When most people think about Christian universities, they think of stingy, closed-off bubbles where the students are a homogenous mass, and homogenously crazy (the sort of crazy that the young and spiritual are often assumed to be).
When most people think of Calvin College — not that most people do — the same descriptions might come to mind. It does sometimes find itself in the less-than-flattering Top Tens: Worst Party Schools, Got Milk?, Stone-Cold Sober Schools and LGBT-Unfriendly Schools. While each ranking has a sliver of truth — sometimes more than a sliver — I desperately hope high school prospects aren’t putting too much stock in them because a) they’re not trustworthy and b) really?
When I think of Calvin College — which I do quite often — I think of things like: beautiful campus, great integration of intellect and spirituality, a killer student newspaper and, of course, friends and professors.
Even though I’ve moved away and started my post-school life, I want to applaud Calvin for something that I think is really helpful for the campus. The student publication, Chimes, recently published a string of articles featuring brief autobiographies of LGBT students at the school. It’s called, “Listen First.”
Says the series introduction: “A 2011 Calvin Sexuality Series poll found that 4 percent of Calvin students self-identified as LGBT. Of this 4 percent, almost half had told nobody at Calvin. That means, on average, about one person on each dorm floor is keeping a tough secret.”
Surely, Calvin, like most Christian institutions, is an intimidating place for young people who don’t fit “the norm” — at least, the public norm — which is to say, heterosexual. That questioning, closeted or openly committed LGBT 18 year olds would enroll is bravery in itself.
That they would publicly and unabashedly open themselves up in these short memoirs is, I think, a beautiful testimony to how far Calvin has come — and, undoubtedly, is still coming.
When I was a freshman in 2007, I would have been shocked to see something like this. Even when I graduated, it would have surprised me. So, without commenting on the politics or the theology of “the issue” — (let’s not forget that “the issue” is really composed of our friends, family, teachers and mentors) — I’d like to say how proud I am of these students and my alma mater.
Surely, some will mistake this show of unity and care for the moral decline of the CRC’s flagship school. Others — perhaps those who’ve not attended a religiously-affiliated school — will scoff, “So what! They’re still living in the Dark Ages.” But, while the credal stance of the school and the Church aren’t changing, I hope we all admire the gradually-changing posture of hearts toward love and compassion.
Trust that I’m not blind to the complexities here, but trust also the simplicity of Jesus’ words: “A new command I give you: Love one another.”
I encourage all of you to check out the series. Here it is again. I also hope Chimes won’t sue me for posting a few segments that I particularly liked below.
Before graduating, I had always felt as though my sexuality was a talking point.
It was something to be dissected in the context of faith and weighed in on by every side except my own. In reality, I am more than my sexuality. My being gay does not define me, but it does inform who I am, just as much as someone’s opposite-sex attractions inform who he or she is.
The pain and exclusion I experienced because of my sexuality doesn’t negate the validation and support I received from certain members of the campus community.
My parents have shown me love and are trying hard to understand me. My friends have gone out of their way to be there for me, and professors and chaplains here at Calvin have guided me and prayed for me.
These people have varying views on homosexuality, but they all have shown me love.
One of the most amazing things I have heard was when I told someone that I was planning on telling my pastor that I was bi.
We had been arguing about homosexuality up to this point, but then the person paused, and said, “If that conversation does not go well, come over to my house and my family and I will cry with you.”
I cannot express to you the immense warmth I felt from this offering. It was in that moment that I understood what community in Christ meant.
And that is what I want for the future of Calvin College — for us to listen to each other, understand each other and cry with each other. If that happens, the future LGBT students of Calvin College will feel — and be — welcome and safe.
Campus ministries staff here at Calvin… have been phenomenally supportive. My friends and family have accepted me, without exception.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have lots of questions or we don’t have different opinions on how my faith ties into all this.
But it does mean that I haven’t turned into a political issue — I’m still Ryan….
….It’s often easy for a religious debate or a political stance to overshadow the fact that, when it comes down to it, I’m just Ryan.