Christian Colleges Are Tangled In Their Own LGBT Policies Conservative Christian colleges worry their official positions on LGBT issues could run afoul of sex discrimination law and harm relations with their own students.

Christian Colleges Are Tangled In Their Own LGBT Policies

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We have reported here before on a conflict between Christian conservatives and supporters of LGBT rights. Religious colleges can be a battleground in that struggle. Many of those schools hold to a belief that marriage is only for one man and one woman, and that gender means the sex at birth. But LGBT students attend those colleges, and the staff who work with them can feel torn by their responsibilities. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities recently brought staff from its member schools to a meeting in Texas to mull over the challenges they're facing. Near the top - how long their strict positions on sexual ethics can hold up, given changing cultural attitudes.

MARY HULST: You've got those two values.

GJELTEN: Mary Hulst is the campus chaplain at Calvin College in Michigan.

HULST: We love our LGBT people. And we love our church of Jesus Christ. We love Scripture. And so those of us who are doing this work are right in the middle of that space.

GJELTEN: Time was, there wasn't so much tension in that space. Brad Harper says when he started teaching theology almost 20 years ago at Multnomah University in Oregon, students largely went along with the us-against-them mentality of the evangelical right. But he says his students today are uncomfortable with that mentality.

BRAD HARPER: And part of it is because they've become very much a part of the fabric of culture.

GJELTEN: At Multnomah, the Bible is said to be the foundation of its educational program. Harper says his students still consider themselves Christian but don't have strong feelings about things like same-sex marriage.

HARPER: More and more, they are moving to this place of saying, OK, we know the Bible talks about this, but we just don't see this as an essential of the faith, so we're really not going to worry about it.

GJELTEN: That's certainly true at Calvin College in Michigan. The school is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, which rejects same-sex relationships as inconsistent with biblical teaching. But Sam Koster, who identifies as queer, feels entirely comfortable there.

SAM KOSTER: Even just, like, my dorms, there've been people who are like, oh, you're queer? OK, cool; do you want to go get pizza?

GJELTEN: Koster is a regular at campus Bible study classes, where students consider the verses that refer to same-sex activity.

KOSTER: Clobber passages used to sort of clobber queer kids back into being straight.

GJELTEN: Koster was troubled by those passages at first but eventually came to feel comfortable with being Christian and joined the Gay Christian Network.

KOSTER: When I realized that my faith wasn't necessarily about the church and it wasn't even necessarily about the Bible, but it was about my relationship with God and that, you know, God is all-encompassing and loving, I felt very free.

GJELTEN: Koster credits Pastor Mary Hulst, the Calvin chaplain, for that faith journey. But Hulst herself is still torn between her love for her LGBT students and her own understanding that the Bible does not really allow them to act on their sexual orientation.

HULST: I want to honor both of these things. I want to honor Scripture, and I want to honor my brothers and sisters.

GJELTEN: It's not always easy.

HULST: Some in our LGBT community will say, well, if you won't honor the choices I make with my life - if I choose to find a partner and be married - then you're not actually honoring me, which I understand. I can see how they would come to that conclusion.

GJELTEN: This question of how to reconcile conservative views of sexual ethics with the real-life needs of LGBT students came up again and again at the Christian Colleges meeting in Texas. As a student counselor at Azusa Pacific University in California, Christine Guzman signed a statement endorsing the school's conservative position on marriage, but she won't pass judgment on her LGBT students.

CHRISTINE GUZMAN: Who am I to play God, or who are we to say, you know, you have to identify this way? You know, everybody has their relationship with God, and it's personal. It's Holy Spirit-inspired.

GJELTEN: Guzman is the Title IX coordinator at Azusa Pacific, meaning under federal law, she's the contact person for students who say they face discrimination because of their sex. Schools that engage in such discrimination can lose federal funding. Does that mean Christian colleges should worry that sticking to conservative positions on sexuality might get them in trouble with the government? That story later today on All Things Considered. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.


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