations, this may be more apparent to faculty and administrators than to students needing wise friends. In the coming weeks, our Student Development Office and Chaplain’s Office will be exploring this question with a determination to offer a clear path for students seeking a safe conversation.
Regarding the 3 requests of SoulForce:
1) That we change the wording of our behavioral policies to more equally treat gay, lesbian, and queer persons (their preferred titles).
If equality is the true goal of SoulForce, as expressed in their tour name “Equality Ride”, we believe our policy statement more than meets this goal. Given their confession that abstinence is an appropriate life-calling for a single Christian, our statement calls all single students to sexual abstinence regardless of sexual orientation. The statement from our Student Handbook reads,
Sexual Ethics – Recognizing that true maturity involves a deep respect for the moral integrity of the individual, men and women attending this University are expected to refrain from engaging in acts of sexual immorality, such as premarital and extramarital relations, heterosexual and homosexual advances, and sexual perversion of any form.
They expressed concern over our use of the word “homosexual” as a demeaning word, preferring the LGBTQ terms. Given that our statement is written for incoming students to Trevecca, and that this policy is not written for communities outside Trevecca but our actual student body, we do not believe a change of language communicates respect of persons but rather, labels that are currently understood as offensive within our community. Language is a barrier that we will need to negotiate as we talk honestly with the world around us.
2) That we specifically name our opposition to bullying on the basis of gender orientation by naming the LGBTQ in our policy.
We believe that our current policy statement against bullying is more than sufficient to cover sexual orientation as the cause for bullying. We permit no bullying of any kind. Period. Our Sexual Harassment Policy is as follows:
Trevecca Nazarene University is committed to providing and maintaining a healthy learning and working environment for all students, staff, faculty and other members of the University’s community, free of discrimination and all forms of sexual and gender harassment, which diminish the dignity or impede the academic freedom of any member of the University community. In accordance with Trevecca Nazarene University’s Wesleyan values, its role as an educational institution, and both federal and state law, the University condemns any form of sexual [or gender] harassment [or assault] and is committed to taking action to prevent and eliminate all forms of them, including coercive sexual behavior. Although not rising to the legal definition of sexual harassment, the University is committed to prevent and eliminate unethical and/or inappropriate conduct as defined by the Wesleyan Christian values. Sexual relationships outside marriage are inconsistent with Trevecca’s Wesleyan values.
3) That we create a LGBTQ Club on the campus as a safe place for students to discuss their sexual orientation.
A club is about a cause, not a conversation. The International Justice Mission is a club with a cause to champion. The Young Democrats or Young Republicans club on a campus are clubs with specific agendas in mind. The LGBTQ clubs on university campuses are agenda-oriented clubs. Such a club runs counter to the mission of Trevecca. Conversations, on the other hand, occur among friends in Merge Groups, dorm chats, in a faculty office, in book clubs, and in purposeful gatherings. I believe we can do more to make such safe venues available and plentiful. I believe many such places already exist but these are not always readily obvious to our students.
We are nowhere near done with this issue in the church. As the people of God, once marginalized and forgotten in Egypt, we have in our story the memory of a God who heard our cries and came to us in neighborly love. But God’s love did not end with blind acceptance of us as we were. Divine love went on to offer a narrative of life that could be lived out in rich community. To be both loving and holy will create tensions within and among us as we seek to serve those who wrestle with sexual orientation.
I look forward to continuing this conversation in the coming weeks. I believe there is rich, joyful, communal life offered to every creature of God and I desire this for every Trevecca student and employee. Plans are already underway for community conversations. May God give us grace to practice holy love.
Glad to serve you,