What’s it Like to be Gay at a Christian University?

Christians are often presented in the media as intolerant, self-righteous, and hypocritical. And we’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t admit that unfortunately some times that’s true. People calling themselves Christians have done a lot of un-Christlike things. But the vast majority of Christians I know aren’t like that at all. The ones that I know are–not perfectly, but genuinely–compassionate, humble, and gracious.

They work hard in their job, love their families and are a part of their community. They serve as foster parents, sponsor international kids, and sometimes even adopt them. They go to the prisons, volunteer in crisis pregnancy centers, mentor kids, and coach teams. This list could go on and on and on. Maybe I’m privileged to know some special and unique Christians but I don’t think so. I think that the exceptions are the ones that the media focuses on.

Brandon Ambrosino went to Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, because his high school girlfriend was headed their and his parents (his dad was a pastor) approved of a Christian education. But, as he tells his story in The Atlantic, his girlfriend ended the relationship and Brandon came to terms with what he knew for a long time–he was gay. Brandon, being at a university with a strict moral code and founded by the same man who was the leader of the Moral Majority, expected the worst.

But that’s where the story gets interesting because what he found was that Christians acted like Christians! Shocker, I know. One professor, Dr. Prior, invited Brandon to her office where she gave him the opportunity to tell his story. After he Brandon realized that she already knew what he was going to tell her he was able to say it out loud.

“Homosexuality!” I blurted. “I’ve been struggling with homosex…” and I broke down. Here I was in the English chair’s office at the world’s most homophobic university, and I’d just admitted to her I was gay.

She got up from her chair, and rushed over to me. I braced myself for the lecture I was going to receive, for the insults she would hurl, for the ridicule I would endure. I knew how Christians were, and how they clung to their beliefs about homosexuals and Sodom and Gomorrah, and how disgusted they were by gay people. The tears fell more freely now because I really liked this teacher, and now I ruined our relationship.

“I love you,” she said. I stopped crying for a second and looked up at her. Here was this conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage woman who taught lectures like “The Biblical Basis for Studying Literature,” and here she was kneeling down on the floor next me, rubbing my back, and going against every stereotype I’d held about Bible-believing, right-leaning, gun-slinging Christians. 

Dr. Reeves, another of the faculty at Liberty, served as Brandon’s counselor not just while he was at the school but for years afterwards. He still considers Dr. Reeves and friend and they stay in touch.

Brandon asks the question, “Well, what about Jerry Falwell himself?” Before his death in 2007, Falwell was not my favorite representative of Christianity in the media and said some things that at a minimum could be labelled ungracious. Interestingly enough the article defends Falwell as one who genuinely cared for the students and what Jesus calls “the least of these.” 

When I think of Jerry Falwell, I don’t think about him the way Bill Maher does. I think about the man who would wear a huge Blue Afro wig to our school games, or the man who slid down a waterslide in his suit, or the man who would allow himself to be mocked during our coffeehouse shows. I think about the man who reminded us every time he addressed our student body that God loved us, that he loved us, and that he was always available if ever we needed him.

I never told Dr. Falwell that I was gay; but I wouldn’t have been afraid of his response. Would he have thought homosexuality was an abomination? Yes. Would he have thought it was God’s intention for me to be straight? Yes. But would he have wanted to stone me? No. And if there were some that would’ve wanted to stone me, I can imagine Jerry Falwell, with his fat smile, telling all of my accusers to go home and pray because they were wicked people. 

I’d encourage you to read the whole article but there’s a few things you might want to know. This is most definitely not a “conversion” story. Mr. Ambrosino eventually left Liberty a year early and has fully embraced his homosexuality. That’s what makes his perspective and opinion so interesting. And some of the content of the article might make some people uncomfortable. Let’s say it’s at least rated PG-13. 

Perhaps the story that Brandon Ambrosino tells will simply give you the encouragement that there are other Christians who, like you, love Jesus and love other people. Maybe it will give you the confidence to extend God’s grace to people in your life.

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