College Baptism into the Homosexuality Debate

John C. Rankin (December 23, 2013)

In the spring of 1974, when a student at Denison University, there was a forum at which a male homosexual and a lesbian spoke. The man was student president, and the woman was from Columbus, Ohio. This was the first such “coming out” event the homosexual-rights movement had on our campus – as across the country this effort was then initially underway. It was held in the auditorium in the Student Union, a modest sized room, but packed out for the event (some 120-150 people). At that time I had about zero knowledge of homosexuality.

The man and woman each gave their “testimony” about how they came to “realize” they were “gay,” though I remember few details. I was struck by many intellectual inconsistencies, but most of all I asked myself why they were going public about it. I knew of no homosexual-rights agenda, but I could discern that there was some agenda at play. There was a substantial interaction period with the audience, and every question or comment was supportive of this “coming out,” whether from students or faculty. As I observed this phenomenon, I felt a sinking sense in my spirit, wondering if I were the only one there who disagreed.

The homosexual man spoke at one point about his need to “love” men, and that he could not fulfill this need until he embraced homosexuality. So I finally mustered the courage and raised my hand and asked him if it were possible to “love” a man without it being sexual. And after all, I continued, didn’t Jesus love all men accordingly? And what did Jesus mean when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself?” I was greeted with what seemed to be universal derision, laughter and caustic mockery. How dare I raise such a question, and especially, how dare I raise the name of Jesus in such a setting? I do not remember exactly how the man answered my question, except to say that he avoided its intent.

When the forum was over, I left with the crush of people up the jammed aisle, into the hallway, some down several flights of stairs and others into the elevator. It was a case study in eye avoidance. No one wanted to talk to me or look at me. But the next day a fellow classmate, and not a Christian to my knowledge, went out of his way to thank me for asking the question. He thought it hit the mark, and that others who were there also thought the same way.

My first public address on the subject was not until 1994 at my Mars Hill Forum at Yale with Episcopal Bishop John Spong. It was not the subject of the evening, but he brought it up,and I had to give perspective. So I got drawn into the need to address it biblically, in seeking to affirm the image of God in all people, rooted in the prior supposition of the goodness of man and woman in marriage. The goal of the Gospel, always, is not to win a debate, but to win honest relationships in the face of real debates.