Series breaches topic of sexuality at Wheaton

“I loved Jesus from a very young age … I remember thinking, ‘The God who created all of this beauty wants a relationship with me,’ and I was like ‘Yes, count me in,’” said ministry associate for Spiritual Care Julie Rodgers of her story to approximately 100 students gathered in Coray Auditorium Monday night.  “I also knew from a very young age that I was different.”
The evening talk opened “The Living Room Series,” a sequence of eight conversations designed to create a space for students of many different backgrounds to come together and discuss sexuality. It is a product of extended planning from Student Development, the Chaplain’s Office and Student Government over the past semester.
The conversation was opened by executive vice president of Student Care senior Alyssa Vukelich, who introduced the topic along with the evenings’ speakers.
Ministry associate for discipleship and graduate chapel Clayton Keenan gave the first talk, addressing the fear that he stated comes embedded in the discussion.
“Christians, when it comes to sexuality and especially homosexuality, are in new territory … We wish we could keep saying the same things, but we have to be able to engage new conversations,” he stated.
Keenan reiterated that Wheaton’s position on sexuality will not change. As an institution, Wheaton affirms sexual activity only within a marriage relationship between a man and a woman.
“We aren’t budging on our position,” he noted. “But the best argument for a traditional view of sexuality is becoming the sort of community where living that out becomes possible.”
Rodgers followed by sharing her personal testimony regarding sexuality and its implications. Rodgers, who identifies as a celibate lesbian, said that she regarded her faith as important from a young age.  At 14, she “came out,” both to herself and others who supported her.
She reflected on her experience and how she remembers thinking, “I want to love Jesus and be in the church, but I know that I didn’t choose this. But I can choose to be part of the life of the church. So if these two didn’t go together, I guess I have to walk away from life in the church.”
After spending eight years in an ex-gay program, Rodgers still experienced sexual attraction to other women. She called her discouragement prolific.
“I had never heard messages about enjoying gay people in the church. At best, I heard things about tolerating them. And who just wants to be tolerated?” In the face of that dilemma, she still decided to follow Jesus.
“I didn’t know what that would mean for my sexuality, but that is the only decision in my life that has mattered ever since.”
Rodgers said that 91 percent of people associate “Christian” with “anti-gay.”
“You are Wheaton College. You’re going to change the world,” she encouraged the students. “I hope that this can be a community where it’s okay to be offensive when there are good intentions. We’ve been offensive for a long time without good intentions.”
Vice president for Student Development Paul Chelsen, described the event, saying, “I thought Keenan and Rodgers framed the sexuality series well in the kick-off event.  I heard in their words a clear call to all of us to love each other by listening to each other, to ask questions when we do not understand another person’s perspective, to seek Christ together along with the guidance of His word, and to sensitively choose our words when we make statements.”
Student body vice president Wyatt Harms wrote last semester that, “Being the third least LGBTQ-friendly campus is unacceptable for a community that desires to be loving to all members, no matter the differences.”
According to Vukelich, sexuality has been a topic prioritized by SG since their initial session of vision-casting at the beginning of the school year. Vukelich responded by forming a project team focused on engaging the issue, which met weekly and decided how best to proceed. She expressed that so far, there has not been a space where this conversation can be held.
Vukelich said that she hopes the series can be a time for the community to navigate questions in a civil and Christ-centered environment, and encouraged students to attend discussions, especially if they do not know where they stand regarding sexuality.
The following dialogues will commence on each Friday at 3:30 in the Phelps Room, starting with next week’s talk on conviction and civility.
Chelsen said, “My hope for the series is that all who attend will come with an open heart to listen to what each speaker prepared and with charity for the follow up dialogue.”

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