- by Artie Van Why -
Having spent my four years at a Christian college trying to hide from others, and even myself, that I was gay, it was with great personal interest that I read the May 24, 2012 online article “Underground Gay Group Emerges, Shaking Evangelical Christian College”. On the same day President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, a group of students announced an underground presence of a LGBT community (which included students, alumni and employees) at Biola University.
I am only one of the many gay alumni that have passed through the doors of my Alma Mater (Asbury College which is now a University). I would hope that with the school’s upgrade to being an even higher institution of learning, it has created an intellectual environment where students can voice differing opinions; where opposing viewpoints can be discussed and debated. But, from what I have heard, the students on Asbury’s campus that identify as gay still live in secrecy and with the same fear (and possibly self-loathing) that I and so many other LGBT Asbury alumni did.
My personal focus is on Asbury because that is where I went. But I think of all the LGBT students on all the Christian campuses across the country and wonder if those campuses will ever be a safe environment for them. Who can the students who are questioning, discovering or trying to understand their same sex attractions turn to without fear of reprisals, reprimands, rejection or dismissal?
What if a student courageously comes out as gay on a Christian campus while also adhering to the school’s prohibition of being sexual active? Will their simply identifying themselves as gay be considered a sin? And if they swore to continued abstinence from sexual activity would they be left alone? Or would they be required to seek on campus counseling, even if they did not want to? And if so, would they be subjected to reparative therapy or told that, with God’s help, he or she could change their sexual orientation?
Would gay students (as well as straight ones) be permitted to decide for themselves what the scriptures say, or don’t say, about homosexuality? Do Christian colleges and universities provide an academic environment where discussion, debate and questions are welcomed and encouraged; even over the most controversial of issues? Is having a different opinion (thinking for ones’ self) discouraged?
During the four years students (gay and straight) are at these Christian schools they are just at the beginning of their adult life. Institutions of higher education should be where students are encouraged, rather than discouraged, to question and examine anything and everything; including their faith’s beliefs and doctrines. And if throughout their four years while at school they begin to redefine and reshape what they believe, coming to their own conclusions, isn’t that part of what becoming an adult is about? Do Christian schools want to send out into the world young adults who know how to think for themselves? Who have formed their individual ideas of who they are, who their God is and how that God would want them to live in this world. Or are these schools only interested in producing “cookie cutter” versions of what the school thinks their graduating students should be like?
So, I worry about the LGBT students on today’s Christian campuses. Will any of them be able to find a safe place at their schools? Will any of them be able to live their life as who they are and not hide behind a closet door? What can we do to pressure Christian schools to take their heads out of the sand and face the reality that there are gay students? To realize the many students will have a gay family member or friend. That this is much more of a prevalent, social issue then it was back when I was at Asbury in the late ‘70’s?
Across the vast spectrum of Christian thinking, there are many views on being gay and Christian. There probably always will be. Are today’s students going to be allowed to choose which view they come to believe in?
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Artie Van Why, recently chose to part ways with the United Methodist Church, following General Conference 2012. After attending Asbury College in KY, Artie moved to New York City. His stage performances include Jesus in 'Godspell' and Snoopy in 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown'. In June of 2001, his office moved across the street from the World Trade Center. He reported to work as usual on the morning of September 11th. Artie began writing about his experience on 9/11 and the weeks that followed. Artie wrote and produced a staged reading in New York City of a play called 'That Day in September'. The reading made its debut to a sold-out crowd and was presented in many other venues. Artie now lives in Lancaster County, PA. In June 2006, Artie self-published the book version of That Day in September. Artie speaks publicly whenever given the opportunity, and his script is available for production.