Listen To Article
Yesterday the staff of the Chimes, Calvin College’s student newspaper, released their weekly issue with a special insert called “Listen First.” In this feature, eight Calvin students (one a recent grad) explain in their own words what it’s like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender at Calvin. Some have been out already; for some, this was an announcement, at least to the wider Calvin community. One student chose to remain anonymous, for reasons he describes. All of them speak bravely about their pain, their gratitude, and their ongoing questions and fears.
You can read the feature online here.
This feels like an important moment for our campus. Not because this has been such a taboo subject for us. Actually, we’ve been intentionally studying, thinking, writing, and talking about “the issue” on campus for many years. At the same time, we’ve been working hard to care for our LGBTQ+ students. My colleagues in the Student Life division have shown particular creativity and leadership, especially among our Christian college peers. In partnership with student leaders, they have created programs, events, groups, and lots of opportunities for learning and thoughtful reflection. Many of us across divisions have tried to create safe spaces and healthy conversations. I’ve seen first-hand what goes on, and many faculty and staff are acting with amazing integrity, commitment, and compassion.
With this Chimes feature, though, it feels as if the “grownups” are stepping back. This is reason for celebration: students are taking the lead—and doing it with such wisdom! The feature includes a clear statement of purpose, careful definitions, and a respectful presentation of all concerned. The editorial staff decided that what the campus needs right now more than debate is to hear real students’ stories, so as they developed the feature, they laid some ground rules:
[T]o avoid more polarizing discussion, the writers have left out any reference to positions on moral and political questions. We do not want to continue to discuss in a way that causes us to forget to listen before speaking, or blurs our vision of Christ as the source of absolute truth and love. We hope the stories might stop abstract conversations and shatter false stereotypes.
No need to worry that “kids these days” don’t care about biblical authority or holiness or sexual ethics. They do. But they are also sick and tired of the “grownups” engaged in abstract battles or hostile stalemates over exegetical niceties or political slogans that ignore real people’s experiences, fears, and hopes for the sake of a tidy policy.
Sometimes young people are wiser than their elders. I’m rejoicing in these students today, because they understand that theology and exegesis are empty and vain unless they begin with the task that L’Arche Community founder Jean Vanier commends as fundamental to the Christian life: love reality.
Reality might be uncomfortable, or confusing, or more painful than we wish. It may be far more beautiful than we had hoped. But we have to listen and look, and pray for the compassion and clarity of the Holy Spirit. I think that’s what these students are asking of the campus. I think that’s what the next generation is asking of the church—and all the institutions and people who have raised and trained them.
As the older generation, our job is not only to teach but to bless. So I want to bless the students who’ve courageously told their stories on this campus. I want to bless the many gifted, beautiful students (and friends, colleagues, acquaintances…) I’ve known who happen to be LGBT—I have been greatly blessed by them, and grateful for their trust and honesty. And I want to bless this current generation of Calvin students who are doing difficult theology, in real time, in real life, right now.
Thank you for what you are teaching us, what you are demanding of us in this moment.
You see, the big thing for me is to love reality and not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or what should have been or what can be, and somewhere, to love reality and then discover that God is present.
Jean Vanier, quoted in an interview with Krista Tippett on On Being
Thanks to Ron Rienstra for the graphic above.