As a sign of the shifting U.S. culture regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, LGBT alumni from fundamentalist Bob Jones University (BJU), in Greenville, S.C., marched for gay rights at last weekend’s NYC Pride March. Gathering under the banner of BJUnity, a newly formed affirming alternative for LGBT alumni and students of BJU, the marchers also shared their online petition calling for a public apology from the school for a 1980 statement made by now Chancellor Bob Jones III about homosexuals and subsequent extreme rhetoric as well as for what members view as a hostile environment for LGBT students and alumni.
Jeffrey Hoffman, executive director of BJUnity said their presence lets LGBT students and alumni know they are not alone, there and at other Independent Fundamental Baptist organizations.
Like other children born into this conservative subculture, Hoffman, born on campus, was groomed to attend BJU and seek out a traditional marriage modeled after Genesis 2. While he knew he was attracted to men by the time he was eight years old, all Hoffman heard from the pulpit is that he should be stoned, deserved to get AIDS and other hostile messages.
When LGBT BJU students and alumni began gathering together online, Hoffman noted they were not aware of the concurrent rise of other LGBT groups representing other fundamentalist and evangelical colleges such as OneWheaton, Queer Biola Underground, Cedarville Out, and OneGeorgeFox. “OneWheaton celebrates the momentum among LGBTQ students and alumni and their allies at Christian colleges and universities across the country. We are proud of BJUnity and stand with them in affirming LGBTQ individuals and the relationships that are a natural expression of their identity,” said One Wheaton board member Adam Hibma about recent collaboration among the networks.
More than 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight affirming alumni, spouses, significant others and friends gathered for the New York march.
On the significance of BJU alumni coming out in such a public platform, Truth Wins Out Founding Executive Director Wayne Besen said, “On sadder note, this shows how many people they’ve harmed who had to grow up with the horrible message that there’s something evil about them. But this is a testament of those individuals who are marching to their strength and faith that they’re able to overcome such hostility. Their actions show that social conservatives and fundamentalists like Bob Jones University can’t escape the far reach of progress in the LGBT movement.”
Shannon T. L. Kearns, a blogger at Anarchist Reverend and church planter with a focus on the transgender community concurs. “This all points to an exploding of the closet which is so positive. No longer can these institutions claim that queer folks don’t exist within their walls, that queer people are not in the church, that queer folks are just a problem ‘out there,’ these statements and public acts say to the church that queer people are here and we are faithful,” Kearns said.
BJU issued a statement recognizing the right of alumni to organize and support the LGBT agenda and LGBT events while also asserting their right to continue the school’s discriminatory policies against homosexuality.
Following the march, BJUnity members want to pursue open dialogue with school administrators in an effort to help them come into compliance with accepted standards on LGBT issues in the school’s current quest for regional accreditation. Also, they will continue their challenges for the Republican Party to distance themselves from this network.
“Let me clearly state that while issues like marriage equality and non-discriminatory policies of inclusion in the workplace are important to many of our constituency, our purpose is to call attention to the plight of LGBT students in the university’s environment -- many students have been given no other choice than to attend BJU by their families -- and to provide new hope for their inclusion and affirmation. We will continue to change the conversation,” Hoffman said in a statement after the march.
Becky Garrison is a religion writer and author whose books include “Jesus Died for This?” and “Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church.”