North Park University might be the only evangelical college in the country with a school-sanctioned student group that includes the word “queer” in its name. Like many other evangelical schools, North Park has had unofficial clubs or informal meetings of students to talk about issues of sexuality, but two years ago a proposal was accepted by the student senate to make “Queers and Allies,” or Q&A, an official student club. The core leadership team is small, but events often attract between 35 and 75 students to hear various perspectives and discuss topics ranging from interpretations of scripture to “queer history” and understandings of gay identity.
There has been no public opposition to the club’s existence, says Rick Sindt, one of the group’s student founders and leaders. “The overall atmosphere is ambiguous,” Sindt says. “There are institutional policies in place that hinder faculty from being out or even vocal.” But still, he says, encouragement both on campus and from alumni has been “abundant.”
North Park upholds the teachings of its sponsoring denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, which prohibits the ordination of openly gay clergy and does not allow for its pastors to perform same-sex weddings, unions, or blessings. Still, Sindt, who is gay, is actively involved in campus ministries and the spiritual life of the college. He recently gave his testimony at a chapel service and traveled to India for a service and mission trip. While it has been hard for him to find a church home, he remains dedicated to his faith.
Students involved in Q&A regularly wrestle with scripture, a practice central to basic evangelical commitment. Instead of dismissing the Bible or reducing their views of its teaching, some argue that it is exactly because they take the Bible seriously that they are supportive of other LGBT students. “For me, it comes down to what I’ve found in the gospel,” says Abi Svoboda, another student who identifies as straight and is involved with Q&A as an ally. “I cannot walk around this world, or this campus, and ignore the hate that is inexplicably directed toward others—toward humans created in the image of God.”
Also important is the power of story. Andrew Freeman, an openly gay man who graduated from North Park in 2005, started “Coming Out Covenant,” a blog dedicated to telling the stories of LGBT Christians, their friends, and families. The site involves some North Park students and alums but also brings the conversation to the broader denomination. “Our entire faith revolves around the telling and retelling of the story of God’s action in the world in and through Christ,” says Freeman. “As soon as you start telling stories, this ceases to be merely an abstract issue and becomes about real people who are often closer to us than we had realized. These are our neighbors, friends, classmates, relatives.”
While North Park as an institution remains traditional in its stance on sexuality, the space that it allows for students to talk about the issue is unique. For a generation that values dialogue and relationships, North Park’s commitment to providing space for honest conversation might be a model for other evangelical schools to follow.
Tim King is chief communications officer at Sojourners.