Being gay at Jerry Falwell’s university

I just finished reading what has to be one of the most riveting articles I’ve ever seen. The author is Brandon Ambrosino, and the title is “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University.” Writing for The Atlantic, Ambrosino tells his story of coming out as a homosexual while he was a student at Liberty. This is not a conversion story. Ambrosino writes as one who has come to terms with his homosexuality and has embraced it.

The real import of the story is how the Christians at Liberty University responded to the revelation of his sexuality. He had feared that they would want to stone him. But instead, he found out that quite the opposite happened. Even though professors and administrators believed homosexuality to be a sin, they loved him and embraced him with open arms. His expectations were so off that he realized he had been suffering from “homophobiaphobia.” These fundamentalist Christians didn’t turn out to be the nasty caricatures that they are often made out to be.

Even when it came to Dr. Falwell himself, Ambrosino believed the caricature didn’t fit. He writes:

Well, what about Jerry Falwell himself? After all, he did blame 9/11 on the gays. He did make that remark during service about “even barnyard animals knowing better than that.” He also did make certain to ban Soul Force, a gay-affirming Christian ministry, from stepping foot on our campus.

But what about when he opened the Liberty Godparent Home to take in unwanted children? Or when he hosted a forum on campus about homosexuality, and invited 100 prominent gay leaders to take part in the discussion? Or when he would drive around campus every night at lights-out to blow his horn and wave goodnight to all of us students?

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 could go on and on about this article, but I won’t. You just need to read it for yourself. Before you do, however, a word of warning. This article is at least a PG-13. It has some crude and suggestive expressions in it. But I think the author’s description of how he was treated by Christians makes it worth weathering the tough stuff. I understand if someone might come to a different conclusion. Caveat lector.

One more caution. As you read Ambrosino’s piece, remember that you are only hearing one side of the story. I have already seen some people criticizing the faculty at Liberty University for not calling him to repentance. I would advise such critics to remember the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17 and not to jump to the worst possible conclusions about the good folks at Liberty. No, Ambrosino doesn’t mention calls to repentance in his article, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, I am fairly confident that faculty and administrators at Liberty are no shrinking violets when it comes to repentance. Just because Ambrosino doesn’t say so doesn’t mean that it isn’t so. Be careful lest you find yourself in a circular firing squad shooting at the good guys.

(HT: Patrick Schreiner)

27 Responses to Being gay at Jerry Falwell’s university

  1. Mary Gray Moser April 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    God help this and all homosexuals. I see this article as intended to further Christian acceptance of homosexuality. I believe that if Jerry Falwell had known this man was homosexual, he would have tried to get him in line with Scripture. If that failed, he would have rightly dismissed him from Liberty. –Surely, some readers of this article were at Liberty when the writer was and knew him. I’d like to hear their story.

    • Daniel April 7, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      Jerry Falwell would have loved him, and attempted to correct him at the same time. Brandon’s description of Falwell was very accurate. He loved people, especially his students. Knowing what I knew about him and the interactions I had, I don’t believe he would have kicked Brandon out, as that wouldn’t accomplish anything.

      • James Arnold April 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

        “Get him in line with scripture”? No amount of bible removes homosexuality. Christ does. And Falwell along with the Liberty professors understood that the only way to show Christ was to express his love.

    • Lauren Bertrand April 7, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

      Judging from the typical audience at The Atlantic, there’s no need “to further Christian acceptance of homosexuality”–98% of the periodical’s readers are already fully on-board the gay train. If anything, this article at least helps to offer a less distorted, simplistic perception of Liberty University to a readership that most likely had a uniformly negative view of the school beforehand.

  2. Keith Kraska April 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    I read the article, and someone tell me if I missed it, but did anyone ever even suggest repentance? Or would that have been too hateful?
    Of course we should love, and now we’re so good at it that we’re loving people straight to hell without even a warning. Perhaps doctors should just give their patients a hug and invite them to dinner while never saying a word about medicine.

    • Denny Burk April 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      I think this criticism hits wide of the mark. As you read Ambrosino’s piece, remember that you are only hearing one side of the story. I have already seen some people criticizing the faculty at Liberty University for not calling him to repentance. I would advise such critics to remember the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17 and not to jump to the worst possible conclusions about the good folks at Liberty. No, Ambrosino doesn’t mention that they did in his article, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, I am fairly confident that faculty and administrators at Liberty are no shrinking violets when it comes to repentance. Just because Ambrosino doesn’t say so doesn’t mean that it isn’t so. Be careful lest you find yourself in a circular firing squad shooting at the good guys.

      • Mary Gray Moser April 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

        Agree!!!

      • Ken Temple April 8, 2013 at 9:07 am #

        Good emphasis and advice –

        Thanks for that advice Denny and warning from Proverbs 18:17 – Ambrosino might be leaving out the fact that they did call him to repentance. Ambrosino might be embellishing details; and leaving out some facts too.

        But, by the claims he makes of several professors and counselors – if he is lying and leaving out those facts about a clear call to repentance, he would be taking a big chance/risk of being clearly called out as a liar – since he names names of professors and counselors – about 3-5 different people.

        • Keith Kraska April 8, 2013 at 9:49 am #

          Yes, I should clarify and limit my initial question to those mentioned in the article. It’s reasonable to believe there were others who brought it up who never made it into the piece. But point taken on reacting to one side of the story.

      • Byron April 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

        Denny – you and I were at the Baylor at the same time, and were both exposed to a similar mindset that the article’s author experienced at Liberty. Regardless of the demographic, people are quite sick of church, church-folk, and all the church-iness that I tolerated while growing up. I am glad that the author was exposed to Jesus-likeness at Liberty and I pray tht he and we are exposed to the one true Christ. Sic’Em!

        • Denny Burk April 8, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

          I didn’t go to Baylor. I think you may have the wrong guy. Sorry!

      • Beverly Carpenter April 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

        DB “I think this criticism hits wide of the mark. As you read Ambrosino’s piece, remember that you are only hearing one side of the story. I have already seen some people criticizing the faculty at Liberty University for not calling him to repentance. I would advise such critics to remember the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17 and not to jump to the worst possible conclusions about the good folks at Liberty. No, Ambrosino doesn’t mention that they did in his article, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, I am fairly confident that faculty and administrators at Liberty are no shrinking violets when it comes to repentance. Just because Ambrosino doesn’t say so doesn’t mean that it isn’t so. Be careful lest you find yourself in a circular firing squad shooting at the good guys.”

        Professor Burk,
        Why is it another “See?! We don’t treat them like jerks – the world is wrong!!!” story? What do we need to prove and who do we need to prove it to?

        You have admitted that this is only half of the story but the other have is crucial to understanding true Christian love. This side only shows love that the world likes. You have only assumed that the men at Liberty may well have called this young man to repentance but you don’t know, at least at the time that you wrote this comment. There are many who are not familiar with the men at Liberty so what are we to think with half the story? The men at Liberty may well have handled this in an appropriate manner but that is NOT part of the story as written which is all we have to read here.

        It is unhealthy to present things in such a way because the way of Christ includes the call to repentance. You have Christians who read your blog trying to figure all this out and half the story is not helpful to them.

        We need to stop soothing ourselves because the media and culture at large think we’re jerks. To them we are regardless of our actions, it is the Truth that is offensive, and that is to be expected, Christ told us it would be so.

        Thank you for your labors – your blog is often very helpful to me.

        Bev Carpenter

  3. Dan Phillips April 7, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I want to write before fully reading the article. Articles like this, by homosexual students attending schools they know identify their behavior as sin, tend to be of two kinds:

    1. They were so stupid and mean to me (i.e. not okay with my pursuit of homosexuality)

    2. They were pretty great anyway (i.e. winked at my pursuit of homosexuality).

    It’s refreshing when a Christian institution sticks to its Biblical convictions (ever!); it’d be nice to read about someone loved, cared for, and there unambiguously called to repent and warned of the consequences of rejecting Christ.

  4. Matt Martin April 8, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Maybe you should just go ahead and change the subtitle of your blog to “A commentary about homosexuality.”

    • Denny Burk April 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      Sure seems that way lately, doesn’t it?

  5. James Bradshaw April 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Dan thinks the writer should have been ” … warned of the consequences of rejecting Christ “.

    Well, that’s just it. The student, from all accounts, was already a Christian. He had faith.

    What I think you’re suggesting is that the student must not only have faith in Christ, but he must have a full understanding of Biblical morality and be able to live that system of ethics.

    Here’s what I don’t get: it seems that Christians allow for a great deal of “wiggle room” to other Christians regarding a number of ethical issues. For example: it seems that reasonable people can disagree on what the permissible grounds for divorce is, whether contraception is permissible for married couples, whether working on the Sabbath or having graven images or portraits of Christ is acceptable. You can disagree on when it’s acceptable to torture enemies of war. You can even disagree on whether our American ancestors fondness for the slave trade rendered their faith invalid or not.

    Despite all this, permitting two men or two women to commit to each other is “self-evidently” wrong in all circumstances, and no “true” Christian can possibly disagree on this.

    I’m not sure I understand a hierarchy of values whereby treating human beings as chattel for one’s profit is morally neutral at worst but physical affection between members of the same sex is morally repugnant.

    • Michael Lynch April 9, 2013 at 6:58 am #

      “Here’s what I don’t get: it seems that Christians allow for a great deal of “wiggle room” to other Christians regarding a number of ethical issues. For example: it seems that reasonable people can disagree on what the permissible grounds for divorce is, whether contraception is permissible for married couples, whether working on the Sabbath or having graven images or portraits of Christ is acceptable. You can disagree on when it’s acceptable to torture enemies of war. You can even disagree on whether our American ancestors fondness for the slave trade rendered their faith invalid or not.”

      And then there are plenty of issues we are together on. Sometimes we just get it right. Thank God for grace.

    • Michael Bauer April 9, 2013 at 8:36 am #

      The issues of slavery are multi-faceted and have been discussed elsewhere in more depth than can be discussed in a comment. See here e.g. http://thegospelcoalition.org/
      blogs/thabitianyabwile/2013/04/02/a-black-and-tan-round-up/

      I personally believe that the chattel slavery of 19th century southern America was morally reprehensible and needed to end, but there is room in Scripture for slaves and slave-owners. This is not the case for homosexuals.

      The issue of homosexuality is of a completely different nature altogether, and there is a much clearer biblical precedent for the rejection of the practice. It is not mere “physical affection” but is as the Holy Spirit clearly tells us through Paul in Romans 1:24-27 contrary to our very nature as human beings created in the image of God. When we place human feelings and emotion over the holiness of God, we invert the order. When we make anything other than God into gods, even seemingly good things like love and acceptance, we worship the created rather than the creator, and in his perfect and holy judgment God gives us up to the lusts of flesh. The most loving thing you can do for another person is to be intolerant of their utter sinfulness and show them the riches to be had in Christ. Tolerance is the great evil, and allows everyone to grow stagnant in their own sinful desires so as not to offend. We need to remember that God is God, and we are not. And never will be.

  6. Jack Brooks April 9, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Because Jesus Christ said it was morally repugnant. Christ unconditionally affirmed the writings of Moses. He called them divinely-inspired. That means He affirmed everything contained within them. He said, in the Sermon on the Mount, that He didn’t come to abrogate the Law, but to fulfill it. He taught that Adam and Eve were real people, and they were His template for answering marriage relationship questions. To affirm homosexuality is to deny Christ.

  7. James Bradshaw April 9, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    “I personally believe that the chattel slavery of 19th century southern America was morally reprehensible and needed to end, but there is room in Scripture for slaves and slave-owners. ”

    You sound like a deeply confused and conflicted man, and you’re playing games. If Scripture permits the institution of slavery and slavery is instrinsically and always “morally reprehensible”, then you’ve conceded that Scripture is wrong. If it’s not morally wrong, then your objections to it are based on your own personal sentiments.

    I think religious fundamentalists such as yourself need to be more open in public about these positions of yours. None of you, when interviewed on television or radio, want to concede that your holy book of *choice* condones buying and selling human beings. It’s as if you’re embarrassed by this. If you’re not, then why not sell it? After all, think how thousands or millions of indentured servants kidnapped for the profit of “Bible-believing” Christians would benefit the economy.

    • Michael Bauer April 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

      Sir, if you’re going to quote me please read what I wrote. My statement did not say that slavery is “always” morally reprehensible. I said that the 19th century chattel slavery was morally reprehensible. As I said there are biblical mandates to both slaves and slave-owners, none of which I will get into, because I don’t have the time, its been done by men smarter than me, frankly because it’s not important in the overarching scheme of life or theme of Scripture, and it’s not even close to the issue at hand. If you want to read those arguments I refer you to the link in my post above. But this was nowhere near the crux of my argument. And please don’t blame all Christians for other Christians’ words and actions. I’m sure you don’t do the same to all Russians for Stalin’s words and actions.

  8. Doug Hess April 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Denny,
    I appreciate your article and candid response. It would be great for the National media to put more of this out, but I’m not holding my breath.
    Doug Hess

  9. Martha Simmons April 10, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    I have never approved of the behavior, but have ALWAYS loved the person. Gay men make make really good friends, I know, because I’ve had them for friends since I was 18 years old. It’s not an easy “cross to bear” for them, you know. 2000 baby boys are born every year with female organs inside of their bodies and hormones reek havoc on them too. GOD loves them just as much as me and you.

  10. Lauren Bertrand April 10, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Martha Simmons – Fascinating. This is an assertion I have never heard before. Do the gay men have ovaries, or is it a uterus? So I guess lesbians are born with male organs inside their bodies too?

  11. louiswlyons April 10, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    DB, it seems to me that the writer of the article did specifically say that he was not called to repentance but instead he was told to “like himself.” This advice is so far from Jesus’ message to “deny yourself” that it runs in contradiction to the gospel itself. The gospel does not tell us that we should “like ourselves” instead it tells us that we should not like ourselves, and that we should deny ourselves, and to “not even lift up our eyes to heaven, but instead beat our breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” to which Jesus responds by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

    Granted, it was only Dr. Reeves that he says told him that. But look at what was said,

    “neither of them ever expressed an interest in “curing” me. Did they have an agenda? Yes. Their goal, which they were very honest about, was to help me to like myself, and to find peace with the real Brandon.”

    To translate this into Biblical language,

    “neither of them ever called me to repentance. Did they have an agenda? Yes. Their agenda was to help me like myself and to accept my sinful passions which is after all the real me, and they taught me that such sin should be embraced, and they helped me find peace with my sin rather than God.”

    is that not the case?

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