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Gay Students at Fuller Seminary

Gay Students at Fuller Seminary July 16, 2013

Fuller Seminary is both my alma mater (M.Div.) and a part-time employer (I teach a cohort in the D.Min. program). As far as I know, I am one of two faculty members at Fuller who publicly supports gay marriage and the full inclusion of GLBT persons in ordained ministry. As such, I’ve had many conversation about the issue of gays in the church with alumni, faculty, and administrators. I have the most conversations with prospective students, many of them gay and wondering if they will find Fuller a hospitable place.

Over the weekend, the USA Today ran an AP story on a newly-formed and recognized student group on campus, OneTable, that exists to support and explore the issues of GLBT students at Fuller:

PASADENA, California (AP) — Nick Palacios struggled to get his conservative Pentecostal parents to accept him as a gay evangelical Christian for nearly a decade before his family found a common ground through faith.

Now, as an openly gay seminarian, the 29-year-old hopes to carve out a similar acceptance for other gays in the broader evangelical community through his role as president of the nation’s first LGBT student club sanctioned by a major evangelical seminary. The group, called OneTable, formed last fall at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, one of the world’s largest multi-denominational seminaries, and has attracted about three dozen students.

“It quickly became apparent to me that I was going to be OK and that I wasn’t going to have to forsake my faith for my sexuality,” Palacios said of his struggle for acceptance.

“I really hope that people will see Fuller and OneTable as a model of what the body of the church is supposed to do in this situation.” (Read the rest: LGBT group finds acceptance at evangelical college [sic].)

Yesterday, newly installed president (and friend of mine), Mark Labberton, issued a statement. Here it is, in full:

Fuller has received comments about the Associated Press news article that ran over the weekend about OneTable and the seminary. We here at Fuller have long welcomed the opportunity to engage over vigorous issues of debate within the church and within culture. We understand that this leaves us vulnerable to critique from a broad spectrum.

We want to provide some clarity about the following points and questions that have been raised in response to the article: What is Fuller’s position regarding same-sex marriage? What is the OneTable student group and its purpose? What are Fuller’s hopes in discussing issues of sexuality?

Fuller’s position on same-sex marriage and behavior, reflective of our evangelical tradition’s reliance on the scriptures, affirms that every student, faculty member, administrator, and staff person at Fuller is expected to abide by the Community Standards that “premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct (are) inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” This position is clear.

OneTable at Fuller is one among 24 student-led groups, which can be formed when a number of students express interest in developing a discussion group on campus, such as the current Student Stewardship Group, G3 (Environmental) Initiative, and Students Serving Veterans.

OneTable provides a safe place to discuss issues related to sexuality and gender—issues that are vitally important, personal, and fraught with debate that is frequently divisive and contentious, not least in an evangelical context. OneTable at Fuller is not an advocacy group to alter seminary policy nor to direct any efforts in that direction. No student-led group “defines” Fuller’s position, nor does it represent or encompass the many resources that Fuller has to offer. In terms of the topics of sexuality, marriage, and family, Fuller has been and will continue to teach about these issues in many ways both in the classroom and in campuswide workshops.

Fuller hopes to be a context in which many of the significant issues of our day can be discussed in relation to the Bible’s teaching for the life and witness of the church. As we are all aware, many evangelical and other churches are being asked questions related to sexuality by their congregations. As our students at Fuller train to become pastors and church leaders and for other vocations, issues about sexuality will likely be asked and discussed with some regularity. Our goal at Fuller Seminary is to help prepare our students to be able to minister lovingly, biblically, and faithfully on this and many other issues as well.

Finally, I would like to note how much we appreciate your questions and your prayers as we seek, in a spirit of humility, to be faithful witnesses—in word and in deed—to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.

Mark Labberton, President
Fuller Seminary 

I’ve talked to Mark in the past about how Fuller will take up the pressing issues of sexuality, gender, and GLBT persons in the church in his tenure. He didn’t shy away from my question. Instead, he said that Fuller needs to have this conversation, and it will be had within the context of Fuller history as an evangelical institution and its present as a seminary that serves 4,000 students — many of whom come from the Global South, where even talking about GLBT issues is taboo.

Fuller is a strong place, with strong leadership. Many will watch how Mark and OneTable and others faithfully navigate these waters.

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