What does Asbury owe its LGBT students? First, accept that they exist

March 10, 2013 

Artie Van Why works for a regional theatre in Lancaster, Pa.

I am an alumnus of Asbury University (Class of 1976) and an advocate for an unacknowledged segment of Asbury's alumni which is probably larger than the university might care to admit: its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender alumni.

Through social media, we are discovering just how many of us there are. We are coming together and sharing our stories. Not just about our time at Asbury but about the years that followed. Years of trying to change our sexual orientation, by any means possible — therapy, counseling or pastoral care, ex-gay ministries, conversion therapy and psychiatric hospitals.

Many of us entered into heterosexual marriages only to find they were more a pretense than a solution, ending in divorce with the consequences of shattered lives.

Some of us succumbed to addiction to mask the pain of self-loathing. Some abandoned faith, believing God had abandoned them. Fortunately, most of us have come through to the other side; at peace with who we are and the God who created us this way. The details of our lives vary, but our experiences at Asbury are alarmingly similar.

From each decade and each class, Asbury's LGBT students all speak of despair and depression, fear and shame, believing, when they were there, that they were the only one. I would like to think that now, in 2013, it is different for LGBT students at Asbury. From what I have been told, it isn't. And so my heart aches for those students,my prayer being that none of them will go through what I and others have.

Asbury continues to preach about the sin of homosexuality just as it did 30 years ago. I don't expect that to change. But that doesn't negate that there are LGBT students at Asbury. What is Asbury's responsibility to these young men and women, if any?

Asbury is a Christian institution, founded on biblical principles. But it is also an institution of higher learning.

Aren't universities (Christian or secular) where young minds are to contemplate life's questions? Where students can discuss, debate and challenge opposing opinions on any issue? Where they are encouraged to not only think for themselves but are allowed to formulate their own conclusions? A place where they can discover their own unique voices and not be afraid to have them be heard?

Life beyond Asbury is very different than when I was a student. Homosexuality is no longer a subject talked about in hushed tones. It is more than asking if homosexuality is a sin. It goes beyond theology. It is this generation's arena of civil rights. Same-sex marriage is a reality, and society is increasingly supportive of the LGBT community.

I think it is safe to assume that a significant number of Asbury's students know someone who is gay. These students have to reconcile what they've always been told about homosexuals with the love, care or friendship they feel towards their gay friends or family members.

The discussion of LGBT people and their place within the Christian community needs to be going on at Asbury now. For this discussion to be fair and truthful, Asbury can't ignore the fact that many Christians, pastors, churches and faith communities are welcoming, accepting and affirming the LGBT community, same sex marriage and committed relationships.

Failure to admit this is deceitful and dishonest, as well as a violation of the university's stated purpose "to expand students' horizons outward to understand the history and value of other peoples and cultures, and prepare them for involvement in a complex and changing global reality."

Can students be vocally supportive of LGBT Christians without fear of reprisals? Is Asbury a safe place for its LGBT students? If a gay student were to come out and was not sexually active (as is expected of straight students), would that student face dismissal? Is being gay reason enough for expulsion?

I will continue to be an advocate for Asbury's LGBT students. I want them to know that life not only gets better, it can also be different once they leave Asbury. They will find Christians who will welcome them as God's children and celebrate their committed relationships and marriages.

They are not broken. They don't need to be fixed. And we are here for them.

Reach Artie Van Why at avanwhy@aol.com

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