WHEATON, Ill. – A prominent evangelical college is defending its decision to allow the formation of homosexual student group on campus.
Wheaton College is a private evangelical school located near Chicago. Established in 1860, the school enrolls approximately 3,000 students and operates under the motto “For Christ and His Kingdom.”
Due to the college’s Christian heritage, Wheaton’s Student Handbook requires all students to “abstain from … same-sex sexual behavior,” and the school’s Community Covenant condemns “homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman.” However, two groups of Wheaton-affiliated students and alumni have recently presented challenges to these policies.
OneWheaton encourages students to embrace their homosexuality
The first group, “OneWheaton,” seeks to “affirm LGBTQ individuals and the relationships that are a natural expression of their identity,” according to the group’s website. Members of OneWheaton maintain that same-sex sexual attraction is to be celebrated. In a letter distributed across the Wheaton campus in 2011, the organization encouraged students with same-sex attractions to emerge “from the closet” and embrace their homosexuality.
“We do not believe there is anything wrong with being gay,” the group said in a media release.
In response to OneWheaton’s 2011 letter, Wheaton President Philip Ryken released a statement that reaffirmed the school’s position on sexuality. In the statement, Ryken also acknowledged that “the needs of LGBTQ individuals present a particular challenge for institutions like Wheaton.” The group has not requested official campus recognition from Wheaton administrators.
Refuge offers community for homosexual students
The second group, “Refuge,” was formed to provide “a biblically faithful community” for students who believe they are homosexual, according to documentation from Wheaton. Unlike OneWheaton, Refuge was approved by Wheaton administration in 2013, thus becoming a first of its kind official student group on campus.
Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones said the formation of Refuge demonstrated that the school had “evolved” on the issue of homosexuality.
“The [Wheaton] Community Covenant does not condemn homosexuality; it condemns homosexual conduct as one example of sexual immorality,” Jones said, according to a report from The Wheaton Record. “So that’s one of the fundamental ways that we have to in a sense ‘clean up our language’ and try to be rigorous in the way that we think.”
Refuge’s homosexual founder
Refuge was founded by Justin Massey, an openly homosexual political science student who, according to reports, desired to also lay the groundwork for a “gay-straight alliance club” at Wheaton. Massey describes himself as a “gay Christian” and says his sexual identity is not only compatible with his faith, but “absolutely critical.”
“Regardless of our theology or political party,” Massey wrote in a column earlier this year, “let us praise God for His work and bring forward a new era of evangelicalism which embraces LGBT people as beloved children of God—worthy of inclusion and love.”
In mid-2014, about a year after Massey formed the group, Wheaton administrators reorganized Refuge from a student-led organization to a staff-led community club. Massey later told reporters that he was “absolutely angry” by the school’s decision to assume leadership of the group. Even though he was removed from his position of leadership, Massey graduated in Wheaton’s commencement ceremonies earlier this month.
Wheaton employs celibate lesbian to lead Refuge
Soon after Wheaton assumed leadership of Refuge last year, the Wheaton Chaplain’s Office hired Julie Rodgers, a “celibate gay Christian,” to lead the group as student counselor. Rodgers believes God uses her homosexuality to glorify Him.
“As God has redeemed and transformed me, he’s tapped into those gay parts of me that now overflow into compassion for marginalized people and empathy for social outcasts—he’s used my gay way of being for His glory rather than making me straight,” Rodgers asserted on her personal blog last year.
On Twitter, Rodgers follows both Massey and OneWheaton. She also follows Vicky Beeching, who came out as a lesbian last year, and the Human Rights Campaign—a homosexual activist organization whose co-founder was recently jailed for sex abuse charges.
Wheaton clarifies school policies
Christian News Network contacted Wheaton to seek clarification on the school’s policy toward homosexuality. Dr. Paul Chelsen, Vice President for Student Development at Wheaton, told Christian News Network that Refuge was originally intended to be “a supportive community that holds to the biblical perspective on sexuality outlined in our Community Covenant.”
“At the end of spring semester of 2014, Refuge was reorganized from a student leadership structure to a staff leadership structure, in order to better serve the students involved,” Chelsen said. “Leadership transitions took place at that time. In contrast to student-led student clubs, Refuge is a community group under the leadership and oversight of the chaplain’s office.”
Chelsen told Christian News Network that Wheaton administrators “see no conflict” between the school’s Christian values and the homosexual community group.
“We see no conflict between our institutional standards and our attempts to support, whether individually or in groups, same-sex attracted individuals who concur with our biblically-grounded standards,” he stated.
President Ryken has spoken favorably of Rodger’s leadership of Refuge.
“The clear effect of Julie’s ministry has been to draw students in the direction of biblical faithfulness, including areas of sexuality,” he told WORLD.
However, while Ryken noted that “[t]he college does not have a position regarding the language that same-sex attracted Christians should use to describe their experience,” he said that students and faculty must “be clear that they do not advocate homosexual practice or find their identity in their sexuality.”
“Same-sex orientation is not good in and of itself, but is part of the brokenness of a fallen world,” he said.
In 2014, approximately 100 students protested outside as Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian turned pastor’s wife, shared her testimony during a Wheaton Chapel service.