“There was something about me that I had believed was preventing me from encountering or being able to be a part of the people of God, and it was that I was gay,” Reverend Kevin Slusher told a packed Dimnent as part of the story he was invited to share at Chapel this past Friday, October 18. This is the sentiment that left some students walking away from Chapel feeling encouraged and empowered by the message, while many others felt uncomfortable, confused and frustrated.
Steven Rodriguez and Kevin Slusher, the pastors whose talk provoked such strong reactions, were brought in as “Singleness Speakers” ready to share their experiences with romantic relationships, or lack thereof. In their introduction, Dean of the Chapel Trygve Johnson shared that these men are co-writing a book on “singleness, marriage, and the cross.” Rodriguez introduced the ideas of what family means in the Bible, describing a time when Jesus himself “speaks a family into existence” when he is on the cross addressing his mother and disciples. This began the dive further into what it means to live a Christ-centered life. Rodriguez described how each of us are “called to follow Christ, dying at every level of our existence.”
Slusher then took over, explaining his experience with faith and sexuality: “One of the ways this grace of God confronted me in my own life, rupturing my own hopes and dreams and knitting them back together on the other side of the cross was in relation to my own sexuality and my hope for a family.” Slusher describes the struggle he had in processing his own identification as a gay man, saying, “I grew up night after night praying that God would heal me, would take this away, hoping that maybe I’d just find the right girl and somehow fall in love and all of this would be able to be put away.” In Slusher’s process of attempting to reconcile his faith and his sexuality, he said that he saw “two options.” The first option was a “healing narrative: the option of reparative therapy, of conversion therapy. This option said that the vision of God for your life is to become straight. That’s what holiness looks like: to become straight, to get married, and live this sort of middle-class American dream.” The second option, Slusher said, “was to study and read scripture in such a way to reinterpret the way that the Christian tradition had interpreted the witness of scripture for over two thousand years and across a variety of cultures that marriage was between one man and one woman.” Slusher then went on to describe the third option he discovered: celibacy. He vowed to never get married or have a family, and found that this was a way for him to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.
This trichotomy is the very thing that puzzles the population of students who left Chapel feeling uneasy. Each option requires either a limitation of human sexuality or a reinterpretation of faith. Instead of pursuing reinterpretation, the Chapel speaker spoke on his positive experience limiting his human sexuality for the sake of his relationship with God.
One attendee shared that “I was extremely ashamed to be sitting in on chapel last Friday.” They feel strongly about the lack of discussion surrounding this controversial subject and frustrated by the fact that “I heard the words ‘conversion therapy’ come out of the speaker’s mouth within the first 5 minutes with no negative connotations following.” These feelings were are all magnified, knowing that there were perspective families in the audience that day attending Chapel during an Anchor Visit to campus. “Trygve welcomed [the visiting students] by saying that ‘everyone is welcome here at Hope,’ but the message seemed to convey the opposite: ‘You are welcome at Hope if you check the right boxes.’”
One of the population of students who felt differently about Friday’s message, Reed Hanson (’20) says “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rev. Slusher.” Hanson focused on very different aspects of the speech, saying that the point “wasn’t to advocate a position or to tell people what to think,” but rather “to display the brokenness of man, the glory of God, and the redemptive power of Jesus.”
While both Hanson and the anonymous student feel positive feelings overall towards Campus Ministries, the organization on campus in charge of bringing speakers to Chapel, they feel differently about their handling of this situation. Hanson argues that “If Campus Ministries truly [did not approve of homosexuality], then they wouldn’t have invited an openly gay man to speak at chapel.” The anonymous student feels differently, describing how they felt “gravely disappointed” at the lack of discussion, clarification or apology from Campus Ministries on the following Monday’s chapel.
If you would like to listen in to Friday’s Chapel, it is posted in podcast form with the recordings of past chapels online on Hope’s blog website.
This article is not the conclusion of this story. There are hopes that we will gain clarity on Hope College’s take on human sexuality in the midst of this transition. If you, the reader, have any insight or comments you would like to share, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.