On Sunday, May 5, the St. Olaf Christian Activities Network CAN hosted a student panel to discuss homosexuality and Christianity.
Last November, when the Minnesota marriage amendment was a hot-button topic both on campus and around the state, St. Olaf Votes No and its supporters became an influential presence at St. Olaf. When the votes were tallied on Election Day, 1,217 Oles voted against the marriage amendment, with only 141 voting in favor.
Despite the landslide, 10 percent of voting students did support the proposed marriage amendment, and many Oles expressed surprise that the percentage was so high.
Jonathan Sanchez ’15, Student Congregation’s CAN representative, attributes this surprise to the lack of dialogue about the issue on campus. He believes that it is time to begin a conversation that has, until now, been largely absent.
“Even though St. Olaf tends to be more liberal, Christians at St. Olaf are divided on the issue of homosexuality,” Sanchez said. “Instead of ignoring this, we decided to hold an event where Christians engage in an honest, open, respectful dialogue.”
The panel consisted of four Christian students – two identifying as heterosexual and two identifying as homosexual. Dan Dyer ’13, Maggie VanDerMolen ’14, Rachel Swenson ’13 and Kristen Svoboda ’13 discussed their perspectives on homosexuality in light of their Christian faiths. Sanchez clarified that, while all students were welcome and encouraged to attend, the panels would discuss homosexuality primarily from a Christian perspective.
Dyer and VanDerMolen argued that homosexuality is wrong according to Christianity and is not condoned by God, while Swenson and Svoboda asserted that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality in the Christian perspective. Svoboda, who believes that homosexuality is “not a sin” and “not a societal problem,” said that her interest in being a member of the panel stemmed from her belief that conversation is the best way to address challenges in a community.
“We can’t have conversations about homosexuality without realizing that we’re talking about real people,” Svoboda said. “We’re talking about our fellow Oles, our friends and our family members. We’re talking about me.”
VanDerMolen, alternatively, represented the belief that the Bible does not condone homosexuality.
“Coming to and maintaining this belief has been difficult,” said VanDerMolen, “and I will continue to struggle with what this means in terms of how I understand my friends’ and others’ lives, as well as my own. I appreciate that the panel provided a venue for an open, respectful dialog about various Christian perspectives on homosexuality and the theological views pertaining to it.”
Dyer and Swenson declined to comment.
While CAN believes in the importance of encouraging the dialogue about homosexuality and Christianity on campus, members are concerned about possible repercussions.
“I am concerned for the panelists,” Sanchez said. “I fear that what they say will be taken out of context and might be used against them later. I also fear that this event, instead of starting a dialogue, will cause tension and division among Christians.” He added that he expects this conversation to put pressure on relationships because many students have extremely strong feelings on the issue of homosexuality.
“I know that this event hits on an issue that is deeply personal and I worry about the wounds that it will bring up and the friendships that will be tested,” Sanchez said.
Ultimately, though, CAN organized Sunday’s panel because it believes that the importance and benefits of openly discussing Christianity and homosexuality outweigh the potential concerns.
“CAN hopes that students will realize that Christians do not all agree on this issue,” Sanchez said. “We hope that students will have a respectful dialogue regarding homosexuality that extends beyond this panel.”
In light of recent movements throughout the United States and around the world to enact marriage equality legislation and the debates that have ensued as a result, there is no time more relevant than now for such a dialogue to emerge.