For LGBTQ students, being hurt and disappointed by the actions and inactions of the Board of Trustees is, regrettably, an SPU tradition.
I am an SPU graduate of 2015. The Board’s recent refusal to remove the Statement on Human Sexuality reactivates the shame and trauma of my own decade of closeted self-hatred, which a wonderful SPU counselor and many wonderful SPU professors helped transfigure into joy. When I came out publicly in a blog post my sophomore year (yes girl, a blog post), I was astonished by the support I was shown by my peers and professors and even by members of the administration. The tragedy is that so many members of SPU’s community have been ready to live into another world. But institutional change is slow, and the white cisheteropatriarchy dies hard, so the Board continues to tell SPU’s queer students and faculty that they belong not to SPU but to the outside culture that is to be engaged and the outside world that is to be changed—keeping the queers out, a missiology of conversion therapy.
For LGBTQ Christians and LGBTQ people who were Christians but have become too weary of Christianity’s phobias to continue to believe and practice, this is part of our inheritance. For me, and maybe for you, the Board’s decision compounds the pain of other recent decisions by Methodists and the denomination of my own upbringing, the Evangelical Covenant (Quest Church’s denomination), to refuse queer people full participation in the life of their communities.
Maybe some of you have queer mentors—I did not at SPU, precisely because the Statement on Human Sexuality is designed to keep us from learning about ourselves. So for those who don’t, here are some words on what else belongs to you in our queer inheritance.
If you’ve experienced acceptance at SPU that is dissonant with the Board’s decision, cherish that acceptance. The news that 75% of the faculty is supportive of eliminating the statement is good news. And I know people in the administration who are also fighting the decision. It doesn’t necessarily translate into being/feeling supported on an individual level, but I hope you’ve found your people. Trust that what love you’ve been shown by faculty and fellow students is real. Take what you can where you can to make your life livable. Finding love and pleasure despite and even within systems built to stomp out queerness is part of our inheritance. There are pockets of joy and resistance in even the most unlikely places. Revel in them, for they are a grace.
SPU separates itself from the culture and world it names in its mission statement, particularly in moments like this. There is beauty and goodness in that “culture” and “world,” just as there is danger, especially for LGBTQ people and people of color. If SPU is not the place where you find your queer kindred and the freedom to live your life, go fearlessly into that world. An awkward secret for Christians is that whenever we draw boundaries between ourselves and others, God is on the other side. God will meet you there in the people and bodies you’ve been told are unclean, including your own. Do not be naïve, but do not be afraid.
You may now feel as if the world is closing in around you. I hope not, but if so, let me remind you: it may not be at SPU, but there is a future for you. It will be difficult at times, but there is a future waiting to be inhabited by your unrepeatable presence. It’s another awkward truth for Christians: we spin many lies for each other, and we build structures of containment to control each other. We make it difficult for others to live, and you may feel that acutely now, because the “traditional sexual ethic” and SPU’s Statement that upholds it are two such structures. This language has been so abused, but there is a new life beyond this that awaits you, and it doesn’t resemble what you’ve been told to expect, but there is—there is freedom from the constraints that press down upon you even now, and that liberation is of God. The awkward truth for the Board is that the gospel means freedom from their attempts to stifle your life and joy. Your difference and the unnecessary pain you are being made to feel because of it—take them as an invitation into this new life, which may be found in resistance, there, at SPU, and in spaces beyond the Board’s imagination and reach. Embrace this new life now if you can.
I am currently a doctoral student in a theology department. I study theology, gay literature, and queer theory. It has been a hope of mine, one idea for my own future, that I might be able to return to SPU someday to teach these and other things to LGBTQ students (and cishets with ears to hear) in the context of the classroom. I’m holding out hope that the fearless work of ASSP, alumni, much of the faculty, and those within the administration trying to change policy will be brought to fruition. Until then, I hope that this letter might give you and any LGBTQ students to come a sense of the queer countertradition that is available to you, which may be found both within and beyond the Christian communities you know. There is more to life, more to God, more to you, than what the Board can offer or withhold—there is more joy, and they, idolizing their own experience and clinging to their sameness, will never know it. This excess of queer life is a grace, and it is your inheritance. Do not be afraid of it.
[this letter is also up alongside others at SPU’s fantastic student paper, The Falcon, available here]