Christian Colleges, Gay Faculty—and the Boy Scouts

On May 28, two items appeared in separate venues that, as a gay faculty member at a Christian college, got my attention. Christianity Today posted an interview with the new president of Calvin College, a highly respected member institution of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), while the Huffington Post’s “Parents” portal featured the reflections of a gay father on the Boy Scouts’ decision to permit scouts to be openly gay, but not its leaders. 

Rather than celebrate the Boy Scouts’ decision, the self-described “gay dad” described it as a “hollow victory,” writing:

“Let’s be honest: the Boy Scouts’ values are no better today than they were last week. Gay adults are still seen as morally unfit for the company of children… As it now stands, the Scouts have codified the rather ridiculous notion that gay youth are welcome (provided your local troop is enlightened), but come your 18th birthday, you suddenly change into something inconsistent with the values of scouting.”

Substitute “faculty” for “adults” and “students” for “children” and that essentially describes the position of most, if not all, CCCU member institutions regarding gay faculty. Additional substitutions only underscore the similarity: “As it now stands… gay [students] are welcome, but come [graduation], you suddenly change into something inconsistent with the values of [your alma mater].”

The interview with Dr. Michael Le Roy, the new president of Calvin, reflects the situation that now both Christian colleges and the Boy Scouts find themselves in. 

In one way, the Boy Scouts have caught up with those Christian colleges that have attempted to make gay students feel safe and less marginalized. At Calvin, there is a “peer education group,” SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Awareness), sponsored by the counseling center, which describes itself as “open to LGBT-identifying students, allies, and others who simply want to know more about gender identity and sexuality topics.” The SAGA website states, “Calvin seeks to be a safe place for LGBT+ [sic] and straight students to grow and learn.” (A few CCCU schools have officially recognized student clubs for gay students and allies, such as Eastern Mennonite University’s Safe Space.)

In his interview, Dr. Le Roy stated, “We have gay and lesbian students here. I have met with them. I have talked with them. They are Christians and they are trying to figure out, ‘What does this mean?’ ‘How do I live?’” He then added,

“The Scripture that I need to be obedient to leads me to the conclusion that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and sexuality is to be used in that context… It breaks my heart the way that statement makes people feel.” 

Le Roy’s position on marriage reflects the Calvin Board’s reaffirmation in 2011 of the Christian Reformed Church’s position that homosexual orientation is not a sin, but homosexual behavior is.

With that backdrop, here is a future scenario. Dr. Le Roy presents a diploma to a gay or lesbian graduating senior who shares Le Roy’s love for Calvin’s “worldview tradition.” The president knows that the student is gay because he has talked with the student; the president also knows that the student’s appreciation for the Reformed tradition stems from his/her deeply held Christian faith. This student, again like the president, believes that his/her vocation lies in Christian higher education and is headed to Oxford University having been named a Rhodes Scholar (Calvin has had one Rhodes Scholar), and both the local newspaper and alumni magazine have run feature articles about the student.

Upon receiving a Ph.D. from Oxford, this Calvin graduate applies for a teaching position at his/her alma mater. What will the message be? I presume it will be something like this. “We loved you as a student and are extremely proud of your accomplishments. However, should you want to be on the faculty you must remain celibate and not share life with a partner.” 

A “hollow” welcome indeed, to borrow a word from the gay father of a Boy Scout. 

And, sadly, LGBT students will be deprived of one of the best role models they might have had. I presume Calvin will still welcome monetary contributions from the graduate when s/he finds a teaching position at another institution, thus saying, “We will gladly take your tuition dollars and welcome your alumni contributions, but do not expect to be employed if you share life with someone you love.”

Please understand me. I am not disputing the right of private, faith-based institutions to exclude persons based on the institution’s theological principles; but I do dispute the assertion that Scripture is clear and univocal on the subject. Even within the evangelical community, there is a lively discussion going on about this issue. One need only read the June 2013 issue of Sojourners to hear multiple perspectives—although the view represented by the Calvin president is the one that prevails in evangelical Christian higher education.

Despite these conversations, I am not hopeful that Calvin and other Christian colleges affiliated with denominations that take a conservative position on homosexuality will change any time soon.

This month, the Christian Reformed Church synod, with which Calvin College is associated, voted 154-24 not to reconsider its official position which states “that homosexual orientation is a ‘condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.’” The synod did vote 135-43 to create a committee to consider certain questions in light of the legalization of same sex marriage in the U.S. and Canada:

“[whether] CRC church buildings can host gay marriage ceremonies; [whether] CRC pastors can preside over gay marriages; [whether] CRC members are bound to opposing the legalization of gay marriage; [whether] CRC parents can participate in a child’s gay marriage.”  

(President LeRoy’s position supports Sarah Posner’s contention here at RD that the so-called ‘new’ evangelicals who try to distinguish themselves from the religious right are not quite as new as some contend.)

President Le Roy says his heart breaks, knowing how his view makes people feel, but his view breaks my heart.

I am not ‘out’ where I teach; although I was not required to sign any document about my sexuality, it is not safe for me to be open. Am I the sole gay faculty at a Christian college? No, I am not. There are others. Someday, given the movement in the wider culture on LGBT issues, I think some Christian colleges will change and will welcome openly LGBT faculty, but for now, Christian colleges and Boy Scouts are running neck and neck in the race to avoid change.