WHEN JOHN BAGLEY JR. chose to attend evangelical Wheaton College in the mid-2000s, he said he was still trying to understand himself. As a Black queer man, Bagley said he spent a lot of his time after graduation just attempting to “put together the pieces of a lot of what was deconstructed or broken while ... in that environment.”
The year after Bagley graduated, he was contacted by a friend who was still a student at the school in Wheaton, Ill. The friend shared with him what would become known in Wheaton circles as “The Letter.” It was a message from students and alumni released following an April 2011 on-campus chapel series on “Sexuality and Wholeness.” The message from the college was clear: Heterosexual relationships were the only legitimate and faithful choice for Christians.
Wheaton alumnus Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, was among the series speakers that week, delivering a sermon based on his book, which chronicles his decision to be a “celibate homosexual Christian.”
“Many of us felt trapped and unable to respond honestly to these messages while we were students,” the alumni authors of “The Letter” wrote. To current LGBTQ students, they added, “your sexual identity is not a tragic sign of the sinful nature of the world. You are not tragic. Your desire for companionship, intimacy, and love is not shameful. It is to be affirmed and celebrated just as you are to be affirmed and celebrated.”
More than 700 alumni and students, including Bagley, signed the open letter. Bagley also became an informal member of an LGBTQ alumni group known as OneWheaton, which launched amid the controversy.