Squaring the LGBTQ Circle

I thought I understood it, but this story has me stumped. I’ve wrestled with the complicated history of LGBTQ issues at evangelical universities, but I just don’t understand recent news out of evangelical flagship Fuller Seminary.

Fuller entranceHere’s what we know: The storied seminary is facing a lawsuit from a former student who was kicked out for being married to another woman. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I personally support greater LGBTQ rights at all institutions, civil and religious. But I also sympathize with the position of conservative religious schools for whom this issue poses an authentic moral conundrum.

In the twentieth century, evangelical universities had a shameful history of dealing with LGBTQ students, but so did non-evangelical ones. As historians Maggie Nash and Jennifer A.R. Silverman have argued, all sorts of universities conducted vicious purges of non-heterosexual students in the middle of the twentieth century.

In this century, many evangelical institutions have come to an uneasy and awkward position on LGBTQ rights. At many universities, for example, LGBTQ identity is welcomed, but LGBTQ “practice” is not. To my mind, this is not a very sustainable position. It feels like a temporary holding plan until institutions decide whether to support LGBTQ rights or to oppose them.

I don’t support that compromise, but at least I understand it. What I don’t understand is the position taken by Fuller Seminary. According to the LA Times,

Though the college does allow same-sex relationships, it does not allow “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” and has made clear that it believes sexual intimacy is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman….

What is the distinction here? Did the reporter maybe just muddle the explanation of Fuller’s true position? Or maybe does Fuller allow students and faculty to be engaged in non-sexual same-sex relationships? That would explain the distinction between “same-sex relationships” and “homosexual sexual conduct.” In effect, that would be just another, more complicated way of stating the distinction between identity and practice made by several universities.

But even if that’s the explanation, it doesn’t seem to make sense in this case. How would Fuller know that the expelled student was engaged in “explicit sexual conduct” with her wife? According to the article, the student was expelled when her same-sex marriage was discovered by Fuller’s administrators. As everyone knows, however, there have been plenty of celibate marriages. That leads me to wonder if there is some other distinction being made in this case. Perhaps the problem comes from the student’s marriage. Maybe by Fuller’s definition, a “marriage” automatically implies “sexual conduct.” . . . ?

I’m honestly stumped. Can anyone explain it?

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5 Comments

  1. I would say a marriage definitely implies sexual conduct, even if there have been marriages that were exceptions to the rule.

    Reply
    • This explanation is the only thing that helps me makes sense of Fuller’s position. If the school allows “same-sex relationships” but not same-sex sex, they would have to assume that a marriage implies sexual conduct in order to kick out this particular student. To my non-evangelical ears, though, the contorted position of embracing same-sex “identity” but denouncing same-sex “practice” seems like just as awkward (even if it is sincere) a pretense as allowing same-sex “relationships” but banning same-sex “marriages.”

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  December 4, 2019

        I agree with you. If a relationship does not now involve sex and is not ever expected to involve sex, then it’s not a “same-sex relationship” in any meaningful sense. It’s just a friendship. So in reality they’re not allowing same-sex relationships, but say that they are to avoid being called bigots. They’re tying themselves in knots trying to please both sides.

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