By Bill Barnert
Gordon College has gotten a lot of negative press in recent years on LGBTQ issues. The college’s behavioral standards specifically includes a ban on “homosexual practice,” and Gordon’s President D. Michael Lindsay co-signed a letter to President Obama asking for a religious exemption from Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (That action resulted in Salem’s mayor prohibiting Gordon from using city facilities.)
So when SpeakOUT was invited to speak there in December by a group of LGBTQ students and their allies, One Gordon, we jumped at the chance. After discussions with the Student Activities office, we agreed to share the stage with a Christian group called “Lead Them Home.” Looking at LTH’s website, we found phrases like “Share the Gospel within reach of LGBTQI Communities” and “Assist those in our churches seeking help with gender and sexual brokenness,” so we knew our perspectives were coming from very different places.
I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Lead Them Home speakers. The evening started with a private dinner between the SpeakOUT speakers and board members, LTH, the Vice President of Student Activities, and members of the LGBTQ group. This set the tone for a mutually respectful sharing once we took the stage in the campus auditorium.
Both of the LTH speakers were men who acknowledged that they were attracted to men, but did not believe they could act on this because of their views on what it meant to be Christian. In other words, very similar to any straight person who felt that they needed to refrain from pre-marital sex based on their religious beliefs. This definitely resonated with some of Gordon’s students and they came up afterwards to discuss their feelings with LTH. The big difference of course, is that a straight person is just putting off sex for now, and the men in LTH are essentially putting off same-sex expression forever. There was absolutely no “gay bashing” by their speakers and, in fact, one of LTH’s goals is to get Christians to accept gay people as people, while preaching abstinence.
The two speakers from SpeakOUT were very well received. Kara, a bisexual woman, and Paul, a gay man, shared their life experiences, and talked about their husbands and their experiences within their own Christian churches. Paul shared how important it was for him to marry his husband in his local church and Kara talked about how elements of intolerance in her denomination inspired her to do more work within her local congregation. The questions from the students were thoughtful and respectful, and Kara and Paul’s answers were insightful. For many of the students in the audience, it was a refreshing change to hear people talk comfortably about their sexuality and their religion in the same breath, with no seeming contradiction. Quite a few came up afterwards and thanked the speakers for their participation.
The Gordon College students were very appreciative to have us there, and to have a chance to hear a pro-LGBTQ pro-Christian message. It’s hard to measure how much effect we had, but both the students and the administration have asked that we return in the future. Here’s hoping that little steps grow to larger strides of understanding.
Bill Barnert has been with SpeakOUT since 1980, and co-hosted SpeakOUT TV and PrideTime. Bill has sung with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, danced with the ReneGAYdes, drummed with the Freedom Trail Marching Band, and has volunteered at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s GSA, “Project-10 East.” He sits on the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, and he helps run the Cambridge Men’s Group.