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 mbouterse14@my.whitworth.edu.

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 briannawheeler13@my.whitworth.edu.

Christ calls Christians to love all neighbors

Recently, a movie was shown in Whitworth’s multipurpose room called “For the Bible tells me so.” This film, during a week-long set of programs to draw awareness to the issue of homosexuality, was not only offensive, but detracted from the most important component of the controversial subject. Initially, the film sets out as a documentary, in order to explore the religious community’s differing beliefs about the morality of homosexuality. What could have easily been an unbiased effort to explore ideas and invoke critical thinking quickly turned into an assault on a particular belief system with misrepresented stereotypes. The film begins by showing shouting preachers condemning gay activities as “abominations” and showed protesters with derogatory signs shouting hateful calls to violence. This theme of violent and ignorant Christians was pervasive throughout the film. The belief that homosexuality is against Biblical principles is placed in direct contrast with intelligence. Those against homosexuality were shouting preachers in outdated churches, random and uninformed street pedestrians, hicks and even a teenager who claimed that “gay bashing is fun.” In contrast, interpreters of scripture who condone gay lifestyles included several Harvard graduate pastors, a reform Rabbi, several bishops and even a Nobel Prize winner, all of whom were placed in churches, libraries or offices. Those against the idea of Biblical homosexuality were even compared to ideas in times of primal humanity.

One of the more blatant portrayals of “traditionalist Christian ignorance” was a cartoon, in which the ideas of a character subtly named “Christian” were shown as contrary to science, misinformed and childish. Traditionalist churches were shown without any attempt at discretion as anti-gay factories in which homosexuals were placed on a conveyer belt and processed to appear straight. The church factory was accused of using shame and guilt-based tactics to manipulate and directly oppress anyone with a homosexual tendency. The film missed the most important aspect of this issue: the actions Christians should take toward those with whom they disagree. Jesus even said that one of the greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Christians, regardless of their beliefs about homosexuality, are called to love their neighbors. Christ did not say “Love your neighbors unless they’re gay,” he simply said to love them. Christians should love their neighbors, just as God loves them. The movie spent an entire hour and a half demonizing a theological group for the opinion that homosexuality is wrong, when it should have used its time condemning acts of violence against those whom Christians are called to love.

I happen to believe that homosexuality is wrong, and despite what the film portrays, I am not the only intelligent person who believes this way. I also believe that Christians are not called to condemn, but to love. I regard discrimination, prejudice, bullying, violence and any act of hate toward someone simply because of their sexual preference as wrong and contrary to Christ’s message. It is this message that should be emphasized today: In spite of differences, God’s love for his creation is unconditional. There are valid objections to homosexuality that originate from the Bible, but these should not be the focus of church emphasis. Many of the believers I know who are against homosexuality argue that we are called to love, respect and care enough to understand those around us. Perhaps if “For the Bible tells me so” had focused on this aspect of theology, it would have been a more powerful and a less controversial message of hope.

 

Story by Ryan Stevens Columnist

Stevens is a sophomore majoring in English and French. Comments can be sent to rstevens15@my.whitworth.edu.

Whitworth's failure to take a stance warrants open conversation

The Whitworth administration has announced that they will be holding an open conversation on April 18 regarding Whitworth’s stance on sexual orientation. President Beck Taylor recently sent out a school-wide email that assessed the current situation. The legalization of gay marriage is at the forefront of many discussions in society, church, etc, and President Beck Taylor has courageously set up a time to facilitate a discussion between faculty and students. This discussion is extremely important for our school, and for the movement for homosexuality equality within the church, and in a wider lens, within society. Though I would never wish myself into Beck Taylor’s position, I believe his choice to confront this issue is noble.

A middle ground is very unrealistic in this conversation, just like George Washington’s will to be an isolationist country was unrealistic. As a society we  have to confront the issues in our country head-on, and cannot choose to avoid them out of the hopes of avoiding conflict. Whichever stance Whitworth decides to take will be controversial because the feelings and opinions on this issue within the religious world are split.

There are a variety of possible outcomes, and I will simplify a few of them as to get an idea of what Whitworth is getting into. Whitworth could choose to say simply that homosexuality is a sin, therefore we believe (much like Michelle Bachman’s family) that it can be cured, and we do not condone it on our campus. This stance will likely create a huge uproar not only on campus, but in the surrounding Spokane community.

A tamer option is that Whitworth decides that they believe homosexuality is a sin, but we should love the sinner and open our hearts and our campus to all sinners. In short, you’re probably going to hell if you’re gay, but we still love you and believe that you can choose the right path, or God will lead you there.

Another option, that I feel is the best, is to support homosexuality. If you read my article about the legalization of gay marriage, you probably aren’t surprised that I hope that Whitworth chooses to not equate homosexuality with sin, and instead believes that gays, like anyone else can be Christians. Many Churches have accepted homosexuality in their church, and reformed previous views. Many religious people argue that God still speaks today, and one view is that he would accept homosexuality in today’s society. While, my view lies far outside religion, I would be overjoyed to see Whitworth take a stance in support of homosexuality.

Though I can’t predict the outcome of this open conversation, I hope that it turns out to be one that engenders love. As previously mentioned, President Beck Taylor hopes that the future stance should create healthy tensions. Whitworth is a university that represents community, and love that extends far beyond Christianity.

I encourage everyone to go to this open conversation, and further to think about this social issue that is so controversial and important to our society.

 

Story by Sarah Berentson Columnist

Graphic art by Eli Smith

Berentson is a senior majoring in English and Spanish. Comments can be sent to sberentson12@my.whitworth.edu.

Whitworth needs to take clear stance on homosexuality regarding campus rule

Whitworth University prides itself on the fact that it is a liberal arts institution that allows students to have leeway in their actions, while still standing on Christian morals and beliefs. However, Whitworth’s leaders have failed to take a stance on an important, controversial issue that is applicable to campus: the debate on homosexuality.

With the passing of the same-sex marriage bill in Washington, and Whitworth’s mission to love everyone, you would think Whitworth’s leaders would have taken a clear supportive or unsupportive stance on homosexuality.

In an email from Rhosetta Rhodes on behalf of Beck Taylor, she states: “Whitworth does not take an institutional position on this issue in light of the fact that thoughtful Christians hold differing opinions, and that diversity of opinion extends to members of the Whitworth community, including students, staff, faculty, and trustees.”

Important issues are always controversial and there are always differences of opinion. The claim that there is a diversity of opinion is an invalid reason for Whitworth’s neutrality.

We are specifically concerned with how their views would relate to the ‘Big 3’ rule concerning cohabitation. Whitworth’s student handbook states that it believes that “the genital sexual relationship is to be understood and experienced within the context of...a lifelong commitment known as marriage. ...this union is to be understood as a committed relationship between one man and one woman (heterosexual monogamy).”

This editorial board wants to challenge the administration to take a clear stance on homosexuality, as there are blurred lines between what is and isn’t acceptable regarding rules such as cohabitation. Although Whitworth accepts everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, this board feels that it would be beneficial for the university to state its stance in order to facilitate conversation about this debate.

Editorials in the “In the Loop” section reflect the majority opinion of the editorial board, which is made up of five editors.

 

Hypocritical Christians fail to accept others

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye,” -Matthew 7:3 (ESV).

I know no one is perfect. Not every Christian is guilty of what I’m about to say. This focuses on a majority of Christians, not the entire community.

Hypochristians: a term my dad came up with when describing people in the church. A hypochristian is a hypocrite much like the pharisees. They knew the Word well, they quoted it constantly, and they believed they’re better than the people around them. Unfortunately, Whitworth, like the rest of America, is full of such people.

Matthew 7:3 is a verse that is important, but often overlooked. As Christians, people are quick to point out other people’s sins and ignore their own. They have this mentality that they’re perfect. The only person who was ever perfect was Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

The reason that I am talking about this is because of the recently-passed bill in Washington legalizing gay marriage. I have seen people post on Facebook about how people who are gay are horrible sinners and how all gays are going to hell. Some even said they hate people who are gay. I had even seen an image of a woman holding a sign saying “God hates gays.”

First of all, since when does God hate? I have read the New Testament and some of the Old Testament and I have never once seen the words “God hates.” If it does say that somewhere, call me out on it; I don’t mind. I just know Jesus comes with two commandments: Love the Father in heaven and love others. The Bible doesn’t say to love other Christians; it says to love others. That includes people who are gay, adulterers, prostitutes and any other person Christians group into the “sinner” category. Instead Christians alienate those people and cause them to have a negative outlook on the religion.

Second, Christians have decided that some sins are worse than others. Homosexuality, pre-marital sex and abortion are the three worst sins of this decade. Some churches won’t allow these so-called “sinners” to join; however, they allow people who have married numerous times, others who got divorced and people who constantly eat large meals at fast food restaurants. Did the church forget that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins? In 2010, according to an article on NBC, a young girl was denied entrance into an Episcopal school because she was being raised by two lesbians. Instead of doing what Jesus asked Christians to do, which is spread the word of salvation, they cut this little girl off from information that could save her life. They did more than deny her a spot in the school; they denied her the chance to hear the Word of God.

Jesus didn’t ask us to judge people for him. That’s what God is there for. He is the one and only judge of mankind. Jesus wants Christians to tell people about him so they can be saved. Christians aren’t here to convict, condemn or criticize but are here to spread the word of God. Christians aren’t here to tell some- one that they are a sinner. Christians are not here to tell someone they are going to hell. Christians are definitely not here to tell someone their lifestyle is horrible. No one is perfect. A gay person can be fol- lowing every other law except that one. In theory, that person can be a better Christian than those who judge him or her.

Go back to the quote at the beginning. Examine yourself before you judge others. Are you completely without sin? Are you living your faith to the best of your ability? Figure out what kind of Christian you are before you decide that someone else is doing it wrong.

Story by Jasmine Barnes Columnist

Barnes is a freshman majoring in English and secondary education. Comments can be sent to jbarnes15@my.whitworth.edu.

Graphic Artist: Hannah Charlton