Which Christian College Will Be the First to Accept GLBT Students?

Which Christian College Will Be the First to Accept GLBT Students? March 22, 2010

I was chatting on the phone with a friend the other day who happens to be a professor at a Christian college/university.  And we got to talking about the softening of Christian colleges toward GLBT persons — be they students or faculty.  And I wondered aloud which school would be the first to accept gay students.

Here are the necessary caveats:

  • What is a “Christian” college? That’s a relative description, to be sure, because one could include colleges like Gustavus Adolphus College and St. Olaf College, each affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  But when used in common parlance, a “Christian” college generally refers to an evangelical college, like those associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.  So let’s agree on that for a definition.
  • Of course, each of these schools has G, L, and B students (and, gasp, faculty!) — some of them even have T students.  And, depending on how you define Q (Queer or Questioning), they’ve got some of those, too.

That being said, Christian colleges and universities generally have clearly articulated statements against homosexual sex, like this from the Covenant for Life Together at Bethel University:

The Bible also identifies character qualities and actions that should not be present in the lives of believers. For example: destructive anger, malice, rage, sexual immorality, impurity, adultery, evil desires, greed, idolatry,slander, profanity, lying, homosexual behavior, drunkenness, thievery, and dishonesty…

We believe that sexual intercourse and other forms of intensely interpersonal sexual activity are reserved for monogamous, heterosexual marriage. We recognize that sexual purity involves right motives as well as right behaviors.
We prohibit the possession and use of pornographic material. In addition we condemn sexually exploitive or abusive behavior and sexual harassment in any form.

    Schools like Bethel have softened their stances on other issues in the last couple decades. For instance, some have dropped their prohibition of off-campus, or even on-campus dancing.  Others have allowed their faculty to imbibe alcohol.  Etc.

    My conjecture is this: While it seems that the Christian colleges in the Reformed tradition have been more progressive in their posture towards traditionally prohibited behaviors like alcohol, dancing, and card playing, I think it will be a school in the Wesleyan tradition that will be the first to open itself to openly gay students.

    Do you think I’m off my rocker?

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    • A better question might be this: “Should Christian institutions lower their standards regarding what has been considered sexual sin?”

      We can try to answer this Biblically, and there are numerous passages that inveigh against sex outside of marriage. Jesus even related adultery to even our illicit thought life (Mat. 5).

      If we then pragmatically consider sexuality, we come up with similar answers. Regarding the work of the British Anthropologist, J.D. Unwin, John J. Davis (Evangelical Ethics) writes:

      “After a comprehensive study of both Western and non-Western cultures throughout human history, Unwin concluded that the record of mankind ‘does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it had been absolutely [heterosexually] monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.’ Unwin observed that a society’s adoption and maintenance of heterosexual monogamy as a social standard ‘has preceded all manifestations of social energy, whether that energy be reflected in conquest, in art and sciences, in extension of the social vision, or in the substitution of monotheism for polytheism.’”

      If the church fails to take a stance and speak out against destructive sexual sin, society will point the accusing finger at us as it did in the context of the Church’s failure to stand decisively against Nazism and Segregation.

    • Alex

      I think it will be Pensacola.


    • I suppose one additional question is what exactly will define “open”? As you’ve already stated, there are GLBTQ folks at these institutions. But does openness mean not expelling a student if they come out publicly? Not denying an out student admission? If we’re basing it on official statements, then UM schools are already open to GLBTQ folks, since our social principles already proclaim all folks, regardless of sexual orientation, to be of “sacred worth” (we have a ways to go on the marriage and ordination issues), but to my knowledge no UM schools have official prohibitions against homosexuality among students. So does that mean they’re already open?

    • Dave H

      Hi Tony,

      I don’t think you’re off your rocker.

      I teach at a Wesleyan school, where the “Soulforce Equality Ride” http://www.soulforce.org/equalityride visited 2 weeks ago. It was a model visit for dialogue and understanding, and a near miracle that both “sides” engaging the issues were happy at the end of the day!

      I’m not saying there won’t be disappointment and pain as we work through it. But I got an unexpected jolt of hope when I asked a transgender equality rider, on the steps of our chapel building, how she thought things were going. She said, “Better than any of us hoped! We feel loved and accepted here.”

      We have a long way to go, but this was very encouraging to me personally.

      But my strongest opinion is that the Mennonite schools will get there first. Eastern Mennonite University is the most progressive on this that I have seen. The Mennos just never seem satisfied with choosing sides in a controversy, they’re always looking for creative “third options.”

      Thanks for raising an issue I’m passionate about,


    • As these things usually go, these schools will first need to actually accept women as equals before they will accept LGBT students. When women are still expelled if they get pregnant, women in theology classes mocked, and “Biblical Equality” clubs denied meeting space and funding – there is still a long way to go. It’s getting better, but from allowing dancing to actually loving people is too big of a step to make in just a few years.

    • Monica Mowdy

      I am interested in seeing everyone’s vote. I attended a Wesleyan Seminary. It was somewhat evangelical. Here is part of our Ethos Statement, he Asbury community expects its witness to society today will include personal commitment against prevailing moral laxity by not participating in, advocating, supporting or condoning sexual relationships outside of marriage or homosexual practices, since these are contrary to Scripture and Christian tradition, and by refraining from the use of alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs and tobacco. This commitment will also show itself in sincere efforts to minister redemptively on behalf of Christ in every human relationship and societal structure.” Because of loophole I was never asked to sign it and I wasn’t even aware of its existence until before graduation. I was appalled at the language it contains.

    • Greg

      Christian schools will first have to rethink gender. Many of them haven’t even made much progress with women, much less LGBT students. Usually when institutions do accept LGBT students, it’s more about acceptance of “LGB” students, to be more precise. The “T” still freaks out a lot of the LGBs, not to mention everybody else. Gender transgression underlies many sins at Christian schools (and the broader society). It’s all about gender expectations.

    • Jill

      It is my hope, as someone who attended Wheaton Academy (the High School associated with Wheaton College), that if colleges begin to change discriminatory policies, high schools will follow suit.

      I remember the fear I felt as a student, knowing that if anyone knew the feelings in my heart about who I was, I could be expelled. It taught me, incorrectly, at a young age that I was unworthy not just of being a student at my school — but convinced me that I was also unworthy of a religious community and ultimately, unworthy of God’s love. Those lessons took me years to unlearn.

      I think about our children in Christian schools throughout the nation who are experiencing what I experienced. I want it to be better for them than it was for me.

    • John Howard

      Eastern University’s Student Government, today, accepted the Gay/Straight Alliance group as an official Club. Even though Eastern is different than other Christian Colleges because it is associated with American Baptists, who have been more accepting to the LGBTQ community. Yet it is still associated with the CCCU. Also, even before today, Eastern had the club it just was not acknowledged.

      • Marcel

        Is this club still recognized? I can’t find it in their website.

    • Kyle

      I attend Mars Hill Graduate School out here in Seattle. It’s hard to nail down where MHGS “fits” with other Christian seminaries and graduate schools, but this is a conversation we are wrestling with. I know of a handful of students that have revealed their sexuality in classes and it has sparked great conversations. There is no written stance surrounding the issue and the faculty continues to wrestle with the questions as professors vary, on both ends of the spectrum, as to where they land. I am thankful to be in a place where this conversation is taking place. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

    • Benjamin

      I am coming from The College at Southwestern (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and while I can rattle off many things I do not like or agree with about my college, our stance against being openly GLBT will not shake while we have Dr. Paige Patterson as our president, and I completely agree with this.
      I believe our stance on struggling GLBT’s is one of love. Students who are struggling with unbiblical sexual desires dont get expelled, they get help from our faculty. I think thats a great step forward and shows that our compassion is still within us.

    • Joey

      The Mennonites – Goshen College. Don’t know if they would fit into the category of “Christian School” the same way as Bethel or IWU or whatever.

    • Seth

      I think a big part of the reason that Christian schools have difficulty permitting Christian students who are gay (and who also believe that it’s not incompatible with faith), is that their communities tend to be so insulated that they don’t get to know many of us. Perhaps we’re not forced out by cruel rhetoric, Benjamin. I appreciate that you say your school has an attitude of love. But it also is an attitude that says gay Christians (and the many straight people who agree with us) are not allowed their own interpretations of scripture, when we have some very good scriptural arguments to be made, ones that truly interact with God’s word and don’t just discard. A gay Christian who knows his or her theology well and can talk about the prooftexts, about creational intent, the Acts 11 Gentile inclusion as a paradigm, etc., are unlikely to stay somewhere where everyone says that they are in sin.

      So some might talk about love and respect, but it’s the kind of love you have for the delinquent neighbor, not for the brothers and sisters. It’s the love that the early church showed the pious Gentiles before Peter told them they had to accept them fully in Acts 11 – the Jewish Christians tolerated them, but they could never be in full community with them.

      Many universities don’t respect us enough to admit that there even *is* another opinion from people who have a high view of scripture. When they do, they caricature that interpretation too, rather than engaging with it. So because gay Christians have to keep to their own communities, or be ridiculed or theologically battered, many non-accepting mainstream Christians never see the many, many people who deeply love God and pursue Him as first priority, and also believe that He is walking with them in their relationships. (Talking about monogamous lifelong homosexual relationships here, of course, same standards as heterosexual Christians.) If the people who are in these academic communities could see us as we really are, not the caricatures, but how our relationships are transformed and full of God and love and brokenness and humanity and praying for each other and pain and difficulty and changing diapers and cuddling and watching TV on saturdays just like theirs are, I think it would take a little of the boogeyman out of things. At least, even if we still disagreed about it being a sin, we could talk about it at the level of concern it warrants – it’s a side issue to Christianity, at best, not the core, and certainly not something that should cut us out of community with one another – and not make us be so cruel to each other as we are now.

      I don’t know why Wesleyan schools would be first or anything though 🙂 I’m betting on my parent’s school, Bob Jones U. No? Thanks Tony, I appreciate you.

    • I think you may be right.
      Azusa Pacific University, my Alma Mater, is in the Wesleyan tradition and I think it’s making some breakthroughs in its’ openness to GLBT students. Even though, on paper, it still regards homosexuality as a “sin,” there are some homosexual students there and amongst the students there is great openness. Perhaps APU might do something official in the near future… but then again, they have to keep their position in the “Christian college” dialogue and there’s no doubt that they’d lose some ground with rival schools such as BIOLA and Westmont.

    • I would think that a school without a denominational affiliation would be the first to go in this direction (or any controversial direction, for that matter), so my guess would be Messiah, Gordon, or Westmont, if any.

    • Steve Johnson

      Dave H. asked me to post about what’s happening at EMU. I’m one of the faculty advisors for Safe Space. You can read about the mission statement and recent events below.

      The Mennonite Church is quite divided on how homosexuality plays out in church life, but I’m proud of EMU for opening up what I think is a truly safe space for LGBTQ students to talk about their lives. There are a number of “out” students at EMU and some have been in very prominent leadership positions. Just about every faculty office in my suite has a Safe Space sticker on the door.

      EMU is a member of the CCCU.


      EMU Safe Space

      EMU Safe Space is an open and loving space affirming people of all sexual orientations, a space to engage respectfully with students, faculty and administrators as a presence in the EMU community for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning community, creating safe dialogue on the issue of homosexuality.

      Safe Space members commit ourselves to building interpersonal relationships while maintaining a long term vision of equality and justice for the LGBTQ community.

      For more information on membership, meetings, finances, and more please download the Safe Space constitution (pdf).

      ‘Voices Toward Inclusion’ campus event

      Friday, March 19
      Hymn Sing on Thomas Plaza
      7-7:45 p.m.

      Coming Out: A Journey through the Safety & Hazards of Grace
      8p.m. – Seminary 123
      Forrest Moyer is 27 years old, a member of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, and an archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville, PA. His talk will recount both the joy and difficulty he has experienced in an effort to live with openness and honesty as a gay member of his family, church and broader community.

      Saturday, March 20
      The Laramie Project: Reader’s Theatre
      8 p.m. – Mainstage Theatre, University Commons
      A staged reading of the story of Laramie, Wyoming where Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was brutally murdered in 1998.

      Monday, March 22
      Perspectives Forum and Discussion
      9 p.m. – Common Grounds
      How is the issue of homosexuality and homophobia seen from the different areas of the academy? Professors and others will talk from their academic field and experience. A time of questions and conversation will follow.

    • I did not attend St. Olaf, but I worked there for a year. They go out of their way to differentiate themselves from what they call “Church Colleges” (e.g. Bethel, Westmont, Wheaton, Gordon, Azusa, Biola, etc.). Instead, St. Olaf refers to themselves as a “College of the Church” (e.g. Gustavus, Augsburg, Notre Dame, Boston College, insert most Catholic universities/colleges, Pepperdine? – I am not sure about all of these, but you get the point). The reason being that many prospective students, upon visiting, assume some of the more rigid and mandatory obligations that go along with the “Church Colleges” (e.g. dancing, chapel attendance, alcohol, tobacco, etc. etc.). “I am not Lutheran, does this mean that I will be preached to and obligated to go to church at St. Olaf?” is often a concern of some students, the answer to which is, of course, no.

      Perhaps if some of these more rigid “Church Colleges” ( rigid here referring to certain doctrinal & confessional stances) did not have these obligations, then perhaps other schools (which where founded in a Christian tradition) would not put so much effort into distinguishing themselves as “Colleges of the Church” versus “Church Colleges.”

      So are the “Church Colleges” (which seem to be loosing their positions) becoming more like “Colleges of the Church,” and if so, will the two types become so similar as to shatter the dichotomy altogether? It doesn’t seem likely, but what do I know?

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    • Many of these covenants are actually based on Scripture, like Colossians 3:5-8 and 1 Corinthians 5:11, among others. The interesting thing here is that I have often heard that “right-wingers” overlook the warnings against greed and the like and rather, choose to make sexual immorality the focus of their scorn.

      What we have here, in this article, is the exact opposite. Surely Tony would not have us overlook the greed? The slander? Drunkenness?

      The Bethel Covenant also states in their “sexuality” clause that it is against the code for students to possess and use pornography. Surely, there are students in violation of this. Should this, too, be overturned? Why? Why not?

    • It seems that some Christian colleges and universities have a de facto “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. If someone is not too out, they try to ignore them.

      If someone GLBT forces the issue, the GLBT person is often kicked out.

      Eventually Christian institutions will have to face the fact that their anti-gay views are not based on scripture rightly divided. At that point, substantive changes will begin.

    • Rev. Will Elliott

      Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston-Salem (not Southeastern in Wake Forest, NC) supports all of its students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender. We look forward to when the rest of the world of theological education (and Christian liberal arts post-secondary education) will join us (and thus become relevant).

    • Katy S.

      I’m kind of confused about the questions you are raising…There are already Christian colleges that accept openly gay students so the points you’re raising appears to be outdated. Goshen College has recognized the club Prism, which provides an open forum for LGBT students and those concerned about those issues. Goshen also has the group Advocates, recognized as an official club by the college, which provides education on campus regarding sexual orientation. Whitworth University has Open Conversation: Gay-Straight Association. Princeton Theological Seminary has BGLASS (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Association). I attend Eastern University, and openly gay students are accepted here (in the sense that they are admitted to the college). Refuge has been passed by the Student Government Association as an official club and is awaiting approval by the Student Development Committee. Did you actually research whether there was Christian colleges that accept members of the LGBT community before you asked who would be the first?

    • mmartha

      Growing into truth through the living Word is a theological constant. Cardinal Newman believed the people also should be heard as a check on the top group of churchmen (and women). I am very conservative but I want to understand and to have compassion and I always seek.