Breaking Down Anti-Gay Dogma

Evangelicals remain one of the principal obstacles to the full acceptance of gay Americans as people deserving equal rights and equal respect. But even in those religious circles, pressure from more tolerant Evangelicals especially the young is breaking down the barriers, Rev. Howard Bess writes.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

American culture is moving rapidly toward full acceptance of gay people, but Evangelical Christians remain one of the last strongholds of anti-gay attitudes with the standard line among the Evangelical faithful still that the practice of same-sex sexual relationships is sinful.

Yet within Evangelical colleges, pro-gay student organizations are emerging and intolerance toward gays is ebbing. Though there are still too many Bible-misquoting Evangelicals, respected Evangelical scholars have stopped writing books about the Bible’s rejection of homosexuals. Many Evangelicals now admit that neither prayer nor reparative therapy can change sexual orientation. Reparative ministries and counseling centers have largely disappeared.

At what may be the Evangelical flagship college in America, Wheaton College outside Chicago, there is now a thriving organization of Wheaton graduates putting pressure on the college to rethink issues related to sexual orientation. Membership now tops 500 and includes gay graduates and gay supporters.

I am one of those supporters though I am not gay. Wheaton College is my alma mater and I am proud to be a Wheaton graduate. I found Wheaton to be a home for a rigorous academic education, and Wheaton’s student body and faculty comprised the greatest group of people I have ever known. They were dedicated, hard-working and highly principled. To them, Christ was Lord; nothing else was so important.

Wheaton College was the birthplace of 20th Century Evangelicalism. Billy Graham was our most famous graduate. Its campus, nestled safely in Chicago’s west suburbs, was where I learned to think. I still wear a Wheaton College sweatshirt, and I still claim the Evangelical identification.

When I was a Wheaton student I pledged that I would not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, dance, play cards or attend movies. During my time there, I kept the pledge faithfully, though I know believe the Wheaton pledge was on the wrong side of culture. Those old standards have long since disappeared, but behavior is still a matter of great importance at Wheaton College. In recent years, opposition to same-sex sexual behavior has become a leading issue.

When I was a student at Wheaton College, I was not aware of any gay classmates. That was the case until my 40th class reunion. Then, a female classmate came out of the closet. Now, I know there were others. The closet was closed tight in the 1950s. Not so today.

As in all movements, there appears a voice that speaks the mind of the entire movement. That voice belongs to Steve Slagg, a recent graduate of Wheaton. He has written an epistle to Wheaton College and it is a masterpiece of truth-telling with high emotion. He loved being at Wheaton, but his presence was a four-year experience of high-level stress.

In his story, Slagg wrote two words that force the issue. We exist! Those two words have become the slogan for gay students at Evangelical colleges all across the country. We exist!

While not recognized by the college, support groups for gay students now meet on or near the campus. So, a piece of the truth is now out in the open. There are a significant number of gay students on the campus of Wheaton College. The response of the Wheaton College administration has been conciliatory, but unyielding in its position that all same-sex sexual activity is wrong, wrong, wrong.

What is happening at Wheaton College is happening all across the country. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is another highly respected Evangelical institution. Calvin has been a bit more responsive to their gay students. Without relinquishing the stated policy about same-sex sexual behavior, the college provides open forums at which sexual orientation and practice is discussed. The school is attempting to welcome its gay students. Attitudes have become casual and for students it is no big deal.

At another leading Evangelical university, Seattle Pacific, the approach is a bit different. Recognizing the rising tide of acceptance for gay people among the nation’s youth, Seattle Pacific has an unofficial club called Haven. It has been organized by students and meets on campus, though it has been turned down twice for official recognition.

The University administration has been friendly, but an official embrace is not yet in sight.  A University official told a Christianity Today reporter that the school wants to make the University a safe place in which open discussion can take place. Across the nation from Westmont to Baylor to Cedarville, the word is out. We exist! 

Evangelicals can no more resist full gay acceptance than Wheaton College could maintain its standards from 60 years ago of no card playing, no dancing and no watching movies.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is [email protected].     

9 comments for “Breaking Down Anti-Gay Dogma

  1. paschn
    January 24, 2013 at 13:23

    This site will block you if you don’t pay homage to their selected “godd” groups.

  2. paschn
    January 24, 2013 at 13:21


  3. Morton Kurzweil
    January 17, 2013 at 16:24

    It’s time to wash that sweat and hang it out in the fresh air Dr. Bess.
    The truth is that faith is nor a kind of knowledge. Faith is the suspension of reason, the substantiation of the belief process. It is the choice of perception over reason. It is the only way to accept certainty. Certainty is a gut feeling of ‘reality’. It is a useful tool when instinct is necessary for survival. It is part of the human response as herd animal and it is the unconscious drive for security and protection in a communal environment for a human requiring a prolonged period in immaturity and physical weakness.
    It is also the source of sexual and artistic creativity.
    It is not the basis for use of the new cortical brain that we pride as the source of unique understanding.
    Faith, the choice of certainty, is the source of bigotry. This is a necessary consequence of the requirement that belief must be superior to any other to be certain. Communities throughout history have behaved this way. Every city state, every government, every religion, produced cultural paranoia within its population. Suspicion and distrust was the means of securing a community obedience to a single unified group.
    Every conservative system of belief devolves into orthodoxy that benefits the hierarchy and controls the will of the people. The cycle of rebellion, reason, orthodoxy, anarchy and revolution all in the name if belief has not changed and will not change until humanity evolves into Homo sapiens, instead of Homo credulous.

  4. drdanfee
    January 17, 2013 at 14:40

    Thanks for this article/commentary. One of the graces that people – who have changed for the better in their grasp of who LGBTQ Folks are, and how we come to exist generally speaking? – offer is simply an honest witness to how being in relationship with rainbow folks has shifted, and at least telling us some of the pertinent paths by which understanding grew. For quite a while now, the burdens of legacy habits of not relating to or interacting with real, live gay folks have slowly been shifting, changing, opening up. Increasingly, we need a clearer, more detailed explanation of what about same sex embodiment grounds the long-standing but possibly false conviction that such realities are innately immoral. A marker of such change has been the de facto and conscious gear changing about how gay embodiment is essentially a disturbing and dirty and dangerous twist on the norm of being nothing but opposite sex attracted. For a very long time – centuries in fact, if not millenia? – the only shaky bridge most people could identify or trust somewhat, reaching between themselves and whomever those ‘other’ people might be – was a vigorous folk notion that gay men in particular were actually ‘straight men behaving badly.’ That’s a bit understandable, since back in those decades, most people only dimly realized from a great social-religious-cultural-personal distance that, say, nominally ‘straight’ men in prisons indulged in same sex behaviors of some sort. What was harder to notice conceptually was how so few of the same sex behaving ‘straight’ men in prison were changed from being straight, since upon release back into the community, the majority pursued opposite sex relationships, often to the point of marriage and parenting. Now, we are working harder and harder to avoid knowing how most of the intimate communicative acts that opposite sex couples do to express their deepening bond and care and commitment to each other are, to a large factual extent, the same intimacies that same sex couples find effective, for about the same purposes. The interim fall-back position is to claim that opposite sex couples still live and embody a ‘creation ordered’ intactness of gender … which indeed sounds most plausible and complete to those very opposite sex attracted people who do, indeed, mainly live and relate within traditional ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ limits. Yet many men do not find that, say, caring for their infant child essentially ‘feminizes’ them, though perhaps their fathers or grandfathers or great-grandfathers may have felt exactly that way. Those who can more easily maintain negative beliefs about the legacy essentials when it comes to same sex couples … dirt, damage, danger … always these three by rote it would seem? … are precisely the people who do not know any caring, committed same sex couples up close and personal. When you do know those denigrated couples for real, you have a different struggle to explain away their care, their commitment, their individual and mutual growth lines through thick and through thin, and so forth. What holy texts call, Fruits of the Spirit, can truly be seen in same sex couples and their lives and their parenting and their relationships. Explaining away these real, live people bearing forth Fruits of the Spirit will probably prove to be quite perplexing and difficult, over the longest of long runs. Alas. Lord have mercy. drdanfee

  5. rosemerry
    January 17, 2013 at 13:53

    As usual, Rehmat thinks he is the expert on every issue. How can he possibly decide nobody is gay from birth? I would like to ask Rev Bess as well, why he thinks God made people gay if He hates such people?
    I have a niece who realised at a young age she was “different” and at 23 told her parents she was gay. My sister was devastated at first, then accepted this was not a “choice” or a “lifestyle” but the way her d aughter was.She now has a partner, and after ten years together, they now have three children,after arranging sperm donation from close friends. All the children are well-behaved, accepted by school and friends, happy and well adjusted.My niece and her partner do not hide their orientation and explain to the children about their fathers. Deciding this is “wrong”, (like dancing!)causes great unhappiness for no good reason. Banksters, warmakers, chid molesters, cruel parents and so many others really cause damage; private sexual behaviour should not be culpable.

  6. billy wingartenson
    January 17, 2013 at 01:05

    this whoel biz is changing at warp speed. 10 years from now we’ll look back and most except the hard core will wonder what the fuss was all about.

    Probably almost all of he western nations will have gays marrying, those not so will have CU’s RPs

    The only holdouts will be the ocmmie and arabic nations.

    BTW from news in the last year – Saudi land will allow women to vote in local eclections starting in 2015, and women soon will be allowed to make up 20% of local govt coucils. Sure they have to obey / support sharia law and wear face masks – But change is coming.

  7. Joseph
    January 17, 2013 at 00:11

    Rev. Bess,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful article. More and more Evangelicals are taking the time to examine the issue more deeply for themselves and are concluding that gay people are just as human and deserve their human dignity.

  8. Joseph
    January 17, 2013 at 00:05

    It is immoral to discriminate against and demonize gay people. Extending marriage rights to same sex couples fosters love and commitment. One day soon, we will look back on these discussions with shame and disbelief.

  9. Pete Shea
    January 16, 2013 at 21:39

    Thank you, thank you, Rev. Bess. Our country needs more evangelicals and other religious leaders to speak up as you do on behalf of LGBT people, particularly youth and college students. I wish that more religious people could realize that “We exist” and that the only Christian attitude should be a loving and accepting one.

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