Religion and sexuality– two topics that may not seem like they mesh very smoothly. However, at the College many religious organizations find ways to embrace those whose sexual differences may otherwise feel unwelcome. Every religious organization on campus, about 15, were contacted in hopes of talking to them about their stance on sexuality and same-sex relationships. Unfortunately, only four agreed to the interview. CisternYard News sat down with the Unitarian Universalist Club advisor, the student president of the Lutheran Campus Ministry, the campus advisor for Journey and the Catholic Student Association advisor.*
Lisa Ross works as the campus advisor for the Unitarian Universalist Club at the College of Charleston. While the club does not have any current members, Ross is on the Religious Life Council and hopes to start the organization up again soon. She is involved with the Unitarian Church in Charleston, which is the only one within 100 miles, and teaches sex education to middle schoolers.
Within the Unitarian Universalist Church, “You’ve got Christians, you’ve got atheists and agnostics. You’ve got people who are Jewish but don’t feel at home in a synagogue. Or perhaps they’ve married someone who’s not Jewish, and now they have kids, and where do they take their kids that’s not my religion or your religion, but something that’s more basic or foundational that applies to just being good people.” With such a mix of people, one would think it would be hard to nail down a specific stance on sexuality. However, when the topic of same-sex relationships came up the position was very clear. “No prohibitions. Love is love,” was Ross’s response. Representing the Unitarian Universalist Club, “I strongly believe as a social scientist, that we have our types. We’re attracted to a type of person. And very often that type is one gender or the other. And it’s not always what fits in with mainstream society,” she said.
With 80 members, Journey is the second largest religious community on campus. The group is interdenominational Christian but primarily sponsored by the Presbyterian Church USA. Colin Kerr, the campus advisor and a published author, started the organization six years ago with the intention of doing something different. He wanted to attract three different types of people that were not normally targeted in the religious community: those who question Christianity, those who may have had negative past experiences with religion, and those in the LGBTQ community. These bedrock principles alone give a good picture of how the organization addresses sexuality in relation to Christianity.
When asked about same-sex relationships, Kerr responded “We would affirm the validity of same-sex relationships on parity with heterosexual relationship and call same-sex couples to the same standards of living as any Christian in our community.” Kerr’s reasoning for his support lies in the lifelong covenants of love and fidelity found in marriage.
Kerr does not see same-sex relationships as a sin, stating “Of the five passages in the Bible some Christians use to condemn same-sex relationships, every one of these verses is in the context of either cult prostitution, rape or extreme promiscuity. There [are] no condemnations of monogamous same-sex relationships. Zero.”
However, Kerr said that not all his staff are LGBTQ inclusive, nor is every member of his congregation. But he has found that the diversity and even disagreement among those in Journey brings them closer together as a community. “If Christians really believe what they say they believe about unity and Jesus, we should be able to disagree on this issue as faithful Christians and trust that the Holy Spirit can work things out.”
Rachelle Lindstrom, student president of the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the College, gave her organization’s input on the subject. Funded and run by St. Matthew’s Church in Charleston, the organization is small in members but works with other colleges on the peninsula. Though Lutheran Campus Ministry does not outwardly support same sex relationships, they do seek to include everyone regardless of sexual orientation.
“It’s in our bylaws that we welcome everyone. We kind of take the stance that everyone is God’s creatures.” Since the organization works through St. Matthew’s, they have less interaction with other religious communities on campus, but Lindstrom maintains that “another part of our bylaws is that you don’t even have to be Lutheran to join us. You don’t have to have any religious background whatsoever. Your opinions are your own. So we’re very all-inclusive.”
The Catholic Student Association, which meets at St. Patrick’s for worship every Sunday, has a more complex view on this topic. When discussing the topic of marriage, Jim Grove, the campus advisor, defined it as a relationship between two people that not only support each other, but also recognize their sacrament to God and uphold His image.
Same-sex relationships were a more fraught topic. Grove saw it as finding a balance between the traditions of the Catholic church and the newer definitions of sexuality. Grove was the first to point out that some ministers in the Catholic Church may strictly uphold the traditional no same-sex relationships stance, while others yet may have a more progressive outlook. As for the Catholic Student Association at the College, they are a certified “College of Charleston Safe Zone” that welcomes all. They try to be inclusive because they recognize that as long as same-sex couples are in healthy, beneficial, God-seeking relationships, they should be addressed with the same attention and ministry as other couples. Grove elaborated on the stance of the Catholic Church at large.
“The Catholic Church cannot neglect the important reality that in the marriage of a man and woman, a new life can be created. And so the Church sees in this union the sacrament. At the same time, people see that a truly loving, lifelong committed relationship, regardless of gender, can be life-giving in many personal and communal ways. So, the church struggles to describe, respect and include both realities, being faithful to its tradition and to what it now sees.”
He also mentioned Pope Francis, whose papacy began in March 2013 and whose focus has been on love and acceptance in the Catholic Church. While not challenging the doctrine of the Church, he has had a different, more compassionate tone toward the LGBTQ community than his predecessors.
Grove thinks that there needs to be more discussion on the topic of sexuality in the Church, as it is a part of our everyday lives, whether we actively acknowledge it or not. Grove also believes in welcoming everyone into the organization who wishes to take part in it and working with them regardless of their beliefs or practices.
The Catholic Church’s precise stance on gay marriage will doubtlessly have to reflect their evolving view of marriage as both a spiritual and functional institution. For now, Grove hopes to develop students in the Catholic Student Association through service, retreats, worship and working with other religious organizations on campus.
The religious organizations at the College reflect the liberal environment of the campus, as well as the changing attitudes of the nation. Liberal Christians and Progressive Catholics are becoming more and more common. Sexuality is a heavy topic, but one that religious groups on campus are addressing head on.
* The statements from the above interviews reflect their respective religious organization on campus but not their religion as a whole.
*This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Yard.