GASP Meeting 7.9 Report: 2/18/15

Wow! I counted 47 GASPers at last night’s meeting, not all in the room at the same time, in part because we were literally at full capacity and for a brief moment had someone sitting on the floor. Thanks to everyone for being part of this remarkable, courageous and loving community – what you have created here never ceases to amaze. As is often the case, the meeting was marked by wild highs and intense pain. We heard about each others obsessions of the week – in some cases a little more than we might have wanted to know. We also learned the outcome of an important coming out story one in our family had told us was imminent a few weeks ago, and went better than could have been hoped for, ending literally in a dance! We also got to share in a celebration of what I believe was a GASP first: a marriage engagement! This was especially poignant, as GASP began in the September of 2008, just as the campaign over California’s Proposition 8 was heating up. Many of our meetings that first quarter were spent discussing marriage equality (then it seemed like such a daring and dangerous idea). And at the first meeting after election day, while many of us were celebrating the landmark results of the presidential election, we were also angry and despairing that so many of the people that voted for Obama in the state also voted against marriage equality. So it is with special joy that we celebrate the planned marriage of two of our own gay students. Then one of our leaders showed us a spoken poem about one trans man’s heartbreaking experience, and led us through a discussion of the current epidemic of murders of trans people, and violence against trans people in general. We are lucky enough to have two amazing parents of one amazing trans woman in our GASP community, and they shared with us some of their experiences. But that also served to underline how bad things are for so many trans women and men who do not have that kind of support and resource. We are aware that even at PUC and even in GASP, there may right now be trans students who are still not comfortable coming out, and are living alone and in pain. Our prayer is that anyone in that situation will find by observing us that they have a loving and supportive community right here. On the GASP FB page anyone can find a map to safe, gender neutral restrooms on campus, and the college has been willing to gender students appropriately as they identify in official documents and on-campus designations. Anyone needing help in finding safe residential accommodations or changing gender designations, please contact faculty sponsors Aubyn Fulton or Leticia Rosado Russell, or any of our student leaders.

We will assemble again in the flesh in two weeks for our next GASP meeting on March 4, which will be the second to last week of Winter quarter, and our last meeting of the quarter.

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GASP Meeting 7.8 Report: 2/4/15

Twenty-seven gathered in DH 105, giving tangible body once again to the very special, supportive, beloved community that is GASP. It was especially great to have several first time attendees, who we hope will come back often, even if they learned just a little too much about some of our Netflix secrets. We also got to again bear witness to one of those most special of all GASP events, when a student introduces themselves as a member of the LGBTQ community, and then pauses for a magical moment before quietly adding: “that’s the first time I’ve said that out loud”. GASP was started seven and a half years ago by a PUC student who wanted to create a community to support and witness just those kinds of moments. Later we watched a video from a high school student forced to leave his Christian school because he had come out on the Youtube. He actually had been told he could stay in school if he erased all signs of himself in the electronic media as a gay man (he chose to leave). It was a heartbreaking reminder that even with all the advances, the Christian love and acceptance we find in GASP is still the exception rather than the rule in so much of the larger Christian world. We were reminded of this too by a report from one GASPer of a loved one who is on the verge of losing her job because of her sexual identity. We still have a lot of work to do.

See everyone again in two weeks (February 19)!

GASP Meeting 7.7 Report: 1/7/15

We had 27 GASPers for our first meeting of both 2015 and the Winter Quarter. It was so great to see everybody back from the break. Our leader Nathan asked for reports on how the time spent with family at home went, and then as we listened the complexity and range of challenges that LGBTQ students are still having was driven powerfully home. Some of the stories were very good – some GASPers came out to family members for the first time and were greeted with love and if not full then maybe the beginning of acceptance. Some of the stories were not quite good, but at least represented improvement. Some of the stories were sad and quite painful, as the family members of some GASPers were still not able to find a way hear and respect and love them as they are, and to support them on their journey as they figure themselves out. There was laughter, and there were tears.

We also talked about Leelah Alcorn’s tragic death over the break, and the importance of holding each other tight, and calling out the continued ignorance and hatred that surrounds these issues, particularly for trans men and women. We closed with a report on “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan” by a friend of GASP who has been doing relief work in Afghanistan (you can learn more about this from this PBS site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/dancingboys/). Thanks to all who were able to spend the time together, and to the many who were with us in spirit. You guys have created a remarkable and wondrous community community of support and renewal.

Our next meeting will be on January 21. Also, as we discussed at our last meeting, we are planning on a special meeting on January 28, portions of which will be videotaped for a documentary produced by PUC film students on some of our LGBTQ students. Since GASP is such an important part of their experience at PUC, the filmmakers realized it would be important to include GASP in their story. Nobody will be shown in the film unless they give the makers their explicit, written consent, so you will be able to attend this meeting even if you do not want to be recorded or identified. But we also wanted to arrange this so that people who did not want to have to worry at all about cameras could still get their regular GASP fix, we will have our normal, unrecorded GASP meetings every other week (January 21 and February 4) in addition to this special GASP meeting on January 28.

GASP Meeting 7.6 Report: 12/3/14

Such a great meeting tonight! Thanks to A for slipping into the leader’s chair to give Nathan a break – she did a fabulous job! Thirty-four GASPers began with a really thoughtful and productive discussion of the issues related to a proposed project to videotape some of our meetings for a student documentary on four GASPers. It was great to hear so many cogent reasons for taping meetings, and also reasons not to, and to see the feelings and concerns on both sides getting so much respect. GASP is a huge part of the lives of the four being profiled, and it would be so helpful to potential students to find out about GASP – but anytime something is recorded it is also changed in a Heisenbergian way, and there are worries GASP would not be as safe as it needs to be if it were being recorded. We left it somewhat open, but the group seemed to be leaning towards scheduling an extra meeting early in Winter Quarter which would be recorded – which would allow those uncomfortable with recording to avoid it, without missing out on a regular GASP meeting.

We also had another profoundly important discussion about the ongoing threats to young queer students in Adventist Academies, who must go through the process of coming out to self and others in a hostile environment, and with little or no support or affirmation. This discussion also included the challenges faced by PUC students who are contemplating coming out to family over the Christmas break. The primary founding mission of GASP was to make sure LGBTQ students did not feel alone and unloved at PUC, and it was deeply moving to see the community supporting and loving and just being with each other tonight, though some pretty tough stuff. Needless to say, we will be keeping each other in our thoughts and prayers over the Christmas break. Thanks to our Nursing friends for the fantastic cookies!

A few young GASP delinquents kept my up late after the meeting exposing me to the profound mysteries and practitioners of popular culture and high art. While we could not agree on Kanye vs Jay-Z, or Kim vs Beyonce, we did seem to agree that Chapelle is a true genius.

Stay safe, friends, until we meet again in the new year – next meeting January 7.

GASP Meeting 7.6: December 3 @ 8:00 pm in DH 105

We will be meeting for the sixth meeting of our seventh year this Wednesday evening, December 3 at 8:00 pm in Davidian Hall 105. All of those interested in supportive conversations about the issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students at Pacific Union College are welcome to join us.

The meeting before Finals typically focuses on providing some stress relief.

You can RSVP at our Facebook Event Site:
https://www.facebook.com/events/672182836233874/

The Bible Has Nothing To Say About Homosexuality…

“How can you support homosexual relationships given everything in the Bible that condemns them”?

I get some variation of this question a lot (someone just emailed it to me earlier this week), though I am sure not as often as LGBTQ students do. It is not a particularly difficult question for me to answer, but I have come to realize it is the wrong question to ask.

Psychologists long ago recognized that the question “What causes homosexuality?” is biased. The way we frame a question goes a long way towards determining the kinds of answers we might find, and that question is based on the presumption that there is something wrong with homosexuality that particularly needs explanation. Today psychologists are more likely to ask something like “What are the causes of sexual orientation?”

There is a similar loaded bias in questions that presume that homosexuality is condemned as sin in the Bible, and I have started to refuse to respond to those kinds of questions. Instead I re-frame them something like this: “It sounds like you are wondering what the Bible has to say about homosexual relationships – I am interested in that too, and would be happy to explore it with you”. I might also say something like “It sounds like you have decided that the Bible condemns homosexuality – that is interesting; I am very interested in understanding better why you came to that conclusion”.

There was a conference recently at that National City Christian Church in Washington for a meeting of Mathew Vines The Reformation Project that was based on the view that “there is a path to both affirming the full authority of the Bible and affirming same-sex relationships.” (see: http://www.voanews.com/content/gay-evangelicals-argue-bible-does-not-condemn-homosexuality/2528829.html). I have my own views on this subject, as does the the Seventh Day Adventist Church (see: http://www.adventist.org/information/official-statements/statements/article/go/0/homosexuality/). But here my point is not so much that I know that I am right, or that the Reformation Project is right, or that the  Adventist Church is wrong, but that, from a Biblical perspective, it is simply incorrect to assume a priori that one of these views is the best starting point. I notice it has become fashionable recently for conservative Christians to try to pretend that the Bible’s negative position on homosexuality is clear and obvious, and anyone who disagrees is engaging in fancy spin. That is a con, and Christian LGBTQ and allies have been falling for it for too long.

Of course the title of this piece is not literally true – or more precisely, is only literally true. LGBTQ people are people, and the Bible has plenty to say about people, how to value them, how to treat them properly and respectfully. But the Bible has precisely nothing to say about “homosexuality”; the word does not appear anywhere in the Old or New Testaments, and there is no word for it in either Biblical Hebrew or Greek. Indeed, the word “homosexual” was not coined at all until the 19th century (for that matter, the word “heterosexual: was not coined until the same time). Nowhere does the Bible contain a verse that says that homosexuality or homosexual relationships are sinful. The idea that individuals should or could decide for themselves who they would spend their lives with, or that this decision should or could be based on that individual’s own pattern of desires and attractions, is a very modern one, and almost non-existent in the ancient world in which the Bible was written.

It was not until it became accepted that individuals had the opportunity and right to choose their own life partners that it made any sense to even think in terms of a “heterosexual” or “homosexual” identity or orientation. Before that, most people were paired in marriage with someone other than the person they were most emotionally, intellectually and sexually attracted to. A gay man in the ancient world who married the daughter of some influential man to further a strategic alliance with his own father was essentially in the same predicament as a straight man who married the daughter of a similar man for a similar reason. But once men started assuming they could marry whoever they were most attracted to, it gradually become clear that it was unfair to deny the same right to some men just because they were attracted to men rather than women (as with most things, it took a bit longer to realize that the same dynamics applied to women).

The point of all of this is that we are all in the same boat when it comes to trying to figure out what the Bible has to say about homosexual relationships. The Bible does not directly reference homosexuality, it does not use the words homosexual or contemplate anything like what we mean by homosexual, and it certainly does not label homosexuality a sin. So we all have to draw inferences about what we think the Bible would say about loving, respectful and committed homosexual relationships. So-called conservative Christians who make global and absolutistic claims that homosexuality is a sin are making inferences every bit as much as liberals who claim that loving and committed homosexual relationships are consistent with Biblical sexual ethics. This is the context in which any legitimate conversation about the Bible and homosexuality must take place.

Those who affirm the Christian dignity, joy and legitimacy of loving and committed LGBTQ relationships need not take a defensive or apologetic tone. They do not have to do any special pleading, or accept some kind of second-class status as members of the community of faith only through the special grace and forgiveness of tolerant Christians. Both those who believe LGBTQ relationships are valid, and those who believe they are invalid, start at exactly the same place – without any direct Biblical guidance (just as we have no direct Biblical guidance on the morality of kidney transplants).

Vigorous, prayerful, diligent, honest and collegial study and conversation on these matters is very much in order. Unless one is dogmatically pre-committed to the answer before asking the question, who knows where such conversation would lead? In my experience, such conversations rooted in the Bible and its core principles are always productive and life-enhancing, and I approach them without fear. I do though think we should no longer allow others to force us into pseudo-conversations that have the appearance of being about understanding the Bible, but in reality are attempts to mis-use the Bible as weapon to club those perceived as marginal or non-conforming into submission. I am unsure about a lot of things, but I am pretty sure that is not a legitimate use of the Bible.

The Bible has nothing to say about homosexuality, but it has a lot to say about how to treat marginalized and oppressed people  – and LGBTQ people have long been marginalized and oppressed. In that sense the Bible has a lot to say about homosexuality – how ought we to treat the widow and the orphan, the stranger within our gates? I am confident that if we were to follow that core Biblical guidance, we would be in pretty good shape while we discuss other issues which apparently the Bible considers to be of much lesser importance.

Aubyn Fulton, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Pacific Union College*

*Note: The views expressed here are those of Professor Fulton, and do not reflect the views of, nor were they approved by, Pacific Union College.