Being a Gay Teacher at a Christian College

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader provides a perspective from the faculty side of our discussion on same-sex attraction on campus:

I read with interest the article you published about LGBT politics at Christian colleges. I happen to be gay and teach at a member institution of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. I have written three anonymous essays for Inside Higher Ed. Here is the link to the most recent one.

The other two essays are here and here. The latter begins:

My story is neither dramatic nor a profile in courage. Raised in a conservative Christian home, I only knew that homosexuality was a very serious sin. Then in graduate school, I fell in love with someone of the same sex -- ironically enough, a conservative Christian like myself. My feelings scared me greatly. This person loved me as well, but we never articulated what those feelings were to each other until much later, when the feelings had changed. Since that time I have loved other persons of my sex, but only recently have I accepted my sexual orientation, when I am already teaching at a CCCU institution.

Our next reader, who is bisexual, attended Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. That private school’s community covenant states: “[W]e are to avoid such sinful practices as drunkenness, stealing, dishonesty, profanity, occult practices, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior.” Here’s our anonymous reader:

When I signed the covenant, I was an immature home-schooled child living in a conservative Christian household. I had a closed mind, had not come to my own beliefs, and knew little of myself. It was only after years of growth while attending college that I learned to accept that I was bisexual, and that parts of Christianity could not only accept but embrace my non-heterosexuality.

I learned to see that my bisexuality was as much of a choice as my height or ethnicity—the only choice was accepting and embracing or denying the truth. And so bisexuality became a part of my identity.

As a young adult learning who I was and how to be that person, I was living my life, every hour of every day, under the confines of oppressive rules and policies that were explicitly against my identity. This was harmful to my sense of self and to my mental health.

Messiah College’s policies, and the policies other conservative Christian colleges, utilize a false separation between homosexual orientation and behavior. Orientation is an identity defined by action or the possibility of action. If you are allowed to be homosexual, but aren’t allowed to act homosexual, how are you allowed to be homosexual? How can you tell a person of color it's OK to be black, Latino, Indian, etc., as long as he or she only acts like he or she is white? How can you place judgement on the actions of an identity without placing judgement on the identity itself?

Speaking of race and ethnicity, the covenant also states: “Because we see people as having intrinsic worth, we avoid gossip, manipulative behavior, and sexist or racist attitudes or behaviors… .” But any advisement against “homophobic attitudes or behaviors” is nowhere to be found in the covenant. Back to our reader:

Conservative Christian colleges are slowly changing their stances on homosexuality. Acceptance of the identity without the action is a step forward from rejecting both. At Messiah, there is an acceptance of the diversity of many Christian denominations, beliefs, and values. I hope that Messiah, and other conservative Christian colleges, can grow to allow individuals to make decisions about these beliefs and values for themselves.

Messiah College helped me grow into and learn to be the person that I am. But the institution would not accept that person. I pray that Messiah will soon be a place that will allow young adults to grow into themselves, and accept them as they are, both in identity and action.