[UPDATE: The professor who wrote the letter has responded here.]
Dear John Shore,
It’s taken me forever to write this, because it will reveal me to be a whiny, privileged, guilt-ridden wimp. But I’m writing it anyway. I guess because I’m such a wimp I can’t even stand up to my desire to not be revealed as a wimp. Go figure.
I’m serious about being a Christian and have, like many of your readers, grown to fully support LGBT folks in the church. What a laughable sentence that is, because I’m a professor at a Christian College that requires each annual contract renewal to include reaffirmation of a denominational statement declaring same sex relationships morally illegitimate. Yes, like most Christian colleges, we must sign a document of community beliefs and expectations that clearly states this. I feel like a traitor and a liar every time.
I love my job. I believe in Christian higher education, and this college is pretty moderate. People are kind here and I have academic freedom to pursue what I love. The school is progressive on a number of church-y issues, like the leadership and dignity of women. The students are great people, my colleagues include my closest friends, it’s an affordable region of the country with a lot of natural beauty.
It’s okay with me that I’m more liberal than most around here, because I’m not the only one, and I have a ton of social capital and good will built up in the community; I don’t need everyone to agree with me on everything. I think most people know how I feel about queer Christians (or at least wouldn’t be shocked). I seem to be free to speak my opinion in personal conversation, but if I publicly advocated for institutional change (or didn’t sign the statement) my job would be in jeopardy. I’m up for tenure in three months, but tenure wouldn’t protect me on this one. And it’s once again contract renewal time.
Every year (I’ve been here a long time) I sign my name to a document that includes a sentence I consider unjust and wicked. Every year I ask gay friends: “Am I betraying you? Are you hurt by this? I remain employed by an institution that wouldn’t hire you, that would fire you, that requires all of us to sign a document that says you and your spouse’s love is sinful. Tell me what to do! Tell me to quit and I will!”
Every year (I think they’re getting tired of my pathetic begging for absolution) my gay friends are incredibly gracious and supportive and caring: “No, you aren’t betraying us. We love you and know you’re stuck in a difficult place. We need allies in hostile territory. You need to be there for the students when they come out. You’re not expected to be the straight martyr for the gay cause.” Etc.
But recently a person I respect (a reader of your blog) responded: “No, you’re not betraying me. But I’m worried about you, are you betraying yourself?”
This haunting prophetic question is one I will have to answer myself. So I’m not asking for feedback on that one. But I am asking for something.
Sometimes you post reader mail on your blog, and the responses are diverse, enlightening, and (usually) on point. I’ve benefited many times from the conversation around your blog. I’m sure your blogging schedule is stacked up way into the future, and you hear from people with much worse problems than mine. But if you get a slow news day, and threw my dilemma in front of your readers, maybe the responses could help me and others like me who feel stuck. Skewer me, support me, laugh at me, preach at me, identify with me, feel sorry for me, dismiss me … I promise to put it all to good use. I’m not at peace and would like to be, and input from outside my head usually serves me well.
So here’s the heart of it: am I perpetuating injustice in the name of Christ by continuing to work for a Christian institution that requires its employees to do this as a condition of employment?
I really value your voice and the conversations it provokes. Thanks,
Dear Guy Who Wrote Me This,
I mean … your question is so simple a child could answer it. By signing a statement which declares same-sex relationships morally illegitimate of course you’re betraying yourself and your gay friends. Of course you’re perpetuating injustice in the name of Christ by continuing to work for a Christian institution that requires its employees to sign such a reprehensible statement.
But you already know it’s wrong to sign that document. What you don’t know and are seeking clarity on is the relationship between the amount of wrong done by signing it versus the amount of good you get in exchange for doing so. You know it’s wrong to sign the paper; you just don’t know if it’s so wrong that you should quit your job over it.
That’s a terrible calculation to even consider making. It’s predicated upon your honor being a tradeable commodity. You should never trade your honor for material gain. In this life who you are morally is all you have. It’s everything. It’s the irreducible island you live on. You crap on that, and there’s no avoiding the stink of it in your own nostrils.
Don’t do that to yourself. You really are better than that.
Besides, it’s not like signing that document is keeping you safe. In the short run it does, yes. But it’s like escaping a lightening storm by ducking into a cave in the back of which a bear is sleeping. You’re safe as long as that bear doesn’t wake up. But sooner or later it will. And then you’re bear chow.
The inviolate Rule of Life is that everything you do that’s morally wrong comes back to bite you on the butt. And as surely as one day follows the next you will be called upon to publicly toe your school’s party line on the gay issue. There’s no predicting when or how it will happen; there’s only the certainty that it will. The gay issue is too huge for it not to. It’s already creating all kinds of storms on Christian campuses across the country. (See They’re here; they’re queer; they’ve plenty to fear: LGBT students form secret club at conservative Christian university for just one instance.) That wind will blow across your campus. And when it does your employers will not allow you to “be there” for anyone coming out. They’ll expect you to be there for them. And rightfully so. You signed a document guaranteeing that you would be. You gave your word that you would defend your school’s policy on homosexuality.
And the day upon which you are called to do that will be a very dark day for you indeed. In deed.
Avoid that day, friend. Start looking for another job. Sign your school’s anti-gay document one more time if you must, but make that your last time. That will give you a year to find a job where getting paid doesn’t require first swapping spit with Satan. I appreciate that you have a cherry job. Your email to me included a link to the school at which you work. That place is ridiculously beautiful; it looks like where the children raised in all those idyllic cottages painted by Thomas Kinkade matriculate. But that’s how real evil works, isn’t it? It makes you think that by trading your integrity you’re trading up. It looks so innocent. It offers so much. It makes it so easy to justify its requisite ounce of flesh.
But from that ounce a great wound is sure to grow.
I say give yourself a year to get out.
My response to the idea, quite prevalent in the comments, that our friend here should stay where he is and be a “light in the darkness” is here. Thanks, guys.