OPEN LETTER TO Bob Jones University’s LGBTQ+ STUDENTS ON THE OCCASION OF THE CONFERENCE ON GENDER AND SEXUALITY

You are not alone.

Yes, I’m talking to you. Hiding in your dorm. Lurking over at Starbucks. I see you in all your beautiful gayness, queerness, transness, or whateverness that makes you the wonderful person you are. I know you’re wondering if you can be gay and still love Jesus. You can. A great cloud of believing gay witnesses cheers you on, especially next week as you walk around the Bob Jones University campus during the “Sex, Gender and the Church” conference, wondering whether your L or G or B or T or Q or I is obvious to everyone and whether you’ll fall apart at the seams if you have to go through much more of this.

You are not alone this week when the arrows of Scripture and Culture have been sharpened and aimed at you. You’re right. You’re standing there, and they are aiming, but you are not alone. We are here. We stand with you.

We want you to know that when you were formed in your mother’s womb, you were gay. You have always been gay or bi or trans or a- or whatever you are that makes you you, try as you might to change your orientation to straight or your gender identity to your assigned birth gender. You may have tried over and over to fix yourself. You couldn’t. Not because you’re weak or sinful, but because you aren’t broken. There’s nothing to fix.

As a Fundamentalist, you might not be aware that there are helpful books by LGBT Christians that will help you in your growth toward wholeness and authenticity. When you are safe and have time, read this book and this book and this book by Christians about gayness. Read and realize that you’re not the first person to walk this path. Others have come before you. You are not alone.

The truth is there are a lot of gay people in the BJU world. Students, faculty, staff, alumni. It’s no secret, for example, that a number of BJU administrators have gay children. Tweak the settings on your gaydar and look around. You’re not stupid. You’re not blind. And you’re not alone.

But wait, you say, those people my gaydar has homed in on aren’t Actually Gay. They are “struggling” with same-sex attraction. That’s called being gay. If you’re a girl and you are same-sex attracted to other girls, you’re gay. If you’re a boy and you get the hots for your roomie, you’re gay. If you’re also interested in “Opposite Marriage” (otherwise known as “Traditional,” though it’s far from traditional if you get right down to it, historically speaking), you may be bisexual. Bisexuality is a thing, lots of people go there, and you might be one of them.

I wasn’t always an affirming ally. In my time, I’ve done a lot of “Gay People Are Rebelling Against God” and “You’re Not Really Gay, You’re Just Trying to Hurt Your Parents” and “Don’t Run Like a Girl,” and even, “You Can’t be Gay and Saved,” but the time came when I could no longer simply repeat what I’d been taught in Fundamentalism. I was a grown adult, a mother, a teacher, a lawyer, and I simply had to educate myself. I had to learn. I had to reach out to people who had walked this path. I found gay Christians and gay former Christians who were gracious enough to share their stories with me. I discovered BJUnity. I listened. I learned. I changed my mind. People in your life may eventually change too. Hope and pray for that while moving forward with your life.

It’s particularly hard now, because you’re a student or an employee of BJU, but the day may come when you realize that the people teaching you are, by and large, academically incestuous (BJU grads taught by BJU grads taught by BJU grads), and the people running the place are scraping the bottom of the ultraconservative barrel to find enough paying students to keep the lights on. Most Fundy colleges have closed up shop, and BJU’s enrollment has been in steady decline for many years. Conferences like the one you’re suffering through now, are efforts to market the school to whatever demographic is left that might think, “You’re right, I need to keep my kids away from gay people for four more years.” The problem this demographic faces is that today’s young people have opened their hearts to their gay friends, and because of this I’m confident you are among the very last gay people who need to hide their authentic selves. People are coming around.

Which is not to say that BJU as an entity will ever become affirming or even tolerant of gay people. Because of this, never EVER out yourself at BJU to anyone, but if you do, possibly because someone guilts you into “honesty” or “openness” or “accountability,” let it be a trusted friend, not ever a member of the Administration, who, although their own children, or their friend’s children are gay, will out you to your family, your home church, and then, in “love” and “Christian charity” expel you.

They’ll ship you, possibly days before final exams, possibly without any warning, leaving you with no credits, but all your student loan debt. On your way off campus, they’ll make sure you hear them when they call your orientation sin and abomination and corruption and perversion, but you are not broken. You are fine. You are who you are, and that is okay. Things are going to get better. You will not long be in an atmosphere that stifles your expression, others your identity and condemns your biology. You’re going to make decisions that are in your own best interest as a functioning adult in American society. BJU is a byway on your journey to adulthood and independence. It is not your destination. It is not your life’s template for godliness.

Don’t put yourself in a situation that leaves you without food- or housing-security. Living in the dorm and eating in the Dining Common are probably better than being outed to your family, shunned by your church, and crashing at a shelter. Closets are small and dark, but they can also be cozy and safe. It’s not wrong to be closeted. You don’t OWE other gay people your story or your honesty right now. Later you can go there. Later you can be loud and proud and no one will hurt you. (By the way, sit for a moment and ask yourself why you are at a college that frightens you into obedience with threats of expulsion. Just sit there. Just ask that.)

When someone at school asks you “Are you gay?” or “Do you struggle with same-sex attraction,” feel free to say, “Gurl, no way!” or “Of course not, Mr. Jones. Why do you ask?” It isn’t lying if you’re hiding Jews in the attic, and you, my friend, are fine and fabulous if you need to hide yourself in order to be safe.

Remember, these are people who will expel you from grown-up college if they think you are gay. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never even held hands with someone of the same gender. It doesn’t matter if you tell them, “Yes, I’m gay, but I’m committed to living a life of celibate abstinence for the glory of Jesus.” They will expel you for being gay. They will expel you for being gay. They will expel you for being gay. Am I clear?

Let them say otherwise. Let them say, “As long as our gay students follow the same rules our straight students follow—not to engage in pre-marital sexual contact—they are welcome here.”

They aren’t going to say that, are they? No, probably not. But be aware that the people who are making your life so difficult right now are not important people. If you’re a legacy student, you may have grown up hearing their names. You may have come to think they are Somebodies. But they aren’t. They are nobodies, just like the rest of us. They are employees at a small (and getting smaller by the year) increasingly irrelevant school you happened to stumble into for whatever reason. You can leave at any time. Get a job, get an apartment, and go to Greenville Tech. Or just go home. No one can keep you at BJU against your will. The people telling you to stay and to have sexual feelings you don’t have (but heavens! don’t act on those feelings!) are underpaid, overworked teachers and administrators who somehow acquired the entitled notion that it’s their right and duty to tell you that God can’t love you or save you if you finally—after years of praying and anguishing about it, and maybe even submitting to barbaric “treatments”—give in and say, “That’s it. I’m gay. I am so very very gay.” On the other hand (see above), don’t leave if it would put you in a position of being without food- or housing-security. Right now, that’s probably more important to you. Don’t put yourself in danger.

Until you can leave (when you graduate or sooner), know that you are not alone. BJUnity (see below for our contact info and mission statement) is here in compassion and outreach. We can help with counseling. We can put you in touch with those who have gone before you who now live authentically, joyfully as Christians (or not) in the big wide beautiful world. Your communication with us will be private, confidential. Unlike Jim Berg, who “wasn’t aware” that he should keep sexual abuse survivors’ information private, we are careful to do so. Your time at BJU is short. A few years at the longest. Be safe. Be closeted. Until you are ready. And then, my friend, BE YOU.

(And here’s a note to those of you who are reading this who aren’t gay, and who are struggling with whether you should affirm your gay kid: Affirm them. Love them. Reach out to BJUnity–read the testimonies there. Consider. Think. Jesus is not going to send you to hell for reading. The ground will not open up under you for taking a long, considered look at the books mentioned above. Take a breath. Open your heart.)

If you need us, we’re here.

Web site: BJUnity.org
Email: unity@bjunity.org
Phone: (864) 735-7598
Mailing Address: 4768 Broadway, No. 911 · New York, NY · 10034

BJUnity provides a safe harbor—a network of people and resources—for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and straight affirming people affected by fundamentalist Christianity.

BJUnity affirms and empowers lgbt+ people from Bob Jones University and other Independent Fundamental Baptist organizations.

BJUnity confronts homophobia and transphobia in compassion, dignity and love, with the objective to promote dialogue and change.

12 thoughts on “OPEN LETTER TO Bob Jones University’s LGBTQ+ STUDENTS ON THE OCCASION OF THE CONFERENCE ON GENDER AND SEXUALITY

  1. As a current gay student at BJU (embracing a gay lifestyle), I have to disagree. In the midst of great homophobia among the faculty, parts of this article are not true nor fair. I personally have been out to a couple of my professors (in entirety—not just celibate). They have shown me great compassion and love even as they disagree with me—which is exactly as it should be: love beyond disagreement. They pushed me to examine the Bible more, to push towards Christ, and to follow God, however that looks in my life, recognizing ultimately only God can judge us. That said, these professors are very rare at this institution, but they do exist. Other faculty and staff know me as a “celibate Christian” and they too have told me from the start they have no interest in having a red telephone to Petit. Rather they want to show love and understanding. That said, to my fellow LGBT students, just because I’ve found trusted faculty, doesn’t mean they’re all to be trusted (so be careful), but I wanted to offer this small defense based on my own personal experience.

    1. Please be careful out there. Now that you’ve put this comment here, it is likely powers-that-be will want to find out who you are and who your trusted faculty members are. Of course Admin is reading this.

  2. Is honesty considered to be dispensable in cases such as this? Since students sign a statement agreeing to adhere to the handbook, would it not be better to simply withdraw, attend a secular college, and retain personal integrity?

    1. Dear Allyce,

      When and how to come out as LGBT are difficult decisions for many people, especially those brought up in Fundamentalism. Indeed, in life, it happens that we often do not spill all our truth the moment we discover it. A gay person does not relinquish his or her personal integrity by living under the radar.

  3. When I was at student in the late 90s, I had a friend who was gay. She was found out and was forced to go through with intensive counseling. I knew she was gay, but I didn’t care. I had a roommate who was accused of kissing another girl in a closet by another girl and was interrogated. It went on for weeks, and it was horrible. She and the other girl were on cleaning crew at night and were giggling and had gone into the supply closet to restock it. The way she was treated was horrible.
    I didn’t talk to my friend a lot about her lifestyle. I did tell her not to be forthcoming with dorm leadership any struggles she was having. I couldn’t really be her accountability person because I was dating the son of faculty members. I had a big red target on my back, and I didn’t want to put her in danger because I was known to be a bit of a maverick. I was never an apc because I had health problems.

    Miss Baker actually put me in rooms where the apc would need help. I agreed with that and was happy to be able to help students who were struggling.

    My friend took the situation she was in and the ‘counseling’ she received with grace and a positive attitude. She’s living an awesome life now and found love. She survived.

    The same people who ‘counseled’ her condemned me for breaking light bell curfew for holding my crying roommate who’s mother was dying of cancer. I told the hall leader to give me the demerit. I just told her that when my roommate was crying herself to sleep at night, I would continue to break the curfew by getting out of bed. I was drug before the dorm supervisor who told me I was wrong, and the hall leader should be called to “comfort” the girl.

    I politely argued that Jesus would get out of bed to comfort a person. They said I was wrong!?!!? Really? Our apc was horrible. She was mean to the girl. The girl’s parents were staff, and the father was overwhelmed and thought that the girl would do better in the dorm. The worst was the apc was going to be a teacher. I wish I had reported her behavior to the ed faculty. The things she said about her students were horrible. I just didn’t want her to take her frustrations out on our roommate. Poor girl spent most of her time in the library or in her car to stay away from the apc. The dorm leadership knew what was going on and did nothing. I was very sick and couldn’t do much as I was struggling with my own classwork and had big senior projects.

    Miss Baker was told of it and told the dorm sup and hall leader they were absolutely batshit crazy. I didn’t receive any demerits. The girl went home the next semester. Miss Baker did an excellent job in a very difficult position. She never asked me to rat on any student. I wasn’t liked by other leadership, but I couldn’t care less.

    If students find caring faculty that they can trust, I’m thrilled. But I caution that they be extremely discerning over what they share. There’s also the rumor mill. That’s the worst part of BJU, because these gossipers are often rewarded for turning in other students. Be careful.

    1. I’m so sorry you went through this, though sadly, it sounds about right. And yes, I too am concerned for anyone who opens up to a current staff or faculty member about personal truths. You think you are speaking in confidence, but very possibly that person will come “under conviction” and will turn you in.

  4. I have sat through sermons of contempt and hate towards LGBTQ people while at BJU as a closeted lesbian. I felt like I was on fire, as if everyone was pointing at me seeing my hidden secrets. I felt alone as I sat in an audience of thousands. I felt empty, shamed, broken. A letter as this one would have been as welcome as a drop of water in the desert. This is the love of God in action.

  5. I’m a current bju gay student choosing to live a celibate life. I know about half a dozen like me. I have heard a lot of homophobia at bju. But the university isn’t what it once was… In a lot of respects. But it needs to be given a chance. Not everyone can be trusted, but if you’re repentant, there are faculty you can trust and who want to point you to Jesus. Just caution is needed.

    1. Dear Current BJU Student,

      The University has not changed in any respect regarding LGBT issues. I hope you did not use any campus server to access this page. They track your web use. They are reading these comments. You are not safe there. Your six friends are not safe–please be careful. Do not confide in anyone on campus. As I mention in my piece above, if they have changed, Let Them Say So. The “caution” you mention that is needed is the caution of not speaking out about being gay if you hope to remain a student at BJU.

  6. I struggled with my identity at BJ. I knew I was gay but I didn’t tell anyone. There’s so much at stake. Some people suggest that you just leave and go to another college that embraces but they don’t realize that means abandonment – being abandoned by friends and family. There’s no going back. So, you quietly suck it up and keep your mouth shut. You live with self-hatred. You believe that the PRACTICE of homosexuality is a sin and if you just stuff it deep down inside of you, you’ll be okay. Then you end up in your mid 40s, still closeted, living the life that you think everyone wants you to live. Then they probe you and ask you why you’re still single. You can’t win. It’s a losing battle. I know.

    I remember reaching out to pastoral staff after I graduated and thought I was safe. Any sooner and I was afraid they wouldn’t give me my degree. The counseling pastor at the church told me that I was no different than a pedophile if that pedophile learned to squelch his lust for children and focus on Jesus. I mean, I thought I was bad already, but now I was compared to someone who molests children?! Was I THAT evil? Apparently, if I just decided to suppress a HUGE part of my identity (I might as well stop having brown hair or playing the piano), didn’t partake in the natural process of having sex, and read the Bible more, I would be okay. I would be happier and Jesus would be happier. Lies. LIES! I can tell you from experience that everything you are about to hear will make you feel worse about yourself. Shame on a university for indoctrinating rather than having honest discussion with those who differently interpret passages dealing with homosexuality. Solid biblical scholars disagree. You won’t hear that in the upcoming session. You’ll hear how awful you are. It will be couched in terms like, “If you ACT on it, you’ll be sinning. But we still love you. But there will be consequences.” What that in fact means is, “we’ve gotten better at rhetoric. Jesus and we think you’re gross. You’re a fairy. It’s a shame there’s no way to fix you. But I’ll offer you hope so that you will at least keep chasing the carrot. I mean, the worst that will happen is you’ll stay single, unmarried, and you won’t procreate. Yay! Win for us!”

Comments are closed.