This Sunday, Senators Clinton and Obama will be taking part in something called the 'Compassion Forum' at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Ironically, Messiah College has a severe lack of compassion towards its LGBT students. The school's community covenant prohibits "homosexual behavior" and effectively bans LGBT students who are open and self affirming from attending Messiah.
Exactly a year ago to the day of the 'Compassion Forum', the Soulforce Equality Ride made a stop at Messiah College. The Equality Ride is a nation wide bus tour of LGBT and straight allied students working to end anti-gay policies on America's college campuses. It is a journey that I founded after finding that hundreds of college campuses have these discriminatory policies.
When I was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I met a young gay man who went to Wheaton College, which counts itself among the hundreds of discriminatory colleges already mentioned. I asked him what it was like to be gay at Wheaton.
"Well, I can't come out," he responded. "If I did, the school would kick me out."
I was taken aback. "That is a horrible policy. We must try to change it," I said. What my friend said next, I was wholly unprepared to hear.
"Actually, I think it is a good policy. I think being gay is a sin."
With that, I knew there was a problem in America. This young man had been raised in a home, in a church, and in a community that had taught him to reject himself. It is for him and countless others like him that the Soulforce Equality Ride exists. We are trying to change America.
In spite of our visit last year to Messiah College, their discriminatory policies are still in place. This brings into question why Senators Obama and Clinton would agree to discuss compassion in this setting. Both Clinton and Obama speak about uniting America and both speak against the politics of fear and division. It also calls into question the judgment of the Faith in Public Life center.* Why would they select a college where gay people are not welcome to hold a discussion on issues of compassion? There are plenty of faith-based colleges to choose from. I attend one. I am a second year Masters of Theological Studies student at Harvard Divinity School.
That is what makes this situation so sad. As a person of faith and a divinity student, I believe it is important for our elected officials to take part in forums where the issues of the day are addressed through the prism of faith. Indeed, I was a big fan of the last faith forum aired on CNN. The host for that forum was the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. I know Rev. Wallis. He was a professor of mine at Harvard and he represents the sort of faith based politics that unites rather than divides, that seeks to widen the circle of God's grace rather than limit it.
At this late date, I highly doubt if a more suitable host for this weekend's faith forum can be picked. If the location of the forum is not changed there exists a challenge for Senators Clinton and Obama. When they speak at Messiah College this weekend they must make a choice. Will they speak out against the Messiah's policy that would bar me and countless other Americans from attending the school? Will they make clear to the American people that LGBT people are wonderfully made in the image of the Creator and loved as they are by the Creator without reservation?
When it comes to faith in America today there are few statements of faith needed as greatly as one that affirms the dignity and worth of LGBT people. As a gay man I know too many friends who have been rejected by their loved ones and too many others, who like my friend at Wheaton, have rejected themselves. Perhaps this weekend will allow these issues to take center stage. Perhaps Senators Clinton and Obama will rise to the occasion and speak out in favor of the God given equality that my LGBT brothers and sisters and I deserve. Perhaps the politics of hope and unity will give way to a religion of hope and unity as well. That is my prayer for this weekend.
* Update: I regret that I made a factual error in the original post. Faith in Public Life is NOT a program of the Center for American Progress. They are their own organization and you can learn more by visiting their website at www.faithinpubliclife.org and by emailing them to clarify their stance on anti-gay policies at college and universities at firstname.lastname@example.org.