I graduated from Calvin College — A small, Christian liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, MI. They have since changed their name to Calvin University, but I still have a hard time calling it that. Calvin is named after John Calvin, the Dutch theologian who is the namesake of “Calvinism.” It is the flagship university of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), which is the denomination I grew up in. My grandfather on my father’s side was a Christian Reformed minister, and my grandfather on my mother’s side was an elder in the church. It is a relatively small denomination made up of people who mostly have Dutch-sounding last names, and it is centered in West Michigan, but includes pockets in Iowa, Washington state, Ontario, and peppered around the Great Lakes area. It was the only college I applied to (or “to WHICH I applied,” since I graduated with a degree in Secondary Education / English). It was where most of my friends were going, and I never really gave it a second thought… I was always going to go to Calvin.
I was a little different than many of the students there, because by college, I no longer considered myself part of the CRC. After my mom’s divorce, the Church no longer seemed very welcoming… But I definitely still considered myself a Christian. I walked into that institution about as sheltered as people get… I walked out with the seeds planted of a lifelong questioner and learner. I loved my English Profs. I loved my Education profs. I loved all the Theology and Philosophy and Music courses I took. The teachers were loving and wise and challenging… And they changed my life. I don’t know much at all about the seminary, but my experience of Calvin was of an institution that was way more interested in exploration than any sort of indoctrination. I loved my time there, I love the lifelong friends I made there, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
My spiritual journey post-college has been meandering. I attended Mars Hill from its earliest days with Rob Bell as a pastor. I moved to Nashville and started going to churches where people raised their hands (which was strange to me, because in those days, people in the CRC didn’t raise their hands even if they had a question). I briefly went to a church that was all about “courtship,” where the leadership would “approve” relationships. Super weird. I briefly attended a very multicultural church that ended up putting my wife and my memberships “on hold” because we didn’t speak in tongues. Super weird. We ended up at a very Holy-Spirity church for a while, but right around the time the U.S. elected a black man as president, we figured out that they were more committed to republicanism than they were committed to following Jesus. We ended up at a fantastic church that we LOVED — a safe place for people who were deconstructing or who had gone through deconstruction — but life happened, things split, and now I consider myself “Post-Church.”
There’s probably more to talk about with the term “deconstruction” as it applies to church and religion and spirituality (I suppose you’ll have to buy the book for that deep dive). Nevertheless, one of the things that got “deconstructed” was my ideas about heaven & hell, about salvation, and about the “sinfulness” of LGBTQIA+ people and relationships. I started out very certain of their hell-bound-ness… But I had to go through something close to the horse shit that is “Hate the sin; love the sinner,” and “tolerance,” and “acceptance,” before I finally landed at a place of FULLY AFFIRMING (Which reminds me, Beth Moore recently announced she is leaving the Southern Baptist Church. She spoke out against Trump and the SBC’s treatment of women, and caught hell for it… And although she isn’t affirming of LGBTQIA+ people yet, we can still celebrate when someone heads in the right direction. Trajectory is what it’s about, and it feels like she’s headed in the right direction).
Anyway, Calvin. The CRC’s official position (summarized) is one where BEING a homosexual is not something that will necessarily get you sent to hell, but ACTING on that homosexuality (same-sex relationships, romantic actions, intercourse, etc…) will. Within the members of the denomination, there is far from anything which could be considered uniform thought on the theology behind the inherent sinfulness of LGBTQIA+ relationships. Many are so very disappointed and heartbroken over the continued discrimination by the CRC (and therefore, as an arm of the CRC, Calvin University), and they despair over the VERY REAL HARM it is doing to our friends and family members who are LGBTQIA+… As well as the many LGBTQIA+ students who attend Calvin university. In effect, the policy is “We ‘love’ you, but your orientation is an abomination, and if you act on your love of another human being, it is a sin for which you need to repent, you need to be ‘made whole,’ and if you don’t you’re going to hell.”
Recently, some students from a Bible study at Calvin set up a table that said (in Steven Crowder-esque fashion — a YouTuber well known for his hate speech and homophobia), “LGBTQ IS as sin. THE BIBLE SAYS. Change my mind.” Here is a picture it taking place…
Because of social media response, Calvin sent out an email to students that said (among other things),
“The church teaches that orientation is not a sin and that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – like all people – are created in God’s image and, as valued members of the human family, should be treated with respect, grace, understanding, and love.The church also teaches and Calvin affirms, that sexual intimacy is a gift from God to be celebrated in marriage between a man and a woman.”
I don’t know… What am I trying to say here? I’ve written about this issue many other times (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE, to name a few) over the years. I watched with sadness as the United Methodist Church struggled through the issue of LGBTQIA+ inclusion. I feel like I’ve said it all. But watching Calvin struggle with this reminds me of a time not so long ago when my OWN position was “It’s not necessarily a sin to BE gay… It’s just a sin to ACT on it.” And I have learned — painfully — how truly damaging this position is to people who are Queer. It is the furthest thing from love. And it’s all because of a few verses from the Old Testament about “abominations” — verses written right next to many other abominations we no longer pay any attention to — and a couple of New Testament verses where Paul is writing to people 2000 years ago who were abusing children and going to freaky sex cult temples. Paul was never addressing committed, consensual, loving same sex relations.
And even if Paul WOULD have been against homosexuality (a word that didn’t appear in the Bible until 1946), that is NO reason for anyone in modern times to be so dogmatically rigid that we impose a theology with is actively killing LGBTQIA+ people in the church… ESPECIALLY within a denomination which –despite Paul’s writings seemingly to the contrary — has figured out a way for women to have leadership roles in churches. One of the last things Jesus was recorded as saying was, “I have so much more to tell you, but you can’t bear it yet.” Imagine the way people’s heads would have exploded if Jesus had tried to explain that women were every bit as worthy of leading as men. The consciousness of that day wouldn’t have allowed it. But as our consciousness expands and progresses, so does our understanding of the radical inclusion that is illuminated by the words and life of Jesus.
As I write that, it feels weird. I can barely bring myself use the word “Christian” when referring to myself anymore.The baggage associated with that word is nearly unbearable. I’m certainly not anything close to a “Calvinist.” There are so many tenets of the Christian faith which I have abandoned because they turn God into a monster. Why do I care what happens at a Christian College in Michigan? The answer is because I have hope for change — for reformation — within the church of my youth… And I believe it involves Calvin College. When George W. Bush was coming to Calvin to give the commencement address, over 800 staff, students, and alumni signed a letter protesting his invitation, siting that “as Christians, we are called to be peacemakers,” and they were opposed to the war in Iraq. And right now, many Calvin staff are working hard to let the LGBTQIA+ students they teach know that they are loved. I’m hopeful because of anti-racist posts like this one from Joseph Kuilema. I’m encouraged by posts like this one from James K.A. Smith (who also wrote this very interesting article)…
But it has to go further than just saying “You are loved.” “You are loved” is all well and good, but that is the same message that prison ministries bring to rapists and murderers. How can anyone — with a straight face (no pun intended) — tell someone that they are “loved” while also telling them that if they express their love to others, God is going to send them to hell? “You are loved” without affirming the person’s sexuality as GOOD is just more “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” And the fruit of that policy is death and despair for our LGBTQIA+ neighbors and siblings and children. We are all broken in some ways… We all miss the mark… We all fall short… But hear this right now: Expressing your love to another human being — regardless of sex or gender — is NEVER a “sin” to be hated or condemned. The only folks Jesus ever had really harsh words for were the religious people who SHOULD have known better, but they were missing the HEART of what it meant for us to love our neighbor. Whenever the Jesus of the Bible was presented with a question of Law versus Love, he ALWAYS sided with love. If any of us claim to be followers of Jesus, we must do the same.
This video is still the best single Biblical case for inclusion within the church. You should watch it… I’m TOTALLY serious. It’s long, but watch the whole thing. It’s excellent.
Last thing: I am still friends with many Calvin alums and folks who have sent their kids to Calvin University. PLEASE make your voice heard. Make it heard, not just so that the higher ups change their harmful, hateful policy… But make your voice heard so that the LGBTQIA+ people in your life HEAR that their worth goes beyond the garbage that is “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” Let them know there are so many of us who believe that the expression of their love is GOOD, and that even though we are all broken in some ways, their orientation is NOT one of the things about them that needs to be “fixed.” Amen.
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