I went to Baylor University certain of what I believed. My home church taught me a couple of verses in the Bible that express disdain for gay people — enough said, argument over, case closed. I could not imagine a gay person being part of our congregation. I learned a method of reading scripture that allowed any particular verse to trump the primary themes of the Bible. Leviticus’ shaky condemnation of gay men took precedence over Jesus’ message of inclusion.
But as a religion major at Baylor, I had professors who took the Bible seriously. Students were not allowed to use a tiny number of selected verses to protect our prejudices. We had to interpret scripture by the story of Jesus. Denying someone full participation in the church on the basis of their orientation does not take the Bible seriously. My professors led me away from a narrow approach to scripture to a more honest engagement with the Bible. My home church taught me to dismiss science when it challenged our prejudices. The world was created in six days, so evolution was a non-starter. This made it easy to dismiss any thought that sexual orientation had a biological basis.
But my teachers at Baylor believed that we should pursue truth wherever it leads. My science professors refused to let the case stay closed. It was becoming increasingly clear that sexual orientation is, for most people, something with which we are born. Orientation is, scientifically speaking, more of a discovery than a decision. My teachers taught me that ignorance is the enemy.
When I went to Baylor I had clear ideas on who was “us” and who was “them.” My church sang hymns about everyone being included, but we knew who was in the favored group. On my first day at Baylor, I was shocked that my Spanish teacher was from Mexico — which I literally wrote home about. I met people who were not with “us” on abortion, alcohol, capital punishment, Catholicism, dancing, guns, Judaism, militarism, politics, racism and women. I became friends with gay people who were smarter, kinder and more Christian than I was. Some of the people I could not picture in my old church were bright, caring and delightful. I wanted people like them to be in the “us” that I was in. Baylor taught me to love people my old church ignored.
Years ago when my father first expressed his disappointment with my new congregation’s acceptance of gay people, I said: “You shouldn’t have let me go to Baylor.”
I should point out that not everyone at Baylor sees this exactly as I do. My alma mater is arguing again about gay people. The latest debate is over the request for official recognition of several LGBTQ student groups. The Baylor administration has not granted any of their requests, so more than 3,000 alumni have signed a petition supporting the acknowledgment of these groups.
If the Baylor administration wants to continue to oppose gay rights, they need to pick up their game. They need to clean house. Baylor has to get rid of the scholars in the religion department. Anyone who reads the Bible thoughtfully is a threat to those who oppose equality. Baylor has to get rid of the scientists, who will continue to get in the way of narrow-mindedness. Baylor has to get rid of compassionate people who care about justice. The administration may want to look carefully at anyone outside the accepted circle of straight, white, wealthy, Republican Americans.
As an often proud alumnus, I take joy in pointing out that in my case and many others, this is Baylor’s own fault. Many Baylor graduates are now disappointed with their alma mater because Baylor did what a university is supposed to do. She taught us to think and care. Baylor taught us to call the school we love to similarly think and care.