The privilege of community

What does every artist, pro-life activist, and Libertarian on any campus have in common?

Universities permit, and often encourage, these students to form groups based on their shared qualities. This allows likeminded young people to meet, support, and minister to one another and their community.

But not all students enjoy this privilege. Instead, they navigate college surrounded by many who do not share their experiences, forced to deal with the consequences of those differences on their own.

According to a 2010 report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “About a quarter of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer students and employees said they had experienced harassment, as did more than a third of transgender and ‘gender nonconforming’ respondents, compared with 12 percent of heterosexuals.”

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reports that the leading cause of death of gay and lesbian teenagers is suicide, yet no fellowship exists on many campuses for these students to help one another.

Other complications arise when students attend faith-based institutions or practice religions that condemn homosexuality. Many young adults fight to reconcile their faith and orientation in secrecy, shame, and fear.

On her blog, Christian author Rachel Held Evans describes a gay student at a Southern Baptist university who admitted that “he woke up every morning and went to bed every night with a heavy, palpable fear…carrying around a secret he knew he could never tell anyone.”

In a New York Times article, one student explained that his gay Christian friends “are told they have to choose between the two, and when they can’t, they often leave the church or, tragically, choose to leave this earth for good.”

In a sermon from 1996, conservative evangelical leader and ordained Baptist minister Tony Campolo spoke of preaching at a funeral where several gay men in attendance begged him to continue reading various Bible passages even after the service had ended.

Of this, Campolo said, “I hurt, because I knew that these men wanted to hear the Bible but would never step foot inside a church because they are convinced that church people despise them…. They come and they sit and they hear obscenities directed at them, things said about them, they hear themselves described in horrible ways.”

His wife, Peggy Campolo, added, “People lie because they are afraid they will not be loved or accepted if they are honest about who they are…”

In response to the growing need, institutions such as Wheaton College, Belmont University, and Texas Christian University offer student groups in order to deal with harassment, violence, and depression among same-sex-attracted Christians.

These groups do not necessarily condone homosexual behavior. LaTonya Taylor, a Wheaton spokeswoman, said that the goal “is for students who experience same-sex attraction to be mentored by a Christian community” within traditional Biblical standards, “rather than to struggle alone in silence.”

The School Social Work Journal’s study of gay youth found them far less likely to suffer from depression and consider suicide if they attended schools with similar programs. These students also report less drinking, smoking, and sexual activity.

The head of the research arm of the Southern Baptist convention, Ed Stetzer, published the following quote on his blog regarding homosexuals: “We need to show grace and friendship to those who struggle, while holding fast to what the Scriptures teach.

“Without hiding our beliefs, we need to look for opportunities to have conversations, build relationships and demonstrate grace.”

Clearly same-sex-attracted students, especially Christians, are hurting. What if Christian campuses offered a source of grace and relief, rather than fear and confusion?

Would it not prompt conversations, build relationships, and demonstrate grace to show these students that they do not hurt alone by allowing them a safe space in which to discuss their faith, worship together, and help one another?

– Amy Lauren Jones, A&E Editor


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