Kevin Singer, a Ph.D. student in higher education at North Carolina State University, is co-director of Neighborly Faith, an organization helping evangelical college students to be good neighbors to people of other faiths. His Twitter handle is @kevinsinger0. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.
Like many evangelicals, I was greatly concerned last week when I heard that Duke University’s student government had voted the evangelical Christian student group Young Life off its campus by denying it official status.
The student government’s decision is yet another instance of campuses removing evangelical student groups because they oppose homosexual behavior and because they forbid noncelibate LGBTQ+ staff and volunteers from holding leadership positions.
Do I think Duke’s decision undermines free speech and a few other freedoms? Sure. Am I concerned where this trend is going? Very much.
At the same time, I wonder how many evangelical student groups can confidently answer this question: How are you authentically caring for the safety and well-being of your LGBTQ+ neighbors on campus?
Studies continue to show that LGBTQ+ people face significant hurdles to success and satisfaction in college. According to a Rutgers 2018 study, 30% to 50% of LGBTQ+ students felt unsafe after one year on campus, faced discrimination and even took a one-term break because they felt they did not fit in. Nearly 25% reported being verbally threatened and seriously considered suicide within the last year.
By authentically caring about these hardships, I don’t mean “showing them the truth, even if it’s offensive.” I mean joining the fight to address and deconstruct the forces on campus that contribute to their sufferings.
These efforts must include honest reflection on how one’s evangelical group has contributed, intentionally or unintentionally, to their experiences of discrimination and trauma. For help with this, I recommend that group leaders read works like Jonathan S. Coley’s “Gay on God’s Campus” or “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill. They can also solicit the help of a knowledgeable staff member on campus like an LGBT Center director.
Though evangelicals naturally want to hear the stories of suffering, they should not ask LGBTQ+ students to recount their traumatic experiences; they do not owe you this, and doing so could cause them more trauma.
These recommendations may seem to run counter to the frustrations many evangelicals feel about Duke’s decision, which they are now making public. I can understand the temptation to do so. However, from my vantage point working in nonreligious higher education, I have seen how these defense mechanisms are ultimately harmful to our Christian witness and our public reputation for two reasons.
First, evangelicals must understand that many people on college campuses (rightly) see us as having an immense amount of privilege, primarily due to the resources we have at our disposal that other faith groups don’t have.
This usually includes paid staff, help from local churches, hundreds of student members, a disproportionately higher number of Christian faculty and staff than other faiths, Christian symbolism on campus, and more. These resources are often present even on campuses that seem exceptionally hostile to Christian conservatism.
So when evangelical groups bemoan their rights and privileges being taken away, they are understandably met with eye rolls. Other religious and nonreligious groups see this reaction as symptomatic of an oversensitive Christian “persecution complex” that is ultimately self-serving.
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Source: Religion News Service