It is not often that Pride Month and Fundamentalism converge, but such was the case with the official June release of Lance Weldy’s (1990s BJU) BJU and Me: Queer Voices from the World’s Most Christian University, published by The University of Georgia Press.
I worked with Lance at the Mack Library at Bob Jones University. He was always a gay sort of fellow (in the traditional sense of the word), a hard worker, and extremely friendly — the quintessential nice guy. That’s what makes him either an effective or dangerous (depending on your viewpoint) representative of the LGBT+ movement. In his book, he “showcases a queer community from an unexpected place – fundamentalist circles.” (14)
One subject the editor and his contributors deal with is the “Clobber Passages” — six Bible passages “that have been traditionally used to prove that homosexuality is a sin.” (9) They want us to believe that the Scriptures which condemn homosexuality are few and misinterpreted. Towards the end of the book, Lance offers a weak rebuttal of the Clobber Passages from “three queer BJU graduates.” (313, 314)
The 19 testimonies in this book are well-written and easy-to-read. This review cannot possibly examine all of the details, so if you want to know “the rest of the story,” you will have to read the book.
There are common threads to these accounts. All of the writers had homosexual experiences and/or feelings before entering BJU. This is notable since most of them come from fundamentalist families and churches. Pornography played a role in many of their stories. Some of the men were married, and these husbands abandoned their wives and children to pursue the LGBT+ lifestyle.
Spiritually, there are similar themes as well, and this is what I want to examine more deeply.
Questioning Fundamentalist Inconsistencies
Several of the contributors began their journey towards homosexuality by questioning other tenets of Fundamentalism. When former student Curt Allison’s (1980s BJU) parents left a fundamental church to join a Southern Baptist church during his first year at BJU, he states that “the crack formed.” To him, this was “the beginning of my journey to freedom.” (110) He began a drift which in time led him to join the United Methodist church and embrace the homosexual lifestyle.
Rachel Oblak (2000s BJU) met a young man named Jacob at BJU.
[we] eventually led each other into questioning the doctrines and rules of the school as well as of broader fundamentalism. These questions began with small things like whether haircuts could be inherently sinful… . Eventually, we found ourselves butting up against some of the bigger doctrines. (185)
The two of them dropped out of BJU and married. They began questioning the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality “when we discovered a friend of ours was gay.” (187)
Blair Durkee (2000s BJU), a “transwoman,” reports:
[I] found the use of the Bible to condemn transgender people to be a tenuous one. There were no explicit Clobber Passages for trans identity… . The same, of course, could be said for a variety of fundamentalist doctrines, from music to dress to alcohol consumption… . Each time I pulled on a thread of fundamentalist belief the entire spool began to unravel. (198)
David Diachenko (1990s/2000s BJU) claims that it was his “growing frustration with BJU’s rigid music standards” (212), and noticing faculty members who did not follow them (213), that led him to question BJU’s stand on other issues, including homosexuality.
BJU graduate Andrew Bolden (1990s BJU) shares his frustration with inconsistencies at BJU:
BJU’s marketing video, which featured students dancing to ragtime music, seemed the peak of hypocrisy: I wondered whether they refunded tuition to students who had been kicked out for listening to that same music years ago, before they deemed the devil’s ragtime fit for Christian consumption. (80)
Denying the Bible
Not only do they note inconsistencies with how fundamentalists apply Biblical principles, but the contributors also reinterpret or reject Biblical passages dealing with homosexuality. BJU graduate Megan Milliken (2000s BJU) describes herself:
… the one who utterly rejects the verses that fundamentalists manipulate to clobber you if they suspect you might be “struggling with homosexuality,” the one who rejects all forms of organized religion and even doubts the existence of an actual creator or benevolent God… . Years of researching, studying, praying, and tormenting myself over what the Bible says has led to my complete rejection of it. (100)
Allison did graduate work at Oral Roberts University:
[I was] introduced to the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. I was taught the seven theories of creation, the Q source and Marcan priority in my studies of the Gospels, and also redaction criticism… . I was also very aware that this kind of biblical teaching would not have been sanctioned in the fundamentalist classrooms at BJU. (114)
Allison credits his education at ORU for his ability to lose “his interpretative virginity.” He explains:
When you work through and wrestle with the six or so passages in the Bible that have traditionally been used to clobber LGBTQ people (called the Clobber Passages), then you can truly understand them in their proper biblical, historical, theological, and existential context and look at them in a non-literalistic way. Once you apply those principles to the Clobber Passages, then you have lost your previous way of reading scripture in a more literal manner. Consequently, you have lost your interpretative virginity and can apply that same biblical hermeneutic to the rest of the Bible as well. Thanks to the strong theological education I received at ORU, this was how I was able to reconcile those Clobber Passages. (117)
Marshall (1980s BJU) was asked not to re-enroll at BJU. Marshall reflects on the Bible’s treatment of homosexuality:
From the vague and sinister telling of Sodom and Gomorrah to the New Testament railings about being given over to a depraved mind, these stark images scared me into imagining some reprobate on Skid Row in abject misery. It was a brutally effective deterrent. (144)
Marshall now identifies as a “transman,” and says “the Clobber Passages hold no power over me anymore.” (151)
Sandra Merzib (1990s/2000s BJU) graduated from BJU, but today says,
faith is personal. Everyone gets called to believe what they believe in their own way, and for me, I can’t read the Bible because I can’t shake the interpretations BJU hammered into my head. (165)
Diachenko left both the BJU faculty and his family to begin a “completely open and free” life (215):
I have come to a place of agnosticism, bordering on atheism. The idea of God no longer makes any sense to me, certainly not the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent being… . Life is much simpler without a faith that contradicts evidence and experience. (216)
Oblak and her husband are “purposefully avoiding the marital rules taught at BJU and church. I made peace with Christianity, but ultimately realized that it wasn’t a great fit for me. I still have a spiritual life, but it’s more personal.” (191) She identifies as bisexual.
After graduating from BJU, Durkee left Christianity and “rationalized my way to a personal theology.” (197) “I must convey my personal experience of Christianity as a brutal and suffocating tool of oppression,” Durkee relates (199). Durkee has “left behind the burden of religion and [lives] a contented secular lifestyle.” (201) Durkee proclaims, “I am a girl and, oh, how proud I am to say it.” (200)
“My faith,” Peter Crane (2000s BJU) testifies,
had diminished over the years and, by [the time I came out as gay], played a very small role in my life. I didn’t have a strong urge or desire for a relationship with God… . It became easier to shed my shame the more I let go of my belief in the scriptures… . I found solace in the philosophy of secular humanism… . I didn’t need Christianity or the Bible to tell me how to live my life. (226)
Former BJU student Jeff Mullinix (1970s BJU) was married with three children when he came out as gay. He is now a United Methodist pastor who believes that “God’s love is not constrained by traditional interpretation of scripture.” (243)
BJU grad and former pastor Elana Kelly (1980s BJU) left his wife and children to pursue the trans life. Kelly believes,
For Bob Sr., doing right meant following BJU’s placement of the authority of the Bible… . I don’t need [his words] anymore. I still correlate femininity with the divine. How could I not? She has been with me since I was three. It took almost fifty years, but I have finally found myself. (253, 254)
Former BJU staff and faculty member Steve Shamblin (1980s/1990s BJU) also left his wife and kids. “I not only came out of the closet,” he testifies, “but I also came out of fundamentalism and all things related to church. I figured that if the church and God didn’t want me, then I didn’t want them.” (261) He now ministers within the United Methodist Church and is legally married to Jeff Mullinix.
Former BJU student Avery Wrenne (2010s BJU) “determined that I was an agnostic” when she entered BJU (290). Wrenne read Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian, which interprets the Bible through a lens that “celebrates LGBTQ2IA+ people in their sacred experiences of gender identity and sexual orientation.” (295) Wrenne left BJU and then “found the means to massively deconstruct my fundamentalist and post fundamentalist theology.” (297) Wrenne describes herself as “a non-monogamous genderqueer pansexual humxn. Religiously or spiritually speaking, I now identify as an agnostic universalist.” (298) Wrenne “experienced an unspeakable liberation in letting go of the Christian label and partaking of other spiritual practices.” (298, 299)
BJU graduate Christy Haussler (1980s/1990s BJU) found both refuge and a same-sex spouse in the Metropolitan Community Church. There, she “finally got to know who I really was and be okay with it. God created me the way I was, and that’s as ‘natural’ as I can get, no matter how fundamentalists interpret Romans 1:26-29.” (283) Today Haussler testifies, “I no longer view scripture in the literal context of my upbringing, so I am no longer condemned by the law in any form. I am instead enjoying God’s grace.” (287)
Eternal Security or Easy-Believism
Haussler notes that she is “enjoying God’s grace.” The authors define grace and assurance differently from the Apostle Paul who asks in Romans 6:1, 2,“Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
Lance, a BJU graduate who was expelled from grad school for visiting gay websites, continues to profess a relationship with Christ by using terminology that should prompt proponents of eternal security to think about how they present their doctrine:
I know I earnestly asked Jesus into my heart many years ago. And if I was raised to believe in biblical literalism, then in that mindset passages about the eternal security of the believer, such as John 10:28-29, should overrule any cultural power that the Clobber Passages may hold. (48)
Fawn Mullinix (1990s BJU) was expelled from BJU for a lesbian relationship with another student. Like Lance, she leans upon the doctrine of eternal security, “Those same biblical passages of assurance that I mentioned earlier in this chapter resurfaced in my psyche and quashed any power that Romans 1:26-27 could ever hold over me.” (90)
Former BJU Student Micah Smith (2000s BJU) has come to embrace a theology based upon “the fact that [homosexuality] hadn’t made it into the Ten Commandments.” (130) Also,
If we look at Ephesians 2:8-9 as a representative biblical passage about salvation, we can see the following phrases: “by grace,” “through faith,” “not of yourselves,” “the gift of God,” and “not of works.” … I’ve studied the Bible for more than twenty-five years, and I cannot find even a small verse that suggests that salvation is “through faith … and also in not being homosexual.” (130, 131)
A Self-Centered Theology
The contributors exalt their own feelings and experiences over the authority of the Bible. BJU graduate Bill Ballantyne (1980s BJU) was a married Christian school teacher. After breaking up with his wife, he concluded, “If God had predestined me for this, why keep trying to fight it? I would just live my life as a gay man… . I was going to be true to myself.” (60)
I’m free from being defined by who I do or don’t sleep with. I’m not defined by my sexuality. Just like everyone else, I was created “in the image of God.” . . Every one of us is more important than we can comprehend. (132)
Fawn Mullinix exclaims,
Nobody else gets to determine my value or define my relationship with myself or my God. If God wanted us all to be the same, He would have made us the same. Instead, I know that I am truly ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,’ and it brings Him joy for me to share my unique self with the world around me. (91)
Wrenn wants to “practice my spirituality in the way that fits me best.” (299)
Lance’s Concluding Thoughts
Following these testimonies, Lance gives some concluding thoughts. He begins by noting that “BJU’s current trajectory appears very queer (strange) in the sense that its separatist brand has become unrecognizable to students from the past.” (303) “It’s daunting,” he continues, “to keep up with BJU’s institutional policy changes in the twenty-first century because it feels like these changes happen with much more frequency in the past few years.” (304)
After giving specific examples of “revolutionary” changes at BJU, such as intercollegiate sports, allowing women to wear pants/shorts, and regional accreditation (which includes the ability to receive federal funding and financial aid) (306, 307), Lance ironically echoes the concerns of some of the more conservative BJU alumni,
These examples reveal how BJU established policies based on scriptural principles, then lost control of that authority through outside pressures… . BJU conveniently “re-aligned,” at least in part, its doctrinal foundations to accept a twenty-first-century mindset, revealing inconsistencies of administrative practices to the casual outsider and severe biblical contradictions to the fundamentalist insider: if the Bible is inerrant and infallible, why has BJU allowed such major policy changes that were based on biblical principles? Since the Bible verses have not changed, is it more the interpretation and application of those verses by the first three presidents of BJU? And if that is the case, will this show the next generation that even the president of BJU can be fallible? And who is to say whether BJU’s biblical worldview on other topics, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, might be modified in the future. (316)
Lance then envisions a radically new BJU:
It is invigorating to think about the potential for BJU’s new future as well as the future for the queer students who may attend the school. I can picture Pride flags hoisted up all the poles that used to stand across the Bridge of Nations on front campus, emblazoned with affirming possibilities. That would really make BJU “the Opportunity Place” it once marketed itself to be. (321, 322)
My Concluding Thoughts
Why do I believe that Bible-believing pastors and parents should read this book?
First, this book strengthens the case of those who hold to the position that homosexuality is scripturally wrong. The contributors to this book have chosen to follow what they are feeling and experiencing rather than what the Bible clearly says. Most of them actually agree with Bible-believing Christians that when the Clobber Passages are read literally, they condemn homosexuality. That’s why they opt for alternate interpretations.
The authors choose to deny the Bible rather than deny themselves. Not only do they dismiss the relevance of the Clobber Passages, but they also do not take into consideration other passages that condemn sins they are committing such as lust, extramarital sex, and abandoning the home. This book will strengthen, not shake, the convictions of those who hold to a high view of the Scriptures.
Second, this book serves as a warning to parents. Most of the contributors recall harboring and/or acting upon homosexual desires in their childhood. The stories in this book encourage parents to know exactly where and with whom their children are spending time. This book reinforces the need to tightly control children’s access to the internet – pornography being a common denominator for many of the contributors.
What may be shocking to some is that most of the contributors come from fundamentalist families. They regularly attended Bible-believing churches as children and came from strict homes. This book identifies breaches through which homosexuality can seep into our homes.
Due to the sexual nature of this book, I would not recommend it for children.
Diachenko declares in his closing sentence, “It’s an amazing life, and I can’t wait to see where it leads me.” (216) The Bible tells us plainly where his lifestyle will lead him, and that truth ought to break our hearts.