Friday, April 21, 2006

News from Wheaton

The Chicago Tribune today published Healing message for gays: Bus tour stirs debate at Wheaton College by Trib staff reporter Meg McSherry Breslin. Here is an excerpt from the article:
In the spirit of "freedom riders" who boarded buses to protest segregation during the 1960s civil rights movement, Reitan gathered predominantly gay and lesbian Christians to visit students on Christian campuses. The 33 activists, current college students or recent graduates, began the bus ride in March and will conclude the tour by month's end.... Knowing that the riders were coming to campus with or without their blessing, Wheaton officials decided to welcome them, said Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones.

Throughout the day Thursday, riders shared their own stories and led small group discussions outside a student cafeteria with students talking about Bible passages and the reasons behind their long-held Christian beliefs. Although many Wheaton students said they felt homosexuality was immoral, they welcomed the Equality Riders visit. Some said they knew of homosexual classmates struggling over their sexual identity....

The college's decision to allow dialogue surprised and pleased Wheaton alumnus Jay Johnson, who joined the riders on the Wheaton campus in support of their efforts. Johnson, who graduated from Wheaton in 1983, said he had to enter counseling as a condition of his continued enrollment after a roommate outed him as a homosexual. The counseling--aimed at getting him to deny his homosexuality--did damage that took years to overcome, Johnson said.

"It reinforces this notion that there's something wrong with you, and it further reinforces the fear and isolation you feel," said Johnson, now an ordained Episcopal priest and the director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.
Last year, I had the opportunity to reunite with one of my old Wheaton College roommates who shared with me his own experience of the counseling that Jay Johnson describes above. My former roommate wasn't my only college friend in ex-gay counseling at Wheaton: he confirmed several other participants, one of whose heterosexual wedding occurred two years ago (I know, because I was the wedding soloist!) Neither of my two friends escaped this experience unscarred; one fights bitterness toward his oppressive fundamentalist past, while the other embraces the fundamentalist expectations of wife and children (even though he is undeniably homosexual).

My experience at Wheaton was quite different; I have nothing but positive memories associated with my undergrad in the Wheaton College Conservatory. Of course, I wasn't dealing with the overwhelming emotions of coming out. In hindsight, my self-imposed Closet served to insulate me from institution-enforced counseling/brainwashing.

I'm heartened to read that Wheaton has engaged in conversation with the Equality Riders (rather than arresting them, which occurred at Liberty and Brigham Young Universities) -- maybe there's change in air at Wheaton College.

1 comment:

Alexa Doebele said...

Glad to hear that things turned out well at Wheaton, all things considered. I think this speaks highly of your alma mater, that they were willing to engage in dialog despite their disagreement with the Freedom Ride position, rather than have them arrested or pretend that they weren't really there and that this isn't an issue. And thanks for including the accounts of your college friends - interesting to see two entirely different results from anti-gay "counseling." For the record, I love you just the way you are! :-)