Thirty-one gay and lesbian alums of Westmont College in Santa Barbara recently wrote an open letter to the school newspaper describing the “doubt, loneliness, and fear” they felt while attending the school. One hundred fellow alums signed on.
Instead of circling the wagons and strenuously defending the “homosexual practice” forbidden in its code of ethics, the school is reaching out. 51 of the school’s 92 faculty members responded, seeking “forgiveness for ways we might have added to your pain.”
“We’re hoping to do a better job of talking to and loving each other and holding true to our scriptural principles,” said Jane Higa, the school’s vice president for student life.
That doesn’t mean the school’s policy will be changing anytime soon, though.
Administrators say the ban is not on being gay but on the “practice”—just as there’s a ban on sex between unmarried straight students. In Higa’s 22 years at Westmont, she said, the school has not expelled anyone for being gay. A straight, unmarried couple left, she said, after they refused to live apart: “They understood what they had agreed to and they dropped out.”
Alum Melissa Durkee said it’s hard to know what the school might consider “practice.”
“Is ‘homosexual practice’ holding hands? A stray look or touch? Dating?”
Gays and lesbians have good reason to be suspicious, even when those who ban “homosexual practices” begin to apologize. Apologizing for “harming” someone is a far cry from repenting of the offense that caused the harm. While the school says it is has been “quietly talking for some time about how to make the college less isolating for gay students,” repealing the policy is apparently not one of the steps on the table. What that really means is, no matter what administrators might do, gay and lesbian kids will still be terrified to be who they are on campus, whether they are “practicing” or not.
There are many Christian colleges and universities around the country who have these kinds of policies. So many, in fact, that Soulforce—a gay and lesbian Christian justice organization—has organized “Equality Rides” over the past few years. Busloads of gay and lesbian youth visit these campuses to challenge such anti-gay policies. In some places they are welcomed into dialogue. At others, they are banned from campus and arrested if they attempt to enter.
Rider Angel Collie has said of the experience:
“Over and over I am overtaken by the importance and significance of this Ride and the effect it has in the lives of individual students. So often, we go to schools and find a student body starving for these conversations. Students are so glad we are there because, for once, they get to hear they are ok—not sick and sinful.”
Any policy that lists homosexuality—practice or otherwise—alongside other “sins” like “drunkenness, theft, and profanity,” will do nothing but reinforce the lie that these kids are “sick and sinful.” Asking forgiveness is a first good step. But, you don’t fix something this harmful by simply apologizing—you fix it by repealing the policy altogether, and affirming these students.