Several dozen signatories spanning over 50 years of alumni history wrote an open letter to members of the Wheaton College (IL) student body, just weeks after a required chapel message on the topic of "Sexuality and Wholeness". The letter's release coincided with the launch of the One Wheaton website, a home page for students seeking support and understanding, as well as alumni, friends, and allies within the LGBT community who are seeking to end homophobia and end Wheaton's code of secrecy.
Full letter below the jump:
DEAR WHEATON STUDENTS,
The recent chapel message on Sexuality and Wholeness and surrounding conversations may have left some of you feeling alienated, ashamed and afraid. It can be difficult to see the danger of messages about sexuality that emphasize "God’s compassion for the broken," but as a group of LGBTQ Wheaton alumni and allies, we’ve seen the devastating effects these words have had on ourselves and our loved ones. Many of us felt trapped and unable to respond honestly to these messages while we were students. We feared rejection from our friends and our college. We know many of you may fear the same and feel alone or depressed.
If you are a student and this is part of your story, your sexual identity is not a tragic sign of the sinful nature of the world. You are not tragic. Your desire for companionship, intimacy and love is not shameful. It is to be affirmed and celebrated just as you are to be affirmed and celebrated. In our post-Wheaton lives, we have traversed the contradictions we once thought irreconcilable. Our sexuality has become an integral part of our broader pursuit of justice, compassion and love. We can no longer allow ourselves or our loved ones to be trapped in environments that perpetuate self-hatred, depression, and alienation. As people of integrity we must affirm the full humanity and dignity of every human being regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
To the broader Wheaton community: remember that there are students who feel they need to hide. We remember how messages and conversations surrounding the "issue of homosexuality" often exacerbated our feelings of isolation, particularly when talk about "compassion" often felt like pity at best, or at worst intolerance cloaked in language of love. Speak against blatant and passive language and actions that dehumanize and marginalize your brothers and sisters. Ask questions. Encourage dialogue. Most of all, listen. Your friends need your support and love. As awkward as the process may be for you, it is guaranteed to be more deeply and constantly difficult for your friends.
For those of you feeling alienated, it gets better. After Wheaton our lives became stories of liberation. Some of us are in relationships and some of us are single. Yet none of us are alone. We have built communities that accept us and do not fear our LGBTQ-ness. You will find a community that, rather than alluding to acceptance contingent on celibacy, welcomes and loves you. It may come as a surprise, but these people will likely include your closest friends from Wheaton you might hide from right now. Never give up hope.
In the meantime we encourage you to reach out from your isolation. We have emerged from the closet to come forward as a quirky, beautiful, and diverse community that is excited to meet you. If you would like to talk to one of us, email email@example.com or visit www.onewheaton.com for some resources we have found helpful in our own journeys. And always, always remember that though you may feel isolated right now, we are witness to the fact that you are not alone in this experience.
With much love,
As a prominent Christian college in the western suburbs of Chicago, Wheaton College has long stood as a bastion of political and theological conservatism. The school's alumni include Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, former House speaker Dennis Hastert, current US Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), and other conservative luminaries. (It's also worth noting that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) is a Wheaton College alumnus, and that he's found a way to integrate his faith and political views that does not require him to ignore biblical teaching on greed, care for the poor, and love of neighbor.) Billy Graham is perhaps the most famous alumnus of Wheaton College, and the college's schools of theology, communications, and psychology are housed in the Billy Graham Center.
The Wheaton College Graduate School of Psychology has long been forced to walk a fine line between commitment to Scripture (and an official institutional policy stating that homosexual acts are sinful and therefore unacceptable) and a commitment to science. As the graduate school sought APA accreditation in the late 1990s, one key issue was the work of department chairman Stan Jones on research of ex-gay therapy and so-called "reparative therapy." Jones, who moved on to become Provost of the college (its chief academic officer), came under fire from LGBT-affirming groups and others due to his support of and interest in ex-gay therapy. While Jones himself argues that a certain population of homosexuals may benefit from religiously-supported ex-gay therapy and support, by no means have the faculty or alumni of the college joined Jones in agreement.
At a time when dialogue between the LGBT community and Evangelical Christians has been stilted, cut-off, and strained by misunderstandings and judgments (this goes both ways), the One Wheaton community seeks to support faithfulness to biblical teaching and practice (like Peter Gomes, the late Harvard professor of divinity) while still affirming and welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, and recognizing that cultural homophobia and institutional discrimination have been much more damaging to persons and to community than the behavior of certain individuals.
Late Update 5/3/2011 10:00 PM CDT: A reply came in an email from President Philip Ryken to faculty, staff and students on Friday, which is posted at the Wheaton College website:
Below is the text of an e-mail from President Philip Ryken to students, faculty, and staff regarding OneWheaton. The e-mail was sent on Friday, April 29.
This morning, a group of Wheaton College alumni distributed a letter on campus to announce the formation of OneWheaton, an advocacy group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and questioning alumni and allies. According to the group’s website, its intent is to counter “prevailing ideas about homosexuality in the Wheaton community.”
Wheaton College agrees with OneWheaton’s stated desire to “affirm the full humanity and dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Our Community Covenant upholds the commitment of every Christian to loving God, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves. We see each member of the human family as created in the image of God himself, and thus each of immeasurable value. This includes our neighbors and alumni who identify as LGBTQ.
We recognize that the needs of LGBTQ individuals present a particular challenge for institutions like Wheaton. Many have experienced insensitive or callous responses in this community, for which we repent and seek forgiveness. We repudiate and condemn violence and injustice directed toward LGBTQ people.
We also remain committed to following Christ as faithful disciples, which entails conforming our lives to God’s truth revealed in the Scriptures, and specifically to a biblically-based stance on sexual ethics. In this, we seek to prepare our students to maintain fidelity with the historic stance of the Church on these issues. Our Community Covenant again speaks for the College on this matter:
We understand that our calling includes . . .[t]he call to pursue holiness in every aspect of our thought and behavior (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16)... Scripture condemns… sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).
We stand with LGBTQ persons before God as persons created in God’s own image, and also as sinful persons in need of God’s forgiveness and love through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We carry a burden for our students, faculty, staff and alumni who experience same-sex attraction because of the pain they so often experience, and pray that we can be a community that loves those who identify as LGBTQ. While we recognize that Wheaton’s stance may be unsatisfying to some of our alumni, we remain resolved to respond with truth and grace.
So, in short, "We'll love you as long as you admit that you're sinful. And please forgive us for being paternalistic, as we continue to do so. We're just going to ignore the part of the Bible where Jesus tells us not to judge others and gouge out our eyes."