Fuller Theological Seminary students Nick Palacios, Samantha Curley, and Chelsea McInturff formed the student group OneTable last fall to discuss beliefs concerning homosexuality. They hosted monthly meals where students with a variety of worldviews—gay and straight, liberal and conservative—met to discuss how homosexuality and Christianity intersect. Palacios’ goal for the group is to “create an environment where answers aren’t needed to enter the conversation.”
When the Associated Press published a story on the group last weekend, Fuller’s new president, Mark Labberton, issued a statement clarifying the seminary’s position against the homosexual lifestyle but ultimately supporting the group. His semi-approval makes Fuller the first evangelical seminary to support an LGBT campus group.
The seminary’s Community Standards state that “premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct (are) inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Since OneTable doesn’t want to change Fuller’s policy on homosexuality and isn’t a political advocacy group, Labberton said the seminary welcomes its mission of discussion: “OneTable provides a safe place to discuss issues related to sexuality and gender—issues that are vitally important, personal, and fraught with debate that is frequently divisive and contentious, not least in an evangelical context.”
When I asked for an interview with Labberton to clarify questions about how he can support OneTable when its members don’t all believe in the school’s community standards, the school’s spokesman referred me back to the president’s official statement.
Even though the seminary officially believes in abstinence for same-sex attracted people, one Fuller professor publicly supports gay marriage and fully ordained gay ministers. Tony Jones, who teaches a three-year course in Christian spirituality, wrote on his blog, Theoblogy: “I’ve talked to Mark [Labberton] in the past about how Fuller will take up the pressing issues of sexuality, gender, and [LGBT] persons in the church in his tenure. He didn’t shy away from my question. Instead, he said that Fuller needs to have this conversation, and it will be had within the context of Fuller history as an evangelical institution.”
The seminary not only opened its doors to the group, but also allowed OneTable to present a festival for films highlighting homosexuality last spring. It was the first festival of its kind on the campus, and one that the group wants to sponsor every year. The group showed films like Milk, Pariah, and Seventh Gay Adventist.
The gay advocacy group, GLAAD, praised the event and its student leaders: “As a leading evangelical seminary, Fuller prepares future leaders of the church to be ministers and advocates for change. Events like this film festival will ensure that—at the very least—the LGBTQ community will be in the consciousness of these women and men.”
GLAAD has continued its relationship with OneTable members—it held a meeting with Palacios, McInturff, and Curley Wednesday to present the film God Loves Uganda and talk about ways to “battle the injustices in Africa, and specifically Uganda, related to LGBT people,” Curley said.
Palacios and McInturff, the group’s co-presidents, refer to themselves as gay Christians, a term they both admit is ambiguous. For McInturff, gay Christian means that she hopes to be in a committed relationship with another woman, but isn’t sure if that means the relationship will be sexually active or not: “I identify as same-sex attracted.”
McInturff’s views on sexuality changed after she graduated from Messiah College in Pennsylvania. A year after receiving her diploma, she decided her faith could coexist with her sexual attraction and told family and friends she’s a lesbian. They encouraged her to pursue biblical studies, so she attended Fuller: “I want to go to a seminary that doesn’t have the conclusions yet—they were in the middle and all kinds of people will come. That was Fuller.” McInturff and Curley now run a non-profit that will manage the homosexual film festival OneTable began last spring.
Palacios declared himself to be gay before he went to Fuller. After graduation he wants to be a clinical therapist promoting what he calls “faith, gender identity, and sexual orientation reconciliation.” Palacios does not consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority on matters of sexuality, but believes discussion with others brings understanding: “How can we lay these categories down in order that we can engage and … be in ourselves a movement toward a greater enlightenment, toward the scriptures, and toward the theology of community?”
Phoenix Seminary Professor Wayne Grudem, though, notes that “Experience should not be used as a higher standard for moral right and wrong than the teaching of the Bible.” He wrote that in an article on homosexuality in the ESV Study Bible. The article points out that “Homosexual conduct of all kinds is consistently viewed as sin in the Bible, and includes an affirmation of the gospel: “As with every other sin, the Bible’s solution to homosexuality is trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, the imputation of righteousness, and the power to change.”
Grudem concludes, “The church should always act with love and compassion toward homosexuals, yet never affirm homosexual conduct as morally right. … The gospel of Jesus Christ offers the ‘good news’ of forgiveness of sins and real hope for a transformed life to homosexuals as well as to all sinners.”