A Hesitant Alumni’s Reflection on “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” by Brandon Ambrosino in The Atlantic.com

If you haven’t got a chance to read “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” by Brandon Ambrosino in The Atlantic.com, you really should. It’s lengthy but it’s a great story that has a moving conclusion.

Some of you dear readers know that I am a Liberty University graduate. I have always been hesitant about admitting this – it’s not shame, it’s not bitterness, it’s more the frustration of having to explain that I don’t fit the angry fundamentalist caricature that comes with after mentioning your alma-mater. I haven’t even hung up my degrees.

Fortunately I never transferred and by the end I was at peace with it. By then, I had made some great friends, had a few trusted professors, and most incredibly, met the love of my life, Susan. I even stayed an extra year for a Master’s of Arts degree to continue on with some professors I enjoyed.

As you may have heard, Liberty can be a tough environment that can be legalistic, controlling and judgmental- it’s true. As a Religion Major, I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider.  I remember being told “You have a very unBiblical view of end times” (“I do? It’s the same one as the Reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther and some of the early Church Fathers like Origen and Augustine…”). I chuckle at this now but I also remember one of the other Religion majors not allowing me to serve as a small group leader in his dorm because of my “questionable theology.”

In the beginning, I thought these were doctrinal differences, humble opinions, I had no idea that some thought I “bordered on being heretical” and that some were praying that God would change my heart before I entered the pastorate. It should come as no surprise that all of my closer friendships were outside the Religion Department. I know I am not the only one to feel some sense of rejection/”outsiderness” in a conservative evangelical setting but I’m only talking about doctrine – imagine if you were gay at Liberty University.

The truth is Liberty is filled with many wonderful people and as Brandon points out, this is especially true regarding the professors – this might actually have been the secret sauce for a number of us.  Further, I understand that Liberty is a very different place since I first started there in the mid 90’s, especially now in the post-Falwell era. I appreciated Brandon reminding us of the fun and kind side of Jerry as I remember parts of that too. Perhaps my favorite Falwell story was when he allegedly placed whoopi cushions under seat cushions at a board meeting. As the story goes, his board was already frustrated with him and when everyone sat down, well it didn’t help that he couldn’t stop laughing at what he supposedly called, “The personal testimonies from within” – insert Jerry’s hearty laugh here. I’m told Howard Stern was so inspired by this moment that he found his calling but I digress.

It doesn’t surprise me that Brandon found a boyfriend Eddie (who Brandon says is not gay) at Liberty. There were a few Brandon and Eddie’s at Liberty (Btw, am I the only one who couldn’t get Billy Joel’s lyric out of my head – “Brenda and Eddie were still going steady in the summer of ’75?” – maybe I should have kept that to myself) but I’m not sure how much sympathy there would have been for anyone struggling with sexual identity back then.

So enough context, here’s reaction.
I am so grateful that Liberty has been changing. Read the piece but if we are not moved by Dr. Prior’s reaction after this moment, I question our sympathies to our neighbors:

“Homosexuality!” I blurted. “I’ve been struggling with homosex…” and I broke down. Here I was in the English chair’s office at the world’s most homophobic university, and I’d just admitted to her I was gay.

She got up from her chair, and rushed over to me. I braced myself for the lecture I was going to receive, for the insults she would hurl, for the ridicule I would endure. I knew how Christians were, and how they clung to their beliefs about homosexuals and Sodom and Gomorrah, and how disgusted they were by gay people. The tears fell more freely now because I really liked this teacher, and now I ruined our relationship.” “

I love you,” she said. I stopped crying for a second and looked up at her. Here was this conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage woman who taught lectures like “The Biblical Basis for Studying Literature,” and here she was kneeling down on the floor next me, rubbing my back, and going against every stereotype I’d held about Bible-believing, right-leaning, gun-slinging Christians.

Am I the only with a lump in his throat? Wait til you get to the end of the piece with Dr. Borland.
Among my favorite parts is Brandon’s honesty and avoidance of demonizing anyone. By the end, you not only want to embrace Brandon but you want to give a hug to Dr. Borland, Dr. Prior – even the patient Dean gets a high-five (I’m telling you this place has changed – good for LU – I am this much closer to hanging up my degrees in my office). The only person I was truly concerned for was Eddie – hang in there brother.

Among the lessons we can learn from Brandon’s experience is the need and power of friendship. I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A” Some see this as compromise, fine stay entrenched but remember this is the exact position of the Pharisees that we read about in the Gospels. We must also be careful of this however – that we do not pursue friendships for the sake of better publicity or proselytizing – that is exploitative, immoral, and un-Christlike. Let us love in the way of Jesus.

To my fellow evangelical friends who probably think and believe somewhat similar to me on various sets of doctrine and issues – the time for love is always now.
Though there is never a time where we turn off our theology, never a time where we forfeit conviction, there is also never a time where we stop loving. The Gospels are filled with these moments of Jesus loving the other.

It’s at this point where some might question my agenda. That’s fair – mine looks something like this – to strive to live fully surrendered to the will of God, encouraging others to do the same and loving whoever my neighbor is in the process. May God give me grace and strength to live up to these words and may He be with all of us as we love and care for each other.

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