In college, most of the time, I sit in a glossy, multi-million dollar library wondering what in the world I’m doing here. In college, most of the time, I nibble on granola bars, hoping my eyes stay open so I can finish reading my homework. In college, most of the time, I judge my bedraggled classmates, wondering what mechanical malfunction destroyed their washing machine and caused them to wear oversized, ketchup-stained sweatpants to class. In college, most of the time, I spend time driving a long commute, and I’m usually worried or angry at the honking drivers behind me.
And then, some of the time, I burst into tears in my Education class and tell them what Jesus thinks about sex.
I’m encouraged that several of my Christian blogger friends have written about redemptive experiences in which they have reached out and shown Christ-like love and acceptance to individuals who embrace various lifestyles and gender identities. I am grateful for these witnesses of grace. I, too, strive to honor Christ as I interact with people of all gender orientation.
However, a Christian’s response to LGBTQ lifestyles (which is to be separated from LGBTQ persons) gets tricky when interacting with prescriptive literature in the secular English classroom. Certainly, I am absolutely convinced that all teachers need to extend love and support to individuals who embrace LGBTQ identities. We also need to use explicit instruction to teach the intolerance of hate crimes.
But as a Christian educator, I cannot teach contemporary young adult literature that promotes sexual expression of any kind amid young adults. Even if sexual expression among teens is commonplace today, I cannot teach literature that celebrates this, promotes this, or treats it as normal. Let me explain.
In my Adolescent Literature course, we’ve been reading contemporary YA novels (of exception literary merit) and discussing how to pair modern YA lit with classics from the literary canon in order to bring relevance to the English classroom and to encourage students to become life-long readers. Last week’s reading was a novel about a young man coming out as gay, and our classroom discussion focused on the way this novel can help students embrace their gender identity and find acceptance for it. In the days before the discussion, I realized that, since my classmates are very vocal, since OSU is extremely liberal, and since Columbus is a very gay-friendly city, I had to think very carefully about this issue before I got to class. This is what I came up with, and delivered, literally shaking in my seat, and crying. (I think, that, if you realized how foreign Godly morality and Biblical living are in the secular college classroom, you might understand my emotional response.) (I would also like to mention that I think sharing one’s faith in the college classroom is one of the most least effective ways to evangelize. I say this because more often than not, these expressions are irrelevant to class discussion and unnecessary to the task at hand. At the same time, we as Christians have to be honest and truthful about what we believe. Since I knew the question of “Would you teach this book?” would come up, I prepared an answer that included my faith. I also felt it necessary and very relevant to classroom discussion because I felt that the future educators and liberal majority of the classroom needed to understand where (some) Christians are coming from. They needed to realize that their perspectives are not the only ones, and they need to think about how they will incorporate conservative Christian voices in their “democratic” [and by that, I mean, people-led, or student-led] classrooms.)
“Um, I’m going to say that: I wouldn’t teach this novel. And what I’m about to say is extremely unpopular, but since we supposedly have “democratic” classrooms, then I figure my voice should be heard. Before I say what I believe about homosexuality, let me say this: I believe that heterosexuals who have sex before they are married are living a sexually perverse lifestyle. Jesus says that those of us who even look at someone lustfully have already, like, had sex with them inside our minds, and that’s wrong. Yes, we’ve talked about desires today, and how natural they are. Yes, I agree that we all have natural sexual desires. Of many kinds. Our sexual desires are natural, and they are real. But I do not believe that we have to act on those desires. One of you said that we shouldn’t talk about changing people’s sexuality because sexuality is something you can’t change. But I disagree. Since everyone is “coming out” these days, I might as well say that I struggled for years with a sexual perversion. But Jesus Christ set me free from that. He changed my life. So I disagree that we cannot change our sexual desires. If teaching this book, or others that we have read, encourages both heterosexual and homosexual sexual acts among teens… if it teaches them to embrace a purely sexual identity, and if it teaches that sexual expression and feelings are unchangeable, then I cannot teach it. To do so would go against my own experience and my God. That being said, I absolutely believe we should teach against hate crimes and sexual slurs, but I think we can do that without using this novel that promotes teen sexual expression.”
If there would have been time and peace of mind, I would have gone on to say this: I am quite unlike the novel’s main character who says, “Being honest about who I am makes me feel like a better person.” For me, being honest about who I am in Jesus Christ (on this issue) actually makes me feel bad, because, again, unlike another character who says “truth never hurt anyone”, I am very concerned how my beliefs could hurt and confuse LGBTQ individuals that society does not accept. I feel bad because I am afraid my views will be lumped with that bunch of people who claim to be Christians but damn themselves with their own hate demonstrations. And I feel bad that my beliefs about sexuality might push people further away from the person of Jesus Christ. And I feel bad that people assume that my beliefs mean that I don’t love gay people. (Or they might assume that God doesn’t love gay people.) But even though I’m afraid of how people might take me, and even though I’m afraid my beliefs might hurt some people initially, I cannot back down. The truth does hurt at first, but lies hurt worse in the end.
I would have also gone on to point out that even though our culture thinks we have total sexual freedom, we don’t. You can’t have sex with kids, close relatives, or people who don’t consent (that’s rape). And, while it’s commonplace to have an affair while married, or to sleep around in college, it’s totally unacceptable to be married to multiple partners. One of the characters in the book says, “You’re free to love whom you choose to love,” but in this country, that’s simply not true. Initially it might seem that our culture has no boundaries when it comes to sexual expression, but our boundaries of what is appropriate are actually clearly defined (save the current homosexuality debate). The difference between this view of broader American culture and my own is that I believe that even our accepted notions of sexual expression are damning.
But I didn’t say these last few things. Anyway, the class immediately supported my statements with: “Don’t feel bad for speaking up! Everybody else is saying what they believe. You gotta live what you believe. You can’t go against your own beliefs.” I find this so interesting, considering many of them totally disagreed with me! In fact, for the entire first half of the class, one classmate had dominated the entire conversation with her own views (which nearly everyone shared, it seemed), and she strongly indicated her intolerance for anybody that would try and disagree with her. When I offered my own viewpoint, she mechanically responded, “Oh, I totally respect that!” And then proceeded to flaunt her disapproval of another student who disapproves of gay marriage; she said his viewpoint “totally offended” her.
This was not the first time that I thought: our relativistic society lives in a flimsy façade of respect. Society has NO CLUE what it truly means, and what it would truly take, to actually respect a different viewpoint. Listening, knowing, understanding, hearing, and respecting are five completely different concepts.
After class, a Catholic classmate thanked me for speaking up and for standing out. I mumbled, “Thank you,” then kicked myself later. Because the glory goes to God. It is not about me. I mean, OBVIOUSLY, I have nothing to prove. I’m a blubbering Christian mess.
I used to think taking that taking a stand for Christ publicly was supposed to be this great spiritual experience, but it’s really ho-hum. It’s really the most natural thing in the world. I think Paul talks about this in Romans. “Those who live according the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires… You… are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you… If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:5, 9-11)
In college, most of the time, I feel like a pretty lousy Christian. But to realize that, slowly, my “natural” behavior is being exchanged from pleasure-seeking pointlessness to Spirit-led sanctification is just one more testament of God’s changing work in my life. Thank you, Jesus.