Questioning their community’s hospitality toward people of various sexual orientations, some members of Yale religious groups are attempting to redefine the relationship between religious teachings and modern views on sexuality in an effort to change the perception that the Christian faith does not accept homosexuality.
Issues surrounding the compatibility of religious faith with homosexuality were in focus during a forum last Thursday and will be raised again this Tuesday night in a lecture titled “Homosexuality and Religion: Why homosexuality is viewed as a threat to Christianity” as part of Sex Week.
“The Church has not done a good job of welcoming people who are both questioning their sexuality and heterosexuals questioning when they should engage in sex,” Carl Sharon of the Luther House Campus Ministries said at the talk last week. “We need to begin a conversation to engage people to discuss sexual issues and not be judgmental about it.”
The question, speakers at the talk said, is ultimately one of tolerance versus acceptance.
“Some groups approach it as ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ — they’re tolerant, but not affirming,” said Andrew Beaty ’07, a student deacon at Battell Chapel and a speaker at the forum. “Churches can be ‘open and affirming,’ that is, supportive of the LGBT community and actively reaching out to its members.”
Attitudes toward homosexuality vary widely among different ministries at Yale, from those that are openly supportive of alternative lifestyles to those that find it more difficult to accept homosexuality.
Beaty said Battell Chapel, which is in its first year as a multi-denominational church, has offered a different level of acceptance than most other religious groups he has encountered. The Church’s mission statement features an explicit oath to “protest any intimidation, harassment, neglect of, or violence against any group in this society … such as gay or lesbian persons.”
Though official Catholic doctrine established by the Vatican does not accept homosexuality, St. Thomas More Catholic Church is both tolerant and accepting of homosexual students, said Chris Holownia ’06, an openly gay member of the Chapel’s Undergraduate Council.
“I think if you add intellectualism to anything, you’re going to realize a lot more than just the faith element,” Holownia said. “I think St. Thomas More has the message right: Christianity, and especially Catholicism, doesn’t look down on homosexuals as people.”
Rather than actively disagree with the Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality, Holownia said, St. Thomas More does not call attention to the conflict.
“STM has its emphasis in the right spot,” he said. “It’s not a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, but the Church doesn’t talk about it because in the scheme of things, it’s just not that important.”
But some students said other religious groups do not provide the same level of acceptance that Battell does.
“The vast majority of college-sanctioned ministries seem to be very open in name, at least, but not always in action,” Kurt Nelson DIV ’07 said.
The tension between spirituality and sexuality is obscured by the University’s complicated relationship with organized religion, Beaty said.
“Yale has a really love-hate relationship with religion,” he said. “When I got here freshman year, I’d tell people I was gay before I told them I was Christian. It comes with a lot of baggage.”
During his freshman year, Beaty said, he was not involved with the religious community. But after attending a meeting of the Queer People of Faith the next year, he said, he reestablished a connection with organized religion.
“It’s important for each church individually to recognize that being a Christian person supersedes being a gay person,” Beaty said. “It’s not something you should be burdened by, nor have to constantly ask forgiveness for.”