The toxic theology of Christian fundamentalists — the same theology that results in abuse scandals — also affects the treatment of LGBTQ students at evangelical colleges, according to writer Christopher Stroop.
Why do those students even attend such schools? The answers vary, but some are there because their parents are covering tuition. Some are practicing Christians who want to delve deeper in their faith. Some don’t realize how bad those environments actually are for LGBTQ people. But the damage becomes obvious before long.
In the 1990s and through the turn of the century, many fundamentalist and evangelical schools had a sort of “informant culture,” where LGBTQ students lived in fear of being outed to school authorities. As Carina Hilbert, who graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in 1997, noted on Twitter, it was an atmosphere in which “You can’t trust very many, if any, of your friends”… At schools like the “fundamentalist flagship” Bob Jones University, former student Jeffrey Hoffman recalled, “the prevailing message” from then BJU President, Bob Jones III, was “that gay people should be put to death immediately.”
Christians of this branch say that all sins are equal — but their actions betray that belief. You don’t see nearly the same scandal, much less an “informant culture,” around sins such as gossiping or telling white lies.
There are several reasons why Christian college administrations and boards of trustees go to such lengths to suppress support for LGBTQ students. Chief among them is fear — the same fear that has led White evangelicals, concerned about their slipping demographic status in the U.S., to embrace Christian nationalism, and with it, Donald Trump… Like evangelical Trumpism, the anti-LGBTQ crackdowns taking place at evangelical colleges and universities are an expression of right-wing backlash against civil rights gains — particularly the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage — as well as against the legacy of America’s first Black president. In this cultural context, it’s easy to see why evangelical colleges, facing the same economic challenges as other small private colleges, often find that defending right-wing orthodoxy makes for good marketing. Real budget squeezes can also provide convenient cover for targeted faculty purges.
There are a number of examples throughout recent history of conservative Christians fearing what they don’t understand — and they definitely don’t understand the struggle of being LGBTQ. Just look at how many of them compare it to pedophilia. But the next generation of Christians actually know the names and faces of their LGBTQ peers — and that can make all the difference in how they treat them and what they believe about them. Even among white evangelicals, opposition to LGBTQ rights is fading away.
Of course, we also know from history that change happens slowly. But even a slow change is better than nothing.
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