Book Review – BJU and Me: Queer Voices from the World’s Most Christian University

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)

Smith proclaims,

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.

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There are 11 Comments

dgszweda's picture

In my opinion this shouldn't surprise many people.  I attended the school during the same time that many of these individuals who provided quotes did.  There was always a segment that came from a flavor or fundamentalism that I did not recognize that then came to rebel from the rules once there.  They held this idea that BJU had established rules that held a greater authority than the Bible and they sought ways to remove this restraint by questioning how these were Biblical.  I see this sentiment almost universally laid out in these quotes.  There is also a lack of understanding of what the school really taught.  For example, we see

Quote:

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)

Somehow Allison's eyes wer suddenly opened, but she must have been sleeping when these were all covered in our classes at BJU.  I can't remember if we covered exactly seven theories of creation but we definitely covered 5.  We spent a great deal of time on the historical/critical method, Q-source, Marcan Priority.... as well as many others.  The school obviously didn't believe that something like the Q-source was a basis for the Torah, but we went fairly in depth with it. 

WallyMorris's picture

Significant Quote: "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."

Perhaps some involved in LGBTQ (sin) understand the changes at BJU better than others.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

OK, this is going to be controversial, but I notice that a good portion of those who left the faith started by asking themselves "are these rules actually Biblical?", and hypocrisy seems to play a big role as well--"this was a big deal then, but what about now?"   My take is that when the behavior rules aren't Biblically, but rather culturally, derived, then people get confused about whether the Bible actually applies or not, even when (e.g homosexuality) it seems to speak rather clearly.

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

Bert Perry wrote:

A good portion of those who left the faith started by asking themselves "are these rules actually Biblical?", and hypocrisy seems to play a big role as well--"this was a big deal then, but what about now?"   My take is that when the behavior rules aren't Biblically, but rather culturally, derived, then people get confused about whether the Bible actually applies or not, even when (e.g homosexuality) it seems to speak rather clearly.

 

I agree 100%.  That was one of my takes from the book as well.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

OK, this is going to be controversial, but I notice that a good portion of those who left the faith started by asking themselves "are these rules actually Biblical?", and hypocrisy seems to play a big role as well--"this was a big deal then, but what about now?"   My take is that when the behavior rules aren't Biblically, but rather culturally, derived, then people get confused about whether the Bible actually applies or not, even when (e.g homosexuality) it seems to speak rather clearly.

Having attended the university in the 1980's, I will say that at least at that time, the university (or at least many in the university) did not do a good job making a distinction between rules which were biblical and those which were cultural, practical, or institutional.  (And some rules, like the interracial dating rules, actually treated a cultural practice as biblical.)  Violation of one of the practical rules was pretty much seen (or at least treated) as equivalent to violation of the biblical rules.

Of course, in a sense, if we are placing ourselves under authority, then violation of either violates a biblical principle of obedience, BUT, in a different, but also very real sense, violation of a haircut standard is not the same as violation of a biblical moral command.  Unfortunately, there was too much conflation of the reasons behind those different types of rules/violations by those in authority, and that certainly led to a lot of the confusion, which could easily have been avoided by clarity from the administration.

Any thinking student who was interested in being a biblical Christian and obeying the word of God could see these differences and learn to simply conform/obey rather than try to put spiritual meaning on institutional rules, but when the confusion arose over equating the different types of rules, and that confusion largely came from the administration, it's easy to see how charges of hypocrisy would arise.  Such confusion doesn't directly cause the decisions made by the students in the book (who clearly weren't really regenerate to begin with), but it certainly could have affected their thinking and helped lead to later decisions.

Dave Barnhart

G. N. Barkman's picture

I was at BJU from 1960 to 1972, and my father taught there until 1982.  (If I have that date right.)  One of my best friends at BJA (High School) came out as gay several years after leaving BJA.  I never suspected.  Another close BJU friend who helped me minister to a Youth Group in a local church left his wife for the gay lifestyle.  His wife had a hard time believing I didn't know he was gay, given our close ministry relationship, but I didn't have a clue.  I could cite others. 

The point is, that homosexuals are found in all Christian schools and churches.  Some are saved, and trusting God to help them remain sexually pure.  Others are counterfeits, secretly practicing gay sex, and hoping not to get caught.  For the latter group, there will always be self-justification, which usually includes accusations of hypocrisy directed to the church or school.  I take these with a grain of salt.  When one's heart is set on sin, there will always be blame shifting.  Even if a school had no rules that were not unquestionably Scriptural, those determined to sin would find cause for blame.  It's the nature of the fallen human heart.  Did BJU have rules that were questionable?  Yes.  Did those rules cause people to sin?  Doubtful.  I survived just fine, and thank God for the training I received at BJU in spite of some obvious imperfections.   

G. N. Barkman

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Even if a school had no rules that were not unquestionably Scriptural, those determined to sin would find cause for blame.  It's the nature of the fallen human heart.  Did BJU have rules that were questionable?  Yes.  Did those rules cause people to sin?  Doubtful.  I survived just fine, and thank God for the training I received at BJU in spite of some obvious imperfections.   

Exactly.  This is my take on it as well.  I also not only survived but appreciated what I got at BJU, in spite of the inconsistencies in the rules and enforcement.  I certainly wish they had done some things better, but those who wanted to get the best out of what they provided could and did.

Dave Barnhart

Steve Newman's picture

I know of friends from my days at Pillsbury who are in much the same condition as these described above. There was an inability to speak of issues of sexual sin in a meaningful way from many leaders at that time. Yes, there are inconsistencies, there are by necessity rules that are either conceived in inconsistency or enforced in inconsistency. However, that does not excuse the sexual sin of these people, believers or unbelievers. These people could be believers, I would not try to judge whether they are or not. 

However, to embrace only God's love and not His holiness is the source of repeated error, not just by this movement, but many other forms of acceptance of selfish and sinful desires we see today. Homosexuality is a sin, not the unpardonable sin. I also know of homosexuals who were saved by the grace of God who went on to live a celibate and victorious life. 

Bert Perry's picture

GN wrote:

Did those rules cause people to sin?  Doubtful

Agreed.  Nobody put a gun to anybody's head to force them to sin, but I would be willing to say that when colleges and others conflate cultural positions with Biblical, what they've just done is to degrade the significance and uniqueness of Scripture.  I would argue that if we do so, we are likely far less likely to see repentance among believers and conversion among unbelievers.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

To the degree anyone conflates opinion with scripture, they have, indeed, degraded the uniqueness of Scripture.  That was one of the primary charges made against the Pharisees by Christ, and it didn't end with them.  The practice is all to alive and well among Christians today.  But it is also true that no individual or institution gets it right all the time, so there is also a danger in shifting responsibility away from the sinner.  When we demand perfection from Christian leaders before addressing sin, we're going to be waiting a very long time.

G. N. Barkman

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