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Collegiate religious organizations are in need of transparency

Early one morning, I found myself sobbing in the middle of an increasingly busy Chick-fil-A across from two people whom I had once admired and respected. In an instant, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) had ripped away my dignity, my confidence and more than half of my spiritual and social life.

When I decided to go to Clemson, the college’s sizable FCA presence was a huge selling point. Yet, at only my second small-group meeting, my hopes were shattered. A girl seated across from me began to spout anti-gay rhetoric while I stared at my hands, wishing I could disappear. After being asked if I was okay, I shakily admitted, “I’m gay.”

Well, bisexual if we’re getting specific. I am comfortable using gay as an umbrella term for myself (but please respect the labels and pronouns that people prefer using). I’ve known I was this way since, well, forever. 

I remember drooling over Princess Leia in “Return of the Jedi,” doodling girls in my middle school agenda and having my heart skip a beat when a girl I had been crushing on grabbed my hand at a party.

I never went back to FCA. Yet, I still felt that I needed a strong Christian community. I had seen fliers advertising Cru, but never paid much attention to them. But from the second I walked into my first Bible study, I was hooked. I fell in love with the closeness of the members, the welcoming attitude and the dedication that they had to delving into the Word. 

And while I usually would have been hesitant to open up to the adult leaders, a full-time staff member — let’s call her “M” — quickly became my role model as I made the community my home. 

After only four months of involvement, she pulled me aside and asked me to lead a freshman small group for the next academic year. By January of 2017, after over a year with Cru, I was totally dedicated to the organization, and I felt fulfilled. My friends were in Cru, my role models were in Cru, and most importantly, my heart was in Cru. But more than anything, I was paralyzed with fear.

I knew Cru did not necessarily encourage same-sex relationships, although I had never seen or heard anything explicitly denouncing them. 

I have done my own research into the passages in the Bible which reference homosexuality. Translation issues, misconceptions and failure to take historical context into account demolished any insecurity that I might have had about my sexuality. I was able to rationalize same-sex relationships as biblically, spiritually and personally acceptable.

However, Cru began to make their stance clear, with a conference seminar advising gay students to practice straight behavior or celibacy, while avoiding the “culture” that encouraged their desires. 

The constant voices of my peers spouting, “Love the sinner. Hate the sin,” made me want to tear my hair out by the roots. Later, I even came across an article from Cru entitled “Another Way,” which claimed that homosexuality was just an eroticization of unmet emotional needs from parents. 

It became clear that coming out could strip me of my leadership positions within Cru at the very least.

But I finally came out to M anyway. She said nothing until a month later, when I was asked to meet with her and a fellow staff member, who I will just call “K.” I knew what it was going to be about, so once we were settled in a Chick-fil-A booth, I finally broke past the lump in my throat and asked, “So what’s up?”

First, let me just say, they did not yell at me, or tell me I’m a disgusting horrible person who is going disgrace my family and end up in Hell. In the same way that I might confront someone for excessive drinking, they approached me because they were concerned. Their concerns were based on their belief system, no matter how much I may disagree with it. 

I don’t believe my sexual orientation is sinful, but they do. While I offered my opinions, they stuck to theirs. They wouldn’t say what I had been dreading until I finally asked, “So am I still able to lead?” 

The answer was no.

My community was taken away from me — not like peeling off a Band-Aid, but like ripping off a slice of skin without anesthetic. I switch back and forth from feeling abandoned to wanting to scream, and from a total sense of numbness to sobbing over my geography textbook. 

I am sick of suddenly crying during an average phone call with my boyfriend or trying to muffle the sounds of ugly sniffles with a pillow so I don’t wake up my roommates. I was penalized for something I cannot change and something that will never change. I was not barred from Cru as a regular participant, but how am I supposed to walk into a meeting room, knowing that the people important to me look at me with pity or with judgment? 

How do I talk to my friends when all I can think is, “Do they know?” Cru said they cared deeply about those hurt by the church, but now they’re the ones who hurt me. I made the difficult decision to distance myself from the Cru community and since then I’ve been going through the grieving process. I’m too drained to even be angry. I’m just sad.

I’m writing this not because I want other people to be angry, but because I want other people to be informed and frustrated with the lack of inclusivity and hurt that so often comes from the church. This is not the time for me to be delicate and fragile. This is the time for me to be firm and intentional. I am not called to be silent.

So this is my plea to any campus ministry or religious group: be transparent. Make your values and beliefs around both faith and social issues public, so that people can make informed, educated decisions about what they want to be involved in before they invest time, money and energy. 

I am ashamed to say that I supported an organization for so long that kept its opinions under wraps until a problem arose. 

In an ideal world, I would be accepted anywhere, but I know that isn’t realistic. Organizations have values they deserve to express, just as I express mine. 

So, I plead with anyone reading this that is involved in a religious community: ask questions. Do research. Look at your Bible through the lens of a wide range of perspectives. Implore leaders to be open about their values and if you don’t agree, take a stand. This is not a story about one person or one organization, but a reflection of massive injustice. 

Don’t support something that doesn’t support you. Thanks for listening.


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