A Posture of Mercy

college-photo_15333Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
– Matthew 9:13 (ESV)

Three years ago, I fell in love. It was Preview Weekend at Westmont College and the air was alive with excitement, with perfect Southern California weather beaming down on a group of hopeful students just dipping our toes into the pond of postsecondary education. I had never felt so welcome before, so at home — so loved. My mind was reeling with the possibility of attending such an amazing place, and as soon as I returned north I sent my application in. I chose to love Westmont, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.

But much has changed since then.

I used to wear rose-colored glasses when it came to my school. Choosing only to see the good, I found it easy to accept the rules and regulations expected of me when I became part of the community. And yet I still vividly remember sitting at my desk, my eyes fixated on a single sentence on my computer screen:

The college does not condone…occult practices, drunkenness, theft, profanity, and dishonesty…sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.
– 2013 Westmont Community Life Statement (bold added for emphasis)

This was before I accepted my sexual orientation, and still I found myself reading that one clause over and over just to make sure I didn’t miss something. I didn’t know what even constituted “homosexual practice,” but it made me nervous. Several conflicted minutes passed before I hesitantly clicked the “agree” button. Deep down, despite my tightly locked closet, I knew that rule was directed towards me.

And perhaps this made sense — a boy who spent his life feeling estranged, unloved, and dissociated from himself ran to a place of security. A place where he could find himself, find joy, find Jesus.

I trusted Westmont because I thought it would be that place. I hungered for the true knowledge and love of Christ, and I fought down my hesitation because I thought Westmont would be the place I finally tasted it. And for a while, it was.

The faculty, student body, and much of the staff were Godsends when I realized I was gay. For the most part, I was met with unbelievable support from these people, and it is because of them that I am alive today. But administration was much less forthright with its message — initially they all said the same thing: that I was most definitely welcome, and it was their pleasure to help every single one of their students succeed. Just obey the rules while you’re here and we’ll be good.

It was a nice feeling to think that they were on my side. I had every intention of abiding by their expectations if it meant that I would still be treated equally, and furthermore, that they would be open to improving the experience of LGBT+ students — without having to compromise anyone’s theological stance.

For the longest time, I kept up my faith in the administration. I honestly believed they were doing their best to love everyone and make Westmont a welcoming (if not affirming) environment for all people. I ignored the fruitlessness of our meetings, the superficial promises for imminent reform, and the unwillingness to accommodate open discussion. I continued with the utmost sincerity that the love of Christ and neighbor would impel our leadership to grow in this area.

I really thought they cared. And after all the faith I invested in them, betrayal stung wickedly as the façade ripped away.

On July 27, the Westmont’s president sent an email asking supporters of the College to oppose Senate Bill 1146 — a pending legislature purposed to ensure transparency among Californian institutions with a Title IX exemption.

Generally, I try to keep my nose out of legal business, so I won’t pretend to understand the full complexity of the law; I encourage you to read it for yourself using the link above. But even a surface understanding of Title IX and SB1146 tells us all we need to know about Westmont’s intentions.

SB1146 is, at its core, a measure to close glaring loopholes in Title IX, which is itself a legislature passed in order to protect the rights of women and LGBT+ individuals. Title IX is the reason I can serve in leadership positions as a gay man. Title IX is the reason my scholarships can’t be revoked for my coming out. Title IX is the reason I can’t be expelled for identifying as LGBT+.

Without debating whether SB1146 would indeed be bad for Westmont, the fact that the aforementioned email makes exactly zero reference to any of that is telling. It takes an enormous effort to go out of one’s way to neglect such a significant portion of the bill, and I seriously doubt a brilliant man like our president would commit such an egregious error of omission by accident. Regardless of how it’s worded, Westmont is seeking grounds to strip me of my leadership positions, revoke my scholarships, and expel me without legal consequence.

I used to think that everyone was on the same team, so to speak. I despise “us vs. them” arguments — “othering” constructions that needlessly pit people against each other in a battle for ideological dominance — and I was genuinely convinced that my college wanted the same thing I did: to see people thrive and grow closer to God no matter where they stood. But I’ve since been convinced otherwise — Westmont’s formal opposition to SB1146 can be understood only as a threat to the LGBT+ and female communities. This email communicates one thing to us, loud and clear: “we were never on your side.”

Institutions that refuse to discriminate on the basis of “race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, genetic information, or disability” incur no restrictions from SB1146 — so why would Westmont voice a position against it unless it fully intended on discriminating?

All this is done in the name of “religious beliefs and principles,” but this action can be perceived as anything but consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is written in our own Community Life Statement:

As we seek to follow God in truth, certain choices make for greater peace: a respect for others as they make decisions contrary to ours, a readiness to listen carefully to those who represent situations or cultures unfamiliar to us, and a concern for how our preferences affect the lives of those around us.

As it stands, Westmont is poised to make an exception to that philosophy by proclaiming that it values its ability to discriminate more than its responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves — the second greatest commandment and the fulfillment of the Law.

But I firmly believe it is not too late.

Three years ago I chose to love Westmont College, and today I choose to continue doing so. I fully intend on obeying the rules I signed myself to at the outset, but that does not mean I will sit idly by as my school commits such atrocity against her own children. I implore the entire Westmont community to assume a posture of mercy towards those we disagree with, especially if our actions may lead to the harm of another.

The volatile climate surrounding SB1146 thrives off misinformation and fearmongering, yet I encourage us not to fall into a spirit of fear, but to embrace mercy. Mercy is what we are called to, and though it may not be the easiest path forward, it is the only option we have if we ever hope to achieve understanding in the Spirit of Christ.

But until Westmont’s leadership can confront the reality of its mistakes, the inevitable consequence of such is the destruction of many beautiful lives, holy and precious to God. Every year a new generation of LGBT+ students gets to call themselves Westmont Warriors, and every year they will be devalued, dehumanized, and have their spirits crushed by the very people they trusted with their hearts. Whether or not it is our leaders’ intention to do such harm, the blood they incur is the responsibility of our entire community.

Taking a theological position against homosexual activity is a far cry from actively opposing the authentic existence of LGBT+ people on Westmont’s campus, and it is well within our grasp to step back from the latter. We can move forward towards an inclusive environment while maintaining a conservative sexual ethic — it has been done before.

The first step is to stop viewing LGBT+ students as an issue to be defeated. Begin listening to our stories as fellow children of God. But until our leaders can bring themselves to do so in a spirit of love and grace, our souls will weep:

Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.
Christe eleison. Christ, have mercy.
Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

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One thought on “A Posture of Mercy

  1. Pingback: Think Curiouser

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