student conduct

At Westmont College, The Goal Isn’t Forming a GSA. It’s Being Able To ‘Practice Homosexuality’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: University bans students from forming official gay-straight alliance. Oh, you have? Well then add these two schools to the list: Seattle Pacific University, where the LGBT-oriented student group Haven has been repeatedly rendered nonexistent in the eyes of the university (and thus denied any school resources, including on-campus meeting space); and Westmont College, a 1,200-student Christian school in Montecito, California, where not only is forming a GSA completely impossible, but the mere act of being homosexual is reason for expulsion.

At Westmont, incoming students sign a pledge to never engage in “occult practices, sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexual practice, drunkenness, theft, profanity and dishonesty,” though even students aren’t sure whether “homosexual practice” means having The Sex, or simply holding hands. In a letter to the school’s student newspaper The Horizon, dozens of LGBT underclassmen (along with 100 alumni) signed a message about the “doubt, loneliness and fear due to the college’s stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. It was a response to a letter published in November by Artie Van Why, a gay 1976 graduate of Kentucky’s Asbury University, which refused to publish the letter; he then distributed it to other Christian schools. More than half of Westmont’s 92 faculty members responded with a letter asking “forgiveness for ways we might have added to your pain.”


Dear Editor:

The recent suicides of gay teens has moved me to think of students currently on Christian campuses who are gay. This letter is to them.

I know what it is like to be gay and to be at a Christian School. In 1972 I was a freshman at a Christian college. I was a fairly new Christian. And I was gay. My four years there I lived with that secret and a fear that I was going to hell, pleading with God to change me, afraid to tell anyone.

We are assuring our gay youth that “it gets better.” And it does. I also want you to know you have choices. You didn’t choose to be gay (just as no one “chooses” to be heterosexual), but you can choose how to live with your sexuality.

You can believe homosexuality is a sin and try to change on your own, by praying or by entering into an “ex-gay” ministry. I tried all three, and speaking from my personal experience and years of meeting other gay Christians who tried doing the same, I don’t think one can become “ex-gay” any more than one can become an “ex-heterosexual.”

You can believe that it is not a sin to be gay, except when acted upon. I know gay Christians who accept their orientation and choose to live a life of celibacy.

You can marry someone of the opposite sex, concealing your same sex attractions, determined you have it under control. I know gay men and women who have done just that.

In each and every case, after what might have been years of suppression, they eventually ended up acting upon their impulses, some leading a double life. Inevitably the lies and secrecy caught up with each of them, revealed either by their own confession or an inappropriate situation they put themselves in.

Of all these people I know, each of their marriages, except for one, ended in divorce — the unsuspecting spouse’s life shattered, as well as the children’s.

You can decide to be honest with your future spouse, trusting he or she will be willing to partner in your decision to live heterosexually. I know couples who are doing just that. Publicly, they present themselves as a typical heterosexual couple. I don’t know how they conduct themselves in private.

You can choose to reexamine the scriptures that are used against homosexuals and decide if they are speaking out against same sex attraction as we know it today. You can choose to believe God honors a same-sex monogamous committed relationship. You can choose to believe you can be both gay and a Christian.

I, personally, lived through years of struggle and anguish after college, trying everything I could to change. The end result was clinical depression and my own thoughts of suicide.

As the years have passed, I’ve come to trust that God does love and accept me as an openly gay man. I do look at those scriptures in a different light. I believe God sanctions any relationship (gay or straight) that is loving, committed and monogamous.

I belong to a church in one of the most conservative counties in Pennsylvania, the only openly gay man there. I was welcomed warmly by the pastor and the majority of the congregation. My presence there has generated an open dialogue within the church about homosexuality and the Bible.

People have told me that their views on homosexuality have changed because of knowing me, some acknowledging I’m the first gay person, they’re aware of, that they’ve known.

Our church now has an outreach ministry to let the gay community know our doors are open to them. That we not only welcome them, we also affirm them, their committed relationships and the families they are creating.

Know that there are churches, and Christians, who will accept you as you are.

If we are to be judged, it will be by God.

Maybe at that time it won’t be a matter of who was right and who was wrong. Maybe God will look at each of us and ask if we lived our lives being true to who we were. Maybe God will assure us that He’s always loved us even during those times we were told He didn’t.

It does get better. And you do have choices. The decisions you come to are between you and God.

Know that, whatever you decide, there is a place for you at the table.

Artie Van Why
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