This would be my first time on the Asbury campus since 1976, where I attended as an undergraduate student. The day I graduated, I swore I’d never be back.
I had no idea what to expect when I would, after all this time, step foot on the campus. Just thinking about it, as I was driving and about an hour away, brought up the emotions and so I drove and cried for at least 20 or more minutes. I don’t know what the tears were tied to specifically. Memories, perhaps, of the good times when I was a student (because I have to admit during my time there it wasn’t always bleak and despairing, especially my first two years). And there were thoughts of the friendships that had been made and the handful of people I could still consider friends. But there were also the many “friends” who no longer wanted anything to do with me because I’m gay.
My focus then centered on my last two years at Asbury, when I realized I had not been able to pray away the gay and that I still was attracted to men. Those last two years were filled with the fear of being found out and the self-loathing intensified as well as the certainty I was destined for hell.
I had no one to talk with back then – certainly not anyone in the administration. I knew I would be kicked out if I dared told anyone and I was afraid to tell even my closest of friends for fear of rejection and disdain.
But that was then. It was now almost thirty years later. I was no longer that young man living in secret and anxiety.
After checking into the Asbury Inn, I headed to the grounds of Asbury. Whether I had intentionally packed it or not I had my blue tee shirt that has the shape of Pennsylvania on the front with “Love Wins” boldly written across the state. On the back was “Equality Pennsylvania.” I, for a brief moment, thought “maybe I shouldn’t wear it” (realizing those tapes far back in the recesses of our mind can still play if we aren’t diligent). That fear of long ago was briefly resurrected.
Well, the hell with that! I put it on, of course, and made my way to Asbury. I don’t know if anyone I passed as I walked the grounds even noticed the tee shirt but for me it was a very profound moment of triumph. As a student, I had walked on campus behind a disguise of being the “perfect Christian.” A perfect Christian living in shame with a secret I constantly feared of being exposed. Now I walked the campus as the person I am – a proud, gay man with no shame, no fear and no self-hatred. It was a monumental moment in time for me.
Tuesday afternoon I met with my old roommate and best friend, Greg. I usually have a very difficult time being with anyone who hasn’t come around to my thinking about homosexuality. But with Greg it was not the case. The moment I saw him, as soon as we hugged, and then sat and began talking, the love of our friendship was so very present. For once, there was no need for either of us to “prove a point.”
We had too many memories to recall and I had tears in my eyes when I told him how his friendship got me through those last two years of college (without him knowing what I was keeping hidden inside at that time).
But back to the reason I was at Asbury in the first place. I spent all of Wednesday speaking with various people, starting with the President and Director of Student Development together. Both were warm and forthcoming. They, as did everyone that day, said that the conversation about LGBTQ students was not purposely being stifled. If a student did identify as gay that as long as they didn’t break the “no sex” rule, they would not be asked to leave.
I spoke with one student who is openly gay on campus. He’s out to his friends, so of course others on campus know. He says he has not felt fearful at any time. I must have asked him 5 times “and no one in the administration has called you in?” He said “no.” The other two students are allies and their one complaint is that they didn’t feel free to openly discuss differences of opinion. They also confirmed there are more allies on campus than we might expect.
I spoke with a faculty member twice during my visit. He is in the process of examining his views on “homosexuality” but is very receptive and wants there to be an open discussion. He feels, as the students do, that faculty doesn’t feel free to openly talk in opposition. The counseling staff assured me there is no reparative therapy allowed, dictated by whatever board they are licensed with. They said that when a gay student comes to them they will, of course, talk about the Asbury policy and those scriptures but do not pressure them that they have to change. They recognize that once they leave Asbury the students will be able to do what they want in regard to their sexuality and spirituality.
In fact, in the realm of it being a small world, I had forgotten an old high school friend, from our Jesus Freak days, lived in Lexington. We met for coffee. He is a psychologist and has had Asbury refer students to him – particularly gay students – giving them a safe place off campus to talk. I heard from every authority figure at Asbury that they wanted Asbury to be a safe place for all students – including LGBTQ students.
When I spoke with the school’s Chaplain he asked me what I thought would help the students know they could safely have an open conversation. My answer was to have a speaker where a gay Christian, living their faith with no conflict with their sexuality. Because all the students hear (I found out from the students I spoke with) is Chapel speakers who are either ant-gay, once were gay and now aren’t, or are still struggling with being gay. I told him they need to hear from someone who is not struggling or trying to be straight but is being who God made them to be.
I brought it up to the director of student development and she said maybe they could have a forum next year. My initial thought was ‘NEXT YEAR??” I, of course, want it to happen tomorrow but I do know it’s one step at a time. I just hope they will quicken the pace a bit!
Most everyone acknowledged that there will be administrators and faculty who would be outraged if they knew why I was there this past week. So Asbury isn’t lacking of homophobes. I encouraged those I spoke with that perhaps Asbury might take it upon itself to pave the way for how evangelical schools can address LGBTQ students. Maybe Asbury could become the model other schools look to. A big dream, I know.
So far from perfect, and yet, thankfully, I learned that Asbury is certainly not the Asbury of the 70’s.