“Some of the views you might actually disagree with, and that’s okay,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs for Student Government David Priest (sr). This is how he introduced the Student Government Association’s forum on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer) issues Oct. 8, which was a continuation of the forum held last year.
This forum comes at a critical time when many Christians schools, and specifically schools who join Indiana Wesleyan University in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), are facing legal consequences about their traditional stances against homosexual practices among their faculty and students.
In July, Michael Lindsey, president of Gordon College, signed a petition asking President Barack Obama to add an exemption clause for religious institutions from a pending non-discrimination order.
Gordon is now facing the loss of city contracts and looking over their own policies against “homosexual practices” under pressure from their accreditation board, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Gordon students seem to be on board with the changes. A recent petition, started by a Gordon alumnus, asking for the phrase “homosexual practice” be removed from the Life and Conduct Statement has more than 1,000 signatures at this point.
At IWU, students like Phil Ross (sr) hope this forum will bring a new perspective on the conversation.
“Time and time again we’re called as Christians to enter into the world and to be the light and salt of the earth and to go and be community with those who really need to be reached out to,” Ross said. “This is a group of people that we’ve marginalized and put to the side and ignored over and over again.”
Ross emphasized people don’t have to change their theological perspective to be friends and love the people around them, no matter their sexual orientation.
“Both the church and the LGBTQ community have harmed each other greatly … but we’re called to be the redemptive people that bring healing on the earth,” Ross said.
Indiana University journalism student Suzanne Grossman, an openly gay Christian, gave her perspective on what IWU can do as a community to be more loving to those around it.
“Something they could do for maybe transgender students is incorporate more training in the health center on how to handle certain situations,” Grossman said.
She explained how changing access to legal versus preferred names at IU has helped transgender students so they are not accidentally “outed” while a teacher is taking attendance or they are waiting in the doctor’s office.
“You don’t have to be affirming or non-affirming to accept policies that are more inclusive, such as that,” Grossman said.
George Fox University and California Baptist University have both recently faced lawsuits involving transgender students and their housing policies. Currently, IWU has no policy or precedents for dealing with transgender students.
Ross commented on further ways to build community. He critiqued the counseling sessions, saying they can feel like a “fix it” situation.
“I think a lot of people see it as, well if you’re struggling with this, then go here and you can get help,” Ross said, “Rather, I would love to see what it would look like to have discussion groups on these topics.”
He advocates for groups that can discuss more casually, so people who have LGBTQ friends or family members will also feel welcome to learn more about this debate.
Wheaton College, also a member of the CCCU, recently created a group called Refuge, where LGBTQ students can meet in community. At the moment, this group is only open to LGBTQ students, not to all who wish to discuss the matter, but it is the first time a group like this has been made official on Wheaton’s campus.
However, nine other CCCU schools have rejected applications for club status from LGBTQ groups. These schools will not accept groups that want to affirm gay identity or advocate for gay rights, given their theological backgrounds and code of conduct policies.
As IWU and Christian colleges in general move further into discussions and dealings with sexuality, Professor of Mission and Anthropology from Trinity University Dr. Robert Priest, believes these institutions must take their education on the topic of sexuality seriously.
“We’re not cultivating the kinds of expertise and in-depth understandings that give us even a credible platform to speak into this situation,” Priest said. “We are a knowledge institution. We have no coursework, no curriculum, no sustained year-after-year effort to forge better understandings, but now legally we are trying to come up with an answer.”