One week ago, many of us attended a much-publicized lecture by evangelical minister Christopher Yuan. Based on emails we had received encouraging us to protest the event, Yalies expected Mr. Yuan to claim that homosexuality was an illness in need of a cure.
Instead, those of us at the talk heard a man give a straightforward account of finding Christ in prison after a faithless life. He explained that he chooses to practice celibacy, rather than violate what he sees as God’s prohibition on non-heterosexual intercourse. He encouraged other lesbian and gay people to consider this option. Not once did he claim he had been cured of his sexuality by God’s grace.
First, we wish to express admiration for the LGBT and ally community, which held a truly respectful and powerful protest. During the lecture, they sat silently wearing symbols of solidarity. Instead of attempting to silence the speech of others, they held an open forum after the event. We strongly agree with their condemnation of Mr. Yuan’s prior appearances for Exodus International, an organization that has promoted unconscionable reparative therapy for lesbians and gays. Mr. Yuan himself admitted at the event that gay sexuality cannot be “prayed away.” Though Exodus has recently acknowledged the culpability of many religious organizations in the harassment of gay students — bullying that has driven many to take their own lives — their influence on the national discourse has been toxic.
Yet, in the opinion pages of the News and elsewhere, the speech was described as inherently hateful — a misguided attack. The President of the Yale Democrats, Marina Keegan ’12, was quoted in the News saying, “He is encouraging people to fight something innate to them — that to me is incredibly hateful.” But what if you feel both your religion and your sexuality are central parts of your identity?
If someone’s belief asks her to choose between her sexuality and her religious practice, why should we automatically expect such a person to put aside her perceived obligations to God? Queer members of conservative Christian traditions who choose to practice celibacy, as Mr. Yuan does, should not be labeled as self-hating. Rather, they should be respected for following a particular Christian tradition of denying almost all that is “innate to you” — giving up the whole of your being to Christ.
The Monday column by liberal Christian campus leaders stated their theological belief that opposition to non-heterosexual sexual activity is sinful. As they noted, there is honest diversity of opinion on this point; Catholicism teaches that sex’s central purpose is procreation within a marriage, and that all sexual activity outside this — gay or straight — is prohibited. Traditional Judaism prohibits sex during menstruation.
Liberal Christians and those of all denominations are free to convert those who disagree with them. Absent that, they should ask those with whom they disagree to practice and preach in ways that are humane and loving. In the context of his theology, Mr. Yuan attempted to find a humane balance — or at least share the one that had worked for him.
We are also concerned that, because of prevailing political winds, traditionalist religions are less capable of seeking campus institutional support. Dwight Hall told Mr. Yuan to move his second talk. Alexandra Brodsky ’12, co-coordinator of its Executive Committee, labeled his theology one of “bigotry and hatred.” As a space for social justice advocacy, Dwight Hall has a responsibility to support religious freedom in addition to sexual freedom. In this case, Dwight Hall failed to live up to its own calling.
We don’t want to confine this argument to the issue of homosexuality. In order to receive institutional support from Yale, religious groups are prohibited from proselytizing. The official policy of Yale Religious Ministries states that member organizations should not “undermine another faith community.” The University therefore prohibits some communities from practicing central tenets of their faith: Mormons are called to convert others of all religious beliefs. Here, they cannot do so as members of the YRM. Of course, harassing advocacy of any kind should be prohibited, but a gentle call to religious truth should offend no one.
Those Christian organizations with a proselytizing mission are forced to choose between following their faith’s call to convert others to Christ and having access to Yale resources that allow them to serve their own community. Though Yale officially seeks religious neutrality, in practice, we see a clear partiality for less prescriptive religions.
To achieve a “more open religious community,” as a Monday column called for, we should adopt a policy that allows for open dialogue on campus, for preaching and protest, proverbs and proselytizing — no matter how foreign the message may seem to our liberal ears. Yale should welcome and affirm everyone’s individual identity — including sexual orientation, religious observance and the sometimes-complicated combination of the two.
Christopher Pagliarella is a junior in Berkeley College and the president of the Yale Political Union. Yishai Schwartz is a sophomore in Branford College and the vice president of Yale Friends of Israel.