“Stewart Headlam” is the founder and editor of Voiceless, which strives to create “a space for dialogue between Christians, the LGBTQ community, and all of us who find ourselves standing awkwardly in between.” Headlam is an alumnus and current graduate student of Abilene Christian University, but the Voiceless zine and website are not affiliated with the university.
You can read our brief Q&A with Stewart below about the zine that he put together to contribute to and help move forward dialogue about faith and sexuality on his campus at Abilene Christian University. You can check out the zine at www.voicelesszine.com to read the resource and keep up with their blog that is updated on a weekly basis.
Q: Could you briefly tell us about the zine and what you all decided to include in it?
A: The zine includes a disclaimer, an open letter, an essay (written by me) about the four most common Christian perspectives on homosexuality, and six stories (written by ACU students and recent alumni) about what it’s like to be an LGBTQ student or to experience same-sex attraction on ACU’s campus. I needed to make it clear from the beginning that the perspectives within the zine are not endorsed by ACU and are “best understood as snapshots of the beliefs of individual authors at the time when these authors last edited their submissions.” The open letter calls for more open, frequent, and honest dialogue about faith and sexuality. It’s pretty hard to disagree with our open letter, so I wanted to start there, with something that all Christians (or at least most of the Christians I know) could agree on. In my essay, I wanted to create a popular-level work that took a charitable, balanced view of four different Christian perspectives on homosexuality. I also wanted to frame these perspectives in a way that didn’t put them on a spectrum from “Biblical to unbiblical” or “bigoted to affirming”. For many people, the six stories in the second half of the zine are the most important part, and they reflect a wide range of very nuanced perspectives that don’t quite fit into the four quadrants I lay out in my essay.
Q: What was the motivation in writing the zine Voiceless? What are you all hoping it will contribute to or accomplish?
A: I was directly inspired by the release of HU Queer Press’s zine for Harding University, but it took a year of planning and tweaking to get the right tone that I thought would be most helpful to the ACU community. There were three unspoken goals I had while editing the zine: (1) I wanted to frame the discussion as a dialogue, rather than a debate. In a debate, the purpose is to win the argument by any means necessary. In a dialogue, all voices are given equal respect, because even if you are “right,” other voices might notice something you’ve missed, see things from a different angle, or provide constructive criticism of the way you justify certain wrong or unwise actions on account of your true beliefs. (2) I wanted students and faculty at ACU to acknowledge in class discussions that there are a growing number of Christians who hold what I call an Affirming/Celebrating viewpoint. I couldn’t understand why it was okay to doubt the existence of God and to have different opinions about Just War, abortion, women’s roles, and the Trinity in class discussions, yet when talking about homosexuality, the affirming viewpoint was never taken seriously. (3) I wanted other, lest trustworthy people to benefit from the experiences I had talking to all my LGBTQ and SSA (same-sex attraction) friends. Many of my SSA friends felt uncomfortable around people with a pronounced Affirming/Celebrating viewpoint, and most of my LGBTQ and SSA friends felt unsafe around people with (what I call) a Professing/Repenting viewpoint and uncomfortable around those with (what I call) a Reconciling/Surrendering viewpoint. The zine allows these stories to be heard by people who may not listen to them in person.
Q: How has Voiceless been received by students and administration thus far at ACU? Is there a desire by the broader student body to engage this topic and those that identify as LGBT or have same-sex attractions, or have you seen some reluctance?
A: Our release has been incredibly smooth. In some ways, that’s a little disappointing. It would have been cool to get 40,000 hits on our first weekend like some of the other LGBTQ groups at Christian schools. On the other hand, it’s kind of amazing that we were able to talk about homosexuality in a way that hasn’t stirred up much controversy! This gives us a lot more options for our future relationship with administration, because we’re not enemies; we just have different goals. The student body is very much interested in engaging this topic, and Student Life has tried to address that interest in recent years by breaking the silence in chapel services and chapel forums, but many students don’t feel like the conversation in these contexts is going far enough. Many students were pretty upset when Soulforce was only invited to speak to specialized, closed-door cell groups when they visited campus in 2010, rather than speaking to an open student forum, and it will be interesting to see how students react when Soulforce visits Abilene in April, since ACU is not planning to invite them to anything this year, not even cell groups. That said, I think many students are tired of talking about homosexuality, just like they are tired of talking about other topics such as social justice, women’s roles, and racial reconciliation that they feel are “pushed” upon them in the Core Curriculum (required for all freshman and sophomores) and in chapel services.
Q: Has the zine been helpful in moving conversations along about faith and the LGBT community at your school? What have you seen it leading to?
A: This is a hard question for me to answer. As a graduate student, I don’t spend very much time on campus any more, so it’s hard for me to know what conversations are happening in undergraduate classes, in the library, and in the dorm rooms. However, I have been very encouraged by the activity of Voice. Voice is an unofficial (read: not school-sanctioned) student group that was started in September 2011 by Michael “Fish” Van Huis, and Brent Bailey of the Odd Man Out blog, both of whom will be interning with The Marin Foundation this summer. This group has been meeting about once a week since September to talk about how Christians can reconcile with the LGBTQ community at ACU and in Abilene. They have also hosted two “Beyond Agreement to Love” dinners as well as the release party for Voiceless. That was an amazing night. Sixty people showed up to hear the six stories from the zine read out loud.
Q: What is your hope for students at ACU that are LGBT or have same-sex attractions and the broader student body/administration?
A: For the near future, I hope that nothing will happen that causes Voiceless or Voice to become enemies with administration. For the time being administration is able to take a neutral stance toward us, neither affirming nor condemning what we do. If that relationship changes for the worse, it won’t be because administration is evil or because we are radical revolutionaries; it will be because some outside force such as the media, some outspoken ACU alumni, or a well-intentioned third-party gay rights group that doesn’t understand our unique situation forces ACU administration to make a political move. That is an unfortunate reality. In the slightly more distant future, it would be amazing if ACU could endorse a group like Voice as an official student group while still maintaining the university’s position that sexual immorality includes all sexual behavior outside the context of marriage. This is essentially what happened at Seattle Pacific University, which recognizes the LGBTQA group SPU Haven as an official group, saying, “Student leaders do not need to personally agree to the Human Sexuality Statement, but must agree to respect the statement as the University’s position.” Looking further down the road, I hope that LGBTQ and SSA students can be out at ACU without fearing that they might lose a scholarship or that they will be barred from certain leadership positions such as student government and residence life. I know many individuals who have been out on campus without getting expelled, but I’ve also heard many stories and rumors about more subtle forms of discrimination. Some day, I hope that it becomes socially unacceptable in the classroom, in the dorm room, and in the locker room to say “That’s so gay,” and mean “That sucks,” or to make jokes about a person’s gender or sexuality. Some day, I hope that LGBTQ and SSA individuals can come to ACU and expect to experience more love and respect at a Christian university than they would at a state university.