Our Concordias and LGBT Students

For the last few years Concordia University Portland has been actively working on its treatment of and outreach to sexual minority students. Currently, CUP has a Gender and Sexuality Center whose missions statement says:

The vision of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) is to create and foster a safe and inclusive campus climate that supports the academic and personal development of all students so they can reach their ultimate goal of graduation.  Specifically, the GSRC seeks to serve those who identify as gender or sexual minorities, those who believe they have experienced Title IX violations such as sexual assault, and the University community as a whole through educational programs and activities which support the vision and mission. The mission of the GSRC, rooted in Christ’s call to love, is to be an affirming, empowering, and supportive space for Concordia students.

A couple of overtures to the 2019 Synodical convention to discipline or close CUP because of their efforts to help sexual minorities were shunted to boards or rejected. This action by the floor committee responsible drew whines of protest from “The Brothers of John The Steadfast” website. That is, of course, not unexpected as any action or statement by any Christian that shows any compassion or nice treatment toward gay people will will result in squeals of lament from that particularly insular group.

Normally I would not assume extremist views on the part of conservative Christians. Just because a Christian does not believe in gay marriage, for example, does not mean they hate gay people or want to see them bullied. But in this case, the language used in the mission statement of Concordia’s GSRC and the associated Q&A club is exceptionally mild, only going so far as to say they wish to “foster a safe, positive, and inclusive environment. Yet BJS calls this not only support of sin but a violation of the 2nd commandment. One can not help but wonder, exactly what would satisfy the Brothers of John the Steadfast short of actual efforts to make the lives of LGBT students miserable? Having invited LGBT students to our campuses, should we foster an environment where they will be bullied and mocked?

This little tempest in a teapot does raise the question, “How should Christian colleges approach the treatment of LGBT students”?

I think there are two realities we need to look at when we consider this question:

1) The Concordia university system has chosen, good or bad, to broaden beyond preparing students for various forms of ministry in the LCMS and invites those of all religious background as students. They have chosen to welcome Christians of all denominations, non-Christians, and atheists. Consequently, the Concordia campuses are no longer homogeneous communities of those who believe, or at least outwardly, espouse the same set of doctrines. This does give the LCMS, through these colleges, the opportunity to witness to these students. At the same time, having invited these guests to our colleges, it behooves our Church to remember that they have the right and freedom to believe what they choose and to live their lives as they wish. And we, in turn, have the obligation to treat them with respect, welcome and compassion.

2) These sexual minority students are not the enemy BJS seems to think. The Marin Foundation’s Study “Us vs Us” found that a very high percentage of LGBT believers who had left the Church would consider returning to the churches of their youth WITHOUT DEMANDING THOSE CHURCHES CHANGE THEIR DOCTRINE. Further, Mark Yarhouse and his study group found that a sizable majority of those LGBT students who chose to enroll in a Christian college did so, at least partly, because they wanted to know and hear what the Church had to say to them as they considered how to handle their sexuality in their future. Interestingly enough, one things that was NOT suggested when these students were asked what suggestions they would make for changes in the colleges they attended was a change in doctrine.

Most of the sexual minority students who come to a Christian four year college are at an age where they have faced the fact that they are not straight within the past 5 years or so and are now at an age where they are deciding what to do about that and how to handle their sexuality. Will they find a partner, choose celibacy, a mixed orientation marriage? Will they date? Will they come out to friends, family? Parents? How will they live their lives? As they consider this, yes, they want to know what the Church says. They want to have conversations with people they trust about these issues, including Christian peers, professors and staff. It is vital that they have a place where they can discuss these things and hear what other Christians say about sexuality and why in a place where they will not be ridiculed or bullied.

It is necessary that Christian colleges provide such an atmosphere where Christian doctrine is presented honestly but, at the same time, where Christian teachers and staff make it clear that they understand it is the students’ right to choose a path other than the one the Church may espouse and that, if the student chooses some other path, they will still be respected and treated with dignity and compassion – not be bullied or ridiculed. The college, therefore, must be proactive in training not only staff and faculty but students as well in creating an atmosphere that is not only honest but respectful of one another regardless of differences.

In fact, they are going to have to do exactly what the mission statement of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at Concordia Portland says the aim to do. This is one of those examples in which conservative Christians conflate confronting sin with excluding and demeaning individuals as persons.

An even route would be if our Synod would work to find ways to be both honest and kind, to be clear about both Law and Gospel in such a way we could give students both the truth of doctrine and the freedom to ask questions and discuss issues while trying to figure out their lives instead of forcing small groups of individuals to try and hammer out alone what that looks like. But as that is unlikely to happen, Concordia Portland seems to have done what they need to do in its absence and are actively working to achieve that goal.