The following is the fifth installment of the “Out of the Closet and Into the Pews” series. The series features members of The Reformation Project’s Inaugural Conference -a leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are committed to reform.
Sex. Drugs. Daft Punk
by Jonathan Daniel Gonzales (BEA guest writer)
Located under the slate grey sky of the Pacific Northwest, lies Reed College, a quirky community where rules do not apply as they would at most other institutions of higher learning. Reed is not governed by a book of rules and polices, rather, it is a community governed by an Honor Principle. This Honor Principle is an abstract community standard that essentially allows the students the autonomy to self-govern.
Princeton Review lists Reed College in Portland, Oregon as an institution where the students are “most likely to ignore God”. It is only fitting that the unofficial college motto is: Communism. Atheism. Free Love. I say “unofficial”, but you can actually get a t-shirt, coffee mug, or a hoodie with that motto printed on it. You know, just in case you wanted to send something to grandma.
Reed prides itself with having arguably some of the most intellectual students in the country. The academic curriculum is among the most rigorous in American higher education. Reedies would describe the rigor as “having their brains put through a meat grinder”.
Reed College sounded like utopia. It seemed like the perfect place to escape from my present life and from God. I had spent the first quarter century of my life in Southern California. I accepted that California was the place where I lived, but I didn’t consider it home, because home is a place where you have a sense of belonging. Although I have a very loving and affirming family, I didn’t feel like I belonged in California.
I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship, was questioning my sexuality, was questioning my political affiliation, was questioning my faith and was suffering from anxiety, as I was trying to process all of these feelings. I was at a crossroads with my identities. I needed an out.
In the summer of 2008, I was given my out when I was offered a position as a Resident Director at Reed. I really didn’t think that I would be offered the position after the group of Reedies that interviewed me honed in on the word “Lutheran” on my résumé and focused a majority of their questions toward my assumed religiosity. The Reedies seemed pleased after I explained to them that “Lutheran” was merely the middle name of my alma mater, and that Lutherans loved beer and advocated for the inclusion of all beliefs in their church including those of atheists and agnostics.
When I arrived in Portland that summer, I felt different. Different in the sense that I felt like Reed and Portland were places that I could eventually call home. The affirmation came during my first staff meeting with my House Advisers (Resident Assistants at most other colleges). One of my HAs decided this meeting was the time to pass on to me some critical information. At Reed College, I was told, that you needed to come out of the closet as straight; otherwise it was assumed you were gay, bi or queer.
For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged.
At Reed, I didn’t have to talk about God and I didn’t have to come out of any closet. I could just be myself and not have anyone judge any part of my identity.
Reed College really lived up to the hype and I was very much in my element as a member of that community. Students would say that I was the “most Reedie” administrator, an identity that I would later come to embrace.
Many students on every college campus in this nation will engage in sexual activity and experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Reed was just transparent about those issues and addressed any concerns in accordance with their Honor Principle. This made for great honorable discourse.
I loved being an educator rather than an enforcer. The counselor in me found joy in having conversations with Reedies as to why smoking in the dorm was not conducive for a healthy community. The feminist in me loved coordinating programs that would engage college men on how they could help prevent gender violence and sexism on campus. The helper in me didn’t mind sitting with a dormie (on campus resident) in the stairwell in the wee morning hours until she felt sober enough to walk upstairs to her room and not wake her roommate. This was all great, but there was a central identity that I was not embracing that was preventing me from being whole.
It wasn’t until at the beginning of my second year at Reed that I met a House Adviser that identified as Christian. “A Christian? A Reedie who is a Christian?” I asked myself. It wasn’t long after that I met yet another Reedie who identified as a Christian! It was only a matter of time that God would reveal himself to me through these students whose motto is Communism. Atheism. Free Love.
At that moment God had my attention. He communicated to me that I needed to be transparent with all of my identities and that I needed to understand that people can be Christian and [insert identity here].
This was the college where students are most likely to ignore God.
Of course! God is omnipresent! Duh. Of course God was working and moving at Reed College! Most Reedies just choose to ignore his presence on their campus as I had been doing.
It was at Reed College that I came out of the closet as a Christian.
I was accepted.
All parts of my identity were affirmed at Reed College.
When I look back on my time at Reed, I know that God was very much present. He was present at the Daft Punk dance parties in the Student Union. He was present on the Great Lawn every April 20th. He brought comfort to the community in times of tragedy. He was very much present during Renn Fayre festivities. He was working during a service trip in New Orleans when a Reedie said me, “This is what religion should look like” as he experienced a woman after God’s own heart literally giving everything that she had to her neighbors who were in need. He was working when Reed hosted an LGBT student leadership conference and one of the presenters stated, “I love Jesus, but he’s not the only man I love.”
Many Christians will often compare Reed College to Sodom. They will argue that God would not show his presence anywhere near that campus because students reject him.
What I say to those folks is, “God is very much present at Reed. The many of students just choose to ignore him. It doesn’t change the fact that he will continue to pursue them. Every single one of those Reedies was created in his image. As atheist and agnostic as most of these Reedies are, they are some of the most Christ-like people that I’ve ever known.”
There are far too many people in the LGBT community that feel the need to run away from their churches and their families in order to find a sense of belonging, a place where all parts of their identity are accepted.
Sadly, many individuals feel that they need to choose between God and their sexuality, because that is what they have learned from their churches and non-affirming families. I have many friends who are non-affirming of LGBT people. Many of these friends have young children, some of whom will come to a crossroads with parts of their identity at some point in their life.
It’s for this next generation that I fight for reformation in the church. It’s for this next generation that I am transparent with and embrace all parts of my identity, so they know that they are not alone.
Non-affirming churches should really take a page from Reed College because Reed really was the most inclusive, most loving, and the most honorable church community that I have ever been apart of.
Jonathan Daniel Gonzales lives in Austin, Texas where he works in Residence Life at The University of Texas at Austin. He has prior higher education work experience at Reed College and California Lutheran University. Jonathan earned a BA in Communication and an MS in Counseling from California Lutheran. Jonathan can be found on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/swimforthebrightest or on twitter at @ORbrewed
The opinions expressed above are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of Brown-Eyed Amazon. Publication on this website should not be considered an endorsement.