You can’t pray the gay away, even at BJU

I just found a fascinating website. It’s called “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Alumni of Bob Jones University.” It’s little explanatory subheading is “Because’ we’re here too.”

In case you’re not from the U.S. or simply not in the know, Bob Jones University is probably the most fundamentalist of all fundamentalist colleges. The school didn’t lift its prohibition on interracial dating until 2000. There are strict dress codes and student codes of conduct, classes are all taught from a Biblical perspective, and there’s a constant stream of mandatory chapel meetings.

The stories on this site are heartrending. And oh so brave. The stories are by GLBT Bob Jones alumni who are willing to come forward and tell their stories. They give their names, their pictures, and the raw emotions of what they’ve been through.

I grew up believing that being gay is a disorder of some sort, likely caused by either sexual abuse or having an absent father or distant mother, and that gay people can be “cured” through prayer and therapy and go on to lead normal lives as straight people. No one from a functional, Christian family should ever end up gay.

But of course, the reality doesn’t work out that way. And it’s that reality that these GLBT Bob Jones alumni want to make known.

There’s Blair, for instance.

Twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday. Once a week in elementary school. Twice a week in high school. Four times a week in college (except for that “special” weekwhich had sixteen). And those are just the full-fledged sermons. Eighteen years of weekly Sunday School. Sixteen years of Christian schooling, including twenty-four semester hours of bible class in high school and fourteen in college. Five years of AWANA. Four years of bible quizzing. Six years of youth group. Vacation Bible School, The WildsNorthland, and countless other Christian summer camps—year after year. Mission trips. Church choir. Bible studies. Prayer groups. Revival weeks. Missionary conferences. Family devotions at home. Christian radio in the car. Christian friends. Christian family. Christian environment. Christian everything.

It’s like awakening to find yourself on a treadmill stuck at very high speed. There is no safe way to dismount, so you run for your life. You’re so consumed by the running that you don’t even have time catch your breath and ask, “Why am I running, anyway? How did I end up here? What would happen if this thing stopped?” You just run and begin to accept the treadmill as a normal part of your life. After all, you don’t know any different.

I was twenty-two years old before I was allowed to ask the question, “Who am I?” That’s not a privilege afforded to those in the culture in which I was raised. It would be fair to say that I had very little choice in the substantial aspects of my life. I was not free to choose my religion, my schooling (including college), my activities, my friends, my music, my philosophy, my politics, my lifestyle, my gender.

Perhaps that last one surprised you. Nobody gets to choose their gender, right? Yes, I suppose that’s true. Mine just happened to be wrong.

There’s Colin, who dated and married a woman he met at BJU even though he had long struggled with same-sex attractions. Why? Because, well, that’s what he was supposed to do.

[E]ven while I had achieved everything that should have made me “normal,” I was not happy on a very fundamental level. I was beginning to question the substance and validity of the religion I grew up with. I started to work at a consultancy where my boss was in a long-term gay relationship. After the initial shock of this discovery, I found myself envying him for being in the type of relationship that I wished I were in. I finally knew that being gay could mean something significantly more than trolling the Internet for porn—there were people in long-term, happy relationships out there, and I was trying to settle for occasional lust while interring myself in an unhappy marriage.

Both my wife and I were emotionally close, but as our physical relationship continued to falter, we both grew angry at each other and at the system that we had put our trust and hopes in. Even as our relationship grew more distant and unhappy, our expectations and frustrations remained unspoken. Admitting fault would be akin to admitting that I couldn’t control my life and could no longer conform to the ideal I had set for myself. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I wasn’t attracted to her physically, because I thought it would kill her to hear that, but in the absence of my revelation, she silently suffered, assuming that I had fallen out of love with her or that she was unattractive. Neither scenario was true, but wrestling with the possibility of my being gay was even more painful, and neither of our backgrounds permitted that possibility to exist.

So in November of 2010, in the midst of my first semester of [graduate] coursework and preparations for Thanksgiving, I chose to come out to my wife of four years. I had embarked on the journey that had become increasingly inevitable; I had to tell her the truth and be honest with myself for the first time. That was the hardest thing I have ever done because even though both of us were unhappy in our then-current relationship, we did love and care about each other. I felt that I might never find love or companionship like that again, but I knew she deserved better—soul, mind, and body. I told her that she deserved someone who could love her completely, and that I needed to be honest with myself for the first time.

Steve‘s experience was similar.

Knowing I was gay, my constant prayer was for God to remove that from me. It was preached that homosexual desire was misplaced lust. The remedy was a properrelationship, a heterosexual relationship, a married relationship. I was married the year after graduating from the university, shortly after I had become a staff member. I had met a girl my freshman year; we had become best friends. We dated (well, as much as anyone could on campus) for 4 ½ years. We knew each other. Except I never let her know of my “problem.”

It was a continual fight; it was a losing fight. I must not be praying hard enough. I must not really be saved. I could not get around it. I liked guys; I wanted to be with guys. I would see guys or pictures of guys in magazines and fantasize. I would repent and try to “get victory” over this area. I would read my Bible even more. I never acted on anything because I knew I would get caught—and I was married.

I remember one time that Greenville City Council was passing a resolution that announced that gays were not welcome in Greenville. The university announced it, and I went. Not in support of the resolution, but in my curiosity to “see” what other gays looked like. As I saw there, they were not the wicked, evil scum of the earth, but they were regular people like those at the university—like me.

Chris‘s story echoes that of Blair – the perfect Christian upbringing, the perfect Christian influences, but to no avail.

I grew up in a Christian home with two loving parents. My family attended an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church my whole life. I was saved at an early age and immediately jumped into church work. I had always wanted to be a teacher and I enjoyed working with kids of all ages. I taught Children’s Church and Wednesday night prayer meeting and eventually began playing piano for the church when I hit high school age. I was very active and although there were many things in the church that bothered me, I kept those to myself (inwardly believing that they were wrong) and put on the facade that was expected. In the early days, I didn’t question authority or what was said, but simply accepted it like most fundamentalists do.  In fact, I was outwardly the perfect model of what was expected in fundamentalist circles.

I guess I’ve known I was gay since I was in 6th or 7th grade. It wasn’t a choice for me –that I know for a fact.  After all, who in that environment would choose to go against the “norm,” so to speak, and deal with all that comes with being gay? As others have said on this blog, I prayed for God to take it away but the harder it seemed that I worked, the more I struggled with my homosexual thoughts.

The website features more stories as well. It also has a petition for signing – a petition demanding an apology from Bob Jones III for a remark he made in 1980.

“I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted but it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.” - Dr. Bob Jones III

At the White House in 1980, Dr. Bob Jones III, then-president (and now chancellor) of Bob Jones University spoke to a reporter for the associated press suggesting that America would be better off if gay men and lesbians were stoned to death.

For thirty-one years he has remained unapologetic.

Thousands of young people have attended the Bob Jones family of schools in Greenville, SC, under the leadership of a man who wishes some of them dead. For their sake and the sake of students yet to attend, many of whom will have difficulty accepting their sexual orientation because of Dr. Jones and his attitudes, it is time Bob Jones University and its leadership, including Dr. Jones, are made aware of the harm they have caused. Apologizing for this statement is one small step in the right direction.

It’s about time fundamentalists and evangelicals finally admit that you can’t “pray the gay away.” All the memorized Bible verses and Bible clubs and chapel services in the world can’t do that. But I’m not holding my breath for a change of heart, and until there is one, the more organizations like GLBT Alumni of BJU the better.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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