Thought Catalog

Coming Out At A Christian College

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I’ve known something was different about me ever since I wanted to kiss Mr. Peterson in 8th grade. The son of two pastors in the Church of the Nazarene — a small, evangelical Christian denomination — I never thought I’d tell anyone about my little, rainbow-patterned secret: that I’d bury my head in my locker when the guys would change after P.E., that I left the television on every night because I had to silence the voices in my head that told me I was disgusting, that sometimes I’d get so scared of being caught I’d throw up. I was hopelessly haunted by the biblical passages I’d read — the ones that allegedly said people like me couldn’t be Christian — afraid that if my hunch was right about the kind of sex I wanted to have, I’d lose everything. It wasn’t until my last year of college that I finally reconciled my sexuality and my Christian identity.

I remember my fingers feeling numb first, like I’d snuck them into a bowl of ice and forgotten them there for hours. I was sitting in the office of an administrator at Point Loma Nazarene University, where I was a senior. I was the Director of Spiritual Life — an elected position of student chaplaincy — and some months before, while looking into the sage, wrinkled eyes of my father, had whispered those mythical, telltale words that, for some of us, change everything: “I’m gay.” I told my supervisor, too, and my professors and my friends, which is how I’d landed in her emerald, padded chair that Wednesday afternoon. She’d just told me I could keep my job as chaplain, so long as I didn’t “act gay.”

“Wait,” I clarified. “If I hold a guy’s hand, is that acting gay?” She nodded her head in affirmation, and I pressed further. “If I go on a date, is that acting gay?” Another nod. “If I have a crush?” Her gaze was sympathetically heavy as her head gently moved up and down for the third time.

“That’s ridiculous,” I cried.

Wherever injustice is present, I’ve learned, life has a propensity to wax messy. A few weeks later, I quit my job, and not because I lacked capability. On the contrary, I feared being morally culpable in the systemic silencing of people like me: LGBT students, faculty and staff at Christian colleges and universities who long, more than anything, to be unashamedly celebrated by the communities they so desperately love. After I came out, the response was admittedly varied: I remember a professor asking me over dinner in the cafeteria if I ever planned on preaching again.

“Yeah,” I said, forking my chicken and broccoli. “I imagine I will.” His response reached down my throat and punched my stomach.

“Hell’s real, you know.” I stood up from the table and took my plate to the dish return.

I got an e-mail from one alum who told me a harrowing story. When he was at Loma in the 1970s, his friend had written a love letter to a student of the same sex, but hadn’t the courage to deliver it and threw it in the trash one morning before heading to class. Someone — suspicious of the way he walked, and the way his words lingered a bit longer than his colleagues — reached into the trash after he left and unfolded his secret, dropping the letter off on the desk of the dean. The student would subsequently be expelled for un-Christian conduct, and would never again return to the church before losing his life to AIDS 20 years later.

“I wanted to say thank you,” the alum’s e-mail concluded, “because people don’t have to have to be afraid that they’re alone anymore. I often wonder how his story would have been different if someone would have told him that.”

The shrewdest, loudest, most violent lie that LGBT people at Christian colleges and universities carry is this: that no one else like them exists. More important, and more enduring than the stares and questions and assaulting prayers, are the stories of the 70 current students, and 130 alumni who contacted me to say they had the same kind of dreams I did.

And that’s only from Point Loma. Students from across the nation sent messages my way, notes of gratitude and concern and question and fear.

“You’re not alone,” I told them all, “and there’s plenty of space in the church for you, should you choose to stay.”

When I tried to start a gay-straight alliance at the school after resigning, and before I graduated, the charter was refused for conflicting with University policy on homosexual behavior. We met anyway, and the group continues to gather across campus this year, a beacon of hope for so many who would otherwise live in the shadows. Other schools have faced the same opposition: Seattle Pacific, Pepperdine, Westmont. The not-so-secret gospel news is that we’re everywhere, us gays. We’re your teachers and janitors and friends and pastors. The question isn’t whether or not we exist; it’s what Christian colleges and universities are going to do with us.

A friend of mine works as an admissions counselor at one of these institutions. I asked her recently what she tells to openly LGBT students who are in the application process.
“I tell them to go somewhere else,” she tearfully responded, “somewhere that can celebrate them and love them without condition.”

I’ve just been accepted to Yale and Emory for graduate studies in divinity. “We’d be happy to have you here,” their letters said. I long for the day that Christian colleges and universities can be the same: a good, safe, fruitful place for people of all orientations. TC mark

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  • RicePaperPlant

    Pick Yale, you deserve it.

  • Kate

    So many of us grapple with our Christian identities in college and our 20s, the LGBT community especially. I really applaud you for investigating your faith community and finding ways to make it more lovig and accepting, rather than leaving it completely. It makes me so sad to think of all the people who turn away from God because they feel their church does not accept them. People need a relationship with God more than ever in this day and age. Best of luck with divinity school, I’m sure you will do great things!

  • Michaelwg

    Take graduate studies in Unicorns instead. Better job offers. (They’re in the Bible, so don’t hate)

  • JAC

    Thank you. I’m a recently out student at Notre Dame, and while things are admittedly not as severe as what you described, it’s not the best here either. It’s nice to see that other people understand what it is and have come out of the struggle as well as you have. So thanks.

  • Sammy G

    Christian colleges aren’t down with the gay. I’m shocked, shocked. What other shocking pearls of wisdom will be forthcoming?

    • Anonymous

      Don’t be shitty for shitty’s sake.

  • aerie

    Why anyone at all would want to attend a Christian “university” is beyond me.  They don’t deserve accreditation.

    • Emily Anne

      Why do people want to attend Jewish universities?
      For the exact same reason – religion is important to a lot of people and while you might not agree with that, it’s not fair to totally write off Christian universities, and by extension religious universities in general, and say that they don’t deserve accreditation. 

      Disclaimer: I don’t agree with many of the social values espoused by quite a few religious universities, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t exist for the people that have strong beliefs.

      • aerie

        You’re right, it’s not fair to disregard all of them as a whole. In fact, there’s one close to me here in North Carolina – Wake Forest University which is a most excellent/competitive university. 

        I guess I was mostly thinking of certain newer universities that were founded by certain televangelists…and I’m from the south where Christianity is in-your-face everywhere and affects one’s day-to-day living. You can’t get away from it.

  • Hanna Kermanshahi

    Thanks for sharing this. I always feel extra proud of my Christian friends who come out, and refuse to listen to the host of ignorant voices that say that their faith and their orientation are irreconcilable. From what you’ve shared here, and from what I can imagine, holding onto both identities is not the easy thing to do. I know you know this, but I want to reiterate it: even though there are a lot of Christians who don’t support you, there are also a lot of us who are cheering you on. Congratulations in advance on wherever you decide to go – and grace and peace be with you!

    • Hanna Kermanshahi

      Also I definitely did not mean to attach that picture of my face. Lolz.

  • CCB

    Think about Union Theological Seminary, radical on lots of levels with a foundation in social justice. 

  • Ryan O'Connell

    yale is a big long gay dick covered in ivy. go there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    In Canada Christian colleges are virtually non-existent save for seminaries so I cannot entirely relate, but in my province Catholic K-12 education is provided by the government (yes, even to this day)… No one ever told me to my face that homosexuality was wrong but I certainly agree that when you’ve lived your entire life around the church and involved in chaplaincy, it can really do a number on your self-perception (and even mental health!). When I was 18 my “Christ and Culture” teacher introduced the idea of introspection as a way of being closer to your spirituality. It got me really thinking about how I feel and why God would want me to feel that way. I can’t say I really believe in God anymore (or at least the God of the Bible/Torah/Quran) but if He DOES exist, it could be said that God has appointed us, because LGBT people are at the front lines in terms of questioning the current Catechism as a way of reforming contemporary Catholic culture.

    Nah-meen? Btw I like the message in tis article. Did you read that article floating around the internet about students at Christian colleges starting an underground zine on LGBT issues? Look it up :)

  • kaylee

    My entiiiire family is extreme Nazarene. I have ~8 family members who teach or work at Nazarene universities and I will be the first on my mom’s side of the family not to go to a Nazarene college. Stuff like this breaks my heart, I can’t do it, it’s probably my biggest problem with Christianity. I think it’s so cool that you came out to people you knew wouldn’t take it well, I would be so scared.

  • beatrice

    This was such a raw and honest article and I simply loved it. Sighs, more Christians have to understand that it’s not first about turning away from sin but relying on his grace.

  • Guest

    I’m not Christian, but my family is, and they’ve been recommending that I go to Point Loma. A bunch of people who went to the same church I used to go to go there, and it comes with good reviews. But after reading this, it isn’t even an option anymore. I can’t support a place like that.

  • Lilith

    Thank you for having the courage to write and post these stories.  Not all people would.  I plan on printing this and your A Better Portrait Of Homosexuality to show to my homophobic peers.

  • curious

    Thank you for this sincere and honest article. I just wonder: how does one reconcile with these two conflicting identities- being a christian and being gay? Since the bible speaks against homosexuality and all. Would really appreciate a reply!

  • http://twitter.com/ebrandt41 Erica Brandt

    I was raised in a super-religious family. I can’t see how religion and equality work together, really…but my friends at Yale Div do, and they are some of the most liberal, wonderful, loving of humanity people I’ve ever met. I hope you get to be surrounded by people like that, rather than who you knew as an undergrad.

  • Kevinmaks

    I dont understand why you think you should be accepted the way you are when the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin?  If i were inclined to sleep with every woman that passed by me, which is obviously wrong, i would have to do something about those feelings.  How can i pastor a church, for instance, with such blatant sin in my life?  Homosexuality is just like any other sin: alcoholism, pornography, sexual adiction.  One of my good friends struggled with same sex attraction and the Lord has been working in him for a couple years now. About 3 years ago, for the first time, he saw a lady bend down in front of him wearing a skirt and a sudden rush of affection and attraction came over him never before initiated by a woman.  Christ can do wonders in your life, you just need to be willing to be changed to the likeness of God and seek guidance from friends and mentors. 

    • aerie

      I dont understand why you seem to think that I care what your god or religious book says about homosexuality or anything else for that matter. 

      • Kevinmaks

        very constructive, thanks

      • aerie

        “…for the first time, he saw a lady bend down in front of him wearing a skirt and a sudden rush of affection and attraction came over him…

        “Hilarious, thanks.

      • Kevinmaks

        so i take it your an athiest huh?

      • ENDI

        Lol Jesus.

    • samantha

      I can’t tell if this is a serious comment or not. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=709095560 André Philippe Leblond

      One day your “good friend” is going to wake up and put a gun in his mouth because he can’t bear to live a lie any more, and that blood will be on your hands. Despicable.

      • Rayan Khayat

        LOL you can see into the future?

    • Craig's Friend

      I’m sorry but, what? The Bible “clearly states homosexuality is a sin”? It doesn’t “clearly” state anything. You’ve *interpreted* it to say what you want it to say. The term “homosexual” wasn’t even coined until the 1800s, yet it shows up in modern bibles. And truth be told, there are a whole lot more “ex ex gays” than there are “ex gays.” A whole lot more. Nothing is as black & white as you paint it, bud.

  • Waicool

    homosexuals looking for their identity and approval in a religious organization is something like walking into a kosher deli and ordering a ham sandwich.   yeah, the cook might sneak a strip of bacon in the privacy of his own home but kosher is kosher dude.

    • Craig's Friend

      What I hear him saying is, there are a whole lot of people sneaking strips of bacon in private. With all of these pork-lovers, it’s time they came out and enjoyed it together, rather than denying that they exist. And I say this as a bacon-loving Nice Jewish Boy™.

  • rebecca

    I just got accepted to a religious school tht doesn’t know I have a girlfriend,.

  • Agentbrody

    Thank you.

    Also… Seattle University is a very liberal religious school. If you’re looking for that sort of thing. Just thought I’d throw that out there. #shamelessplug

  • __jenny

    it’s a hard place as a christian to have a standpoint on topics such as this. how can someone tell another that their feelings are wrong.

    either way, as a christian the foundations of our beliefs is to love. love one another. love the Lord. love your enemies.
    whether or not someone agrees with your homosexuality does not matter. i dont agree with someone else’s sin as an alcoholic, and others don’t agree with my personal struggles and sins (in which i definitely have).
    just because homosexuality is more controversial and more open for interpretation doesn’t mean we get a say in your sin. that’s your battle. it’s between you and God. 

    as a Christian i tell you, we love you. forgive us for our judgments and our ridicule. we are sinners just the same, especially in our reaction and ridicule to your lifestyle. but most importantly, God still loves you. no matter what professors and students and other Christians say. He loves you. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Sim/547568703 Jon Sim

    Thanks for being Honest. You struggles are valid and hard.
    Sorry on how the christian campus has been treating you being a pastor myself in the past i have thought this way as well.
    I think the dilemma of the Church/Christian Community is that we say to love one other, but do so subjectively even though God has told us more then ourselves.
    So bro as you struggle be encouraged that God’s grace is all surpassing :). Glad you didn’t turn out bitter against the christian campus but helped, Proud of you! keep it up!

  • Benjy

    My sister graduated from Seattle Pacific and I met a lot of guys there that I was fairly certain were hiding something, I wish they didn’t have to.

  • Marc Adams

    This is why HeartStrong has existed for 15 years!  Hope and help for GLBT students from religious educational institutions.

  • Kelly

    Stories like this break my heart because Christian communities should be the FIRST place people want to run to for acceptance and unconditional love, no matter who they are, what they believe, or how they feel.

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