Sexual identity: A continuing conversation

Campus community voices its diverse opinions on the issue of homosexuality


By the time the last of the latecomers straggled into the chapel, a chair had become a hot commodity. As dozens of extras were put out and quickly filled, it became clear that the crowd had only one option: If they wanted to stay, they were going to have to stand.

Stand they did. Not for just a few minutes, but for more than an hour and a half, listening as four members of a panel, commissioned by president Beck Taylor, pondered and discussed one of the university’s most provocative topics, the issue of homosexuality.

As a courageous conversation about sexual orientation, the panel, held the night of April 18, brought together two Whitworth professors and two members of the Board of Trustees to dialogue about homosexuality from their various areas of expertise. Professor of theology James Edwards and professor of political science Julia Stronks spoke from their respective disciplines, and trustees Scott Dudley and David Myers addressed the issue from pastoral and psychological perspectives.

For moderator Terry McGonigal, the panel is yet another barometer of the persistent disagreement that has surrounded the issue of homosexuality ever since he signed on as Whitworth’s dean of spiritual life in 1994. Eighteen years later, homosexuality remains one of the university’s most controversial subjects.

However, professor of English Leonard Oakland said that has not always been the case.

Oakland, who has been teaching at Whitworth for 46 years, said when he arrived in 1966, homosexuality was not discussed often.

“As a community issue, it certainly did not emerge,” Oakland said. “It might form parts of individual conversations, or it might come in a course now and then, but it was not a live issue in the sense that it is now.”

It was with the arrival of Bill Robinson in 1993, Oakland said, that the issue was brought to light.

“Bill Robinson brought it to campus attention early in his presidency,” Oakland said. “Bill came to the conclusion that while his reading of Scripture led him to conclude that Scripture sees homosexuality as sinful, he went on to say — and this was something very new in the conversation — that homophobia was more sinful.”

Oakland said Robinson’s major contribution was articulating a “middle path” whereby Whitworth could uphold biblical teaching while embracing people of various backgrounds. In practice, Robinson’s administration walked this middle path by refusing to embrace an official university position on homosexuality.

Now, however, changes in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Whitworth’s affiliate denomination, provide a new backdrop to the homosexuality debate. In 2010, the PC (USA) modified its constitution to allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals, a stance that along with other changes in the PC (USA) have since prompted many churches to re-examine their denominational affiliation.

Less than a week after the panel, Walt Oliver, chairman of the Board of Trustees, announced the establishment of a task force that over the next year will explore Whitworth’s connection with the PC (USA).

But according to Trustee Clark Donnell, co-chair of the task force along with Taylor, homosexuality is not the task force’s main concern. Rather, he points to a decline in the PC (USA)’s demographics as well as what some view as the denomination’s gradual move away from the authority of Scripture.

For many, the authority of Scripture is central to the debate.

“You simply will not be able to find a place in Scripture that condones it,” Edwards said. “You could not go to Scripture and say that Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality is ambiguous. It is not. It is consistent. It is univocal.”

Some, however, are not so sure. Julia Stronks, another panelist, said she agrees that Scripture can be understood differently.

“Not all Christian theologians interpret biblical passages about sexual behavior in the same way,” Stronks said.

In the midst of so many perspectives, whether a new stance is needed to replace Robinson’s policy of neutrality remains a live question.

McGonigal said he believes neutrality should remain.

“It’s both our educational mission but also our Christian mission to provide you the opportunity to take a look at a variety of different ways of coming at a particular issue,” McGonigal said.

The administration taking a stand for or against homosexuality, McGonigal said, would necessarily undermine the courageous debate Whitworth intends to foster.

But Edwards said he finds it difficult to reconcile neutrality on homosexuality with the loyalty to Scripture Whitworth claims to embrace.

“I believe that the administration sees this issue as a potentially very divisive issue,” Edwards said, who sees Whitworth’s neutral stance as a pragmatic way to avoid conflict. “From a utilitarian and practical viewpoint, that is an appealing option.”

As campus dialogue indicates, the Whitworth community has yet to come to a consensus on this controversial topic, nor is it certain a consensus will emerge.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a winner-take-all solution to these problems,” Edwards said.

Instead, he said, Whitworth has two options.

“One of them is that we fight to the death like two stags who lock horns until either one of them kills the other or sometimes they both die together,” Edwards said. “The other option, which is the one I want to argue for, is that I grant you your right to your view, and you grant me my right to my view, and we continue talking.”


Story and graphic by Michael Bouterse Guest Writer


Contact Michael Bouterse at

GSA week brings conversations on sexuality

Events challenged Whitworth to consider the issues surrounding homosexuality during GSA week April 15-20. The week was kicked off with a showing of the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So,” which junior Nicholas Dennis, a member of Whitworth’s GSA, said examines biblical passages that are often seen as condemning homosexuality.

On Thursday night, GSA put on “Coming Out Stories.”

“It was freakin’ sweet, the turnout was awesome,” Dennis said. “It was really exciting to see that many people interested in it.”

That event invited people to come to the coffee shop to hear the stories of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) members of Whitworth’s community.

“Some people told their own stories, others read stories on behalf of their friends,” Dennis said.

Senior theatre major Michael Seidel, whose senior project was incorporated into GSA week, said he was excited about the event, too.

“I think it’s important for the LGBT members to get their stories out,” Seidel said. “Because I think members of the straight community can’t understand what the LGBT community members have to go through and their struggles without talking with them and dialoguing with them.”

Senior Amanda Blunt, GSA Club president, said she used to be conservative on the issue until she experienced what Seidel described, making friends with people for whom those issues are a part of daily life.

“Regardless of what your dogmatic stance is, we need to be intentional about the way we are treating our fellow students and our fellow human beings,” Blunt said.

On Tuesday, Seidel gave his senior project in conjunction with a faculty and staff panel.

Seidel’s project was an interactive theatre starting with a scene of heterosexism. The actors repeated the scene, allowing audience members to replace characters and attempt to catalyze an intervention to resolve the oppression.

“We saw a lot of possible interventions,” Seidel said. “Some were very effective and some not, some good in the short term but would have been very difficult in the long term, some difficult short term but would have been good in the long term.”

Seidel said the project seemed to successfully touch hearts. He said that was more important than sheer number of people in the audience, which topped 100.

“From the people I’ve talked to, they all almost unanimously said it was an important project,” Seidel said. “So yes, I think it was successful. We won’t know until we see how people treat each other, though.”

He said he was most impressed and excited when he saw people who were usually silent stand up and speak their opinions on topics that are not easy to address. He said his biggest hope was that people who saw the show would be more likely to act to end hatred in the future.

Another event during GSA week was Day of Silence on Friday.

Junior Courtney Bagdon, a member of GSA and participant in Day of Silence, said the day is spent silent by participants in support of those who are silent due to their sexual orientations.

“It gives a way for straight allies to stand with LGBT without getting carried away,” Seidel said.

On Wednesday night Whitworth President Beck Taylor put on a panel called “Courageous Conversations.”

That panel included two Whitworth professors: professor of theology James Edwards and professor of political science Julia Stronks. There were also two Whitworth trustees: Scott Dudley, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, and David Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College.

Each would give a view from his or her own field and the goal would be to expand the conversation, Taylor said at the beginning  of the panel. Rather than trying to change people’s minds so everyone left thinking in the same way, he said he hoped everyone would leave feeling heard.

Each panelist discussed a different viewpoint on the issue of sexual orientation. Edwards discussed the biblical view, saying feelings of homosexual desire are separate from acts of homosexuality and that the Bible clearly condemns the actions.

Dudley discussed the issue from a pastoral viewpoint. He went on to say that the important issue isn’t just whether the person is homosexual, but whether they are growing in Christ.

Myers spoke on the scientific research, showing genetic and biological correlations that indicate homosexuality as an inborn trait for some humans. He said he believed all people deserved to be in committed family relationships — homosexual or heterosexual, but discouraged the school from institutionally pushing a political stance.

Stronks discussed the issue of civil rights. She asserted that all people deserve governmental blessings regardless of our religious stance and that, as a Christian, she said she feels it’s her duty to stand up for the oppressed of society. Reflecting on the week as a whole, Seidel said he was happy with the way it has affected the campus.

“I’m glad that this topic has been talked about and been talked about so much,” Seidel said. “This is no longer an issue that a small part of the student body is talking about. The whole student body is engaging in important dialogue.”


Story by Brianna Wheeler Staff Writer

Photography by Linnea Goold


Contact Brianna Wheeler at