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Monday, May 20, 2024

History Repeating Itself, Unfortunately

I was surprised to see the headline “Christian Group Dismissed Gay Lead- ers” in the last Campus, and not just because it shouldn’t be happening at Middlebury today. My shock was based on the fact that exactly the same thing happened in the spring of 2000, and I thought the issue had been resolved. I know the students involved think they know the Biblical texts and traditions they base their interpretation on, but as a linguist and a language teacher, I won- der. My students spend years learning Russian and study at our School in Rus- sia before they can really pontificate on Pushkin or Dostoevsky. How many of the IVCF students are fluent in New Testa- ment Greek or spend a semester in the Holy Land in their junior year, much less in the first century?All joking aside, I had just finished reading

Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality with my Intro to Gay and Lesbian Studies class. Aside from the textual analysis, one of the main points of Boswell’s book is that there was a time in the eleventh cen- tury when gay people were prominent and respected both in Europe and in the Catholic Church, so the “tradition” of ho- mophobia is hardly a continuous one or one that is truly based on theology and the Bible. Rather, societal change in the following centuries led people to seek Biblical justification for their prejudices. There was, says Boswell, a much stron- ger and more theologically sound tradi- tion against lending money at interest in the medieval period, but somehow we manage to allow banking, even today. As an educational institution, we should en- courage discussion of such issues, even or especially within Christian groups on campus.

In 2015, as in 2000, both the local chapter of IVCF and the national orga- nization claimed that they don’t dis- criminate based on identity, but only on beliefs. The effect of the discrimination, however, seems to be the same. Can we really expect gay and lesbian Christians to consider themselves second-class citizens who must remain celibate and proclaim their own exclusion from mar- riage? While we can’t dictate what IVCF believes, must we always defer to “sin- cerely held religious beliefs”? I am old enough to remember when white evan- gelicals in the South sincerely believed that God had separated the races. Bob Jones University banned interracial dating until 2000 because “If you are against segregation and against racial separation, then you are against God Al- mighty.” Would we allow a pass for that?

The recurrence of this kind of incident also shows that we need some structural change at the institutional level. Perhaps now is finally the time for Middlebury to create an LGBTQ center and hire a direc- tor who could both pro-actively make Middlebury a more queer-positive place and be brought in to help respond to any homophobic or transphobic situation that might arise in the future.