By Amy Smith
Editor in Chief
A student leader spoke yesterday to a crowd of more than 200 students and community members about his sexuality, which has ignited a controversial discussion about the lack of dialogue concerning sexual orientation on the campus in recent months.
Some have said that the administration at the school stifles dialogue about gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual issues. School leaders say they are not opposed to such conversation because of the subject matter, but are concerned that such discussion or forums would be perceived as advocacy.
The Church of the Nazarene does not condone homosexuality.
It was December 16, 2010, and he’d arrived at the train station a little bit early. He bought his ticket and walked about, looking for a nearby bench at which he could sit and write until his boarding time.
He sat down and opened the black leather journal that he carried with him, and wrote this at the top of the page:
There. There it was. On paper, in ink, for the first time in his life were the words that had echoed in his mind all day, and most nights, since the age of 11. He continued on in his entry.
“I turned 21 two days ago. I was supposed to get married in two days, but a month ago I called off my wedding because I decided finally to be honest with myself. I hope that for the first time in my life, journaling might be fruitful since my main concern is not to avoid mention of my sexuality for fear that someone would stumble upon my confession and unravel my reality.
For 10 years I have feared. Today it is nice to be at peace with myself. To look in the mirror and think, ‘You are the beloved, on whom my favor rests. This is good.’”
Todd Clayton, the ASB director of spiritual life and a PLNU senior, ended his yearlong engagement in November after coming out as a gay man. Clayton continues to serve in his student-elected position. This is his second year serving as director of spiritual life.
Clayton will begin his attendance at Princeton Theological Seminary in July. He is a biblical studies major and hopes to one day work in the church, though the specific denomination he will work in is yet to be determined. He was raised in the Nazarene church. Both of his parents are pastors. His mother, Nancy Clayton, serves on PLNU’s board of trustees.
He sat down on the couch in his parents’ hotel room. They had traveled to San Diego for Homecoming weekend, and this was one of the few times that Todd had spent with his father alone. He had told his father that morning that they needed to talk. He had hinted to the insomnia he had been experiencing for the previous several months. He had told him about how he couldn’t hold down food. He had mentioned that he was battling depression. He had hinted that these were far more than pre-wedding jitters.
“Son, what keeps you up at night?” his father asked him in a chair across the room.
He hesitated, debating whether or not to come up with a not-so-believable excuse for the millionth time in his life. But he answered with three simple words.
“Dad, I’m gay.”
His body crumpled onto the couch and he began to sob. His father walked over to the couch on which his son lay, held him and said,
“I love you. I love you. I love you. You’re my son and I love you.”
The Church of the Nazarene holds the position that homosexuality is one means “by which human sexuality is perverted.” The Pastoral Perspectives on homosexuality issued by the church maintains “all forms of sexual intimacy that occur outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage as sinful distortions of the holiness and beauty God intended for it.”
In the same letter from the board of general superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene, it is stated that homosexuality is “real, it tends to begin early, and it is rarely a choice.”
It has been four months since Clayton came out. In that time, conversations have ensued between him and school administrators concerning his role as spiritual director.
President Bob Brower said that school officials never discussed firing Clayton from his position, but instead determined to seek out relationship with him as a student of the university.
“I think the discussion was around, ‘How do we walk closely with a student in this particular moment in time in his life?’” Brower said. “I would expect that there would be a difference in any student along that way. This particular student certainly has a more visible role and responsibilities.”
In December, following his announcement to Mary Paul, vice president for spiritual development, and Mark Carter, university chaplain, parameters were set for the remainder of his term of office.
Paul (who only agreed to speak to The Point Weekly after permission was granted from Clayton) said for Clayton to best finish the year in his role, it would be important for him to have time to reflect on the direction of his life, refrain from pursuing a romantic same-sex relationship and to acknowledge that the chapel venue would not be the place for personal processing of this journey. At the time, Clayton was agreeable to these parameters.
Over the course of the spring semester, however, Clayton has expressed dissatisfaction with the university’s request that he refrain from any type of expression of his sexuality.
“I said, ‘What do you mean by celibate?’” he said. “I said, ‘If I hold a man’s hand, is that celibate?’ And they said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘If I develop a crush, is that celibate?’ And they said, ‘No.’ And so that’s when the real frustration about double standards set in and just the frustration that I never signed anything when I came into office or when I came into school that said I wouldn’t be gay.”
Paul said that the conversations between her and Clayton have become increasingly difficult as they both arrive at different interpretations of the biblical text, but that a commitment to stay in honest communication and relationship remains a top priority for her.
“I told him that whatever his ultimate conclusions were, that the commitment from me was that as he lived his life we were in relationship, and that if he came to an understanding of the biblical text that is different, we stay in relationship,” she said. “And so we do that, but as he has become stronger in his opinion, that’s certainly at times been challenging.”
Controversy surrounding sexuality issues on Christian college campuses are not isolated to PLNU.
In February, the Los Angeles Times reported on a letter that ran in Westmont College’s student newspaper, in which 31 gay and lesbian alumni of the school addressed the “doubt, loneliness and fear” that they felt while in attendance at the school.
More than half of Westmont’s 92 faculty members responded to the letter, seeking forgiveness from the alumni for pain that they may have caused them.
Westmont requires students to sign a code saying that they will abstain from “homosexual practice.” PLNU’s covenant does not specifically address homosexuality, but instead prohibits sexually immoral acts outside of heterosexual marriage.
At Seattle Pacific University, a student-led LGBT group called Haven was told by school administrators in January that it was no longer allowed to use university classrooms to host its meetings. The group has been trying to receive club status from the university since 2006.
The story of the meeting in January prompted an outcry from students, faculty and the online community in the Seattle area, mainly in the form of blogs.
“It was also reported on Change.org, where it got nearly 3,000 signatures asking the administration to change their mind,” said Caleb Richmond, a student leader of Haven, via email. “Groups of alumni quickly organized and nearly 1,000 alumni wrote the school, several of them refusing to support the university in the future if they did not change their mind and grant Haven club status.”
Haven is now a recognized group at the university, with rights to campus classrooms and advertising. It has not received club status at this point and is supervised by a newly created Human Sexuality Advisory Group comprising staff and faculty.
Clayton is in the process of writing a charter for a gay-straight alliance to be held at PLNU. He says that the impetus for this decision came after 15 students came out to him this semester.
He says that there is a need for a safe space and dialogue for those on campus to safely name and discuss their sexuality without fear of repercussion or scorn.
“I think it’s really important that this club be institutionalized,” Clayton said. “It needs to not be underground and secretive and embarrassing.”
Whether or not the group will receive club status from the school is a topic of concern for Clayton.
This year’s chair of the board of trustees, Rev. Steve Scott, who is also the Sacramento District Superintendent, said that he “couldn’t be in favor” of an alliance because of its inconsistency with the teachings of the church.
“We haven’t said we’re here to validate everyone’s perspectives on life,” he said. “We’re here to validate Christ’s perspectives on life.”
Brower said that he would not comment on the group because of his lack of knowledge about it.
But Brower did say that one issue the school faces in condoning university-sanctioned dialogue about the topic to occur is the difficulty in distinguishing between “discussions about” and “endorsement and promotion of” an issue.
Paul expressed concern about the confusion that students might feel in deciphering whether Clayton is representing the school or his personal convictions when speaking on the issues.
“What’s difficult for students to see, and what puts me in a difficult place, is when he’s speaking as an individual student and when is he speaking out of his position and role,” she said. “I don’t think students make that distinction.”
The last event held by the university concerning issues of sexuality took place in the 2007-2008 school year. “Sex in the Greek” was held in the school’s Greek amphitheatre and featured various speakers.
Former ASB director of spiritual life Anthony Livolsi was a strong proponent of the Sex in the Greek discussions. He said that in addition to ASB, a board was appointed to oversee the planning of the forums, and that members of the group were from the office of spiritual development. Paul served on this board as well. Forums were held throughout that school year, but haven’t been repeated since.
School officials say that this is partly because there are other issues to consider when thinking about the school’s resources.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘How significant of an issue is it?’” said Scott. “You have to put your resources where your greatest need is.”
Clayton sought advice on the alliance from SPU’s Richmond, who told him to write his charter using language that was not combative toward the stance of the Nazarene church. Clayton is currently refining the charter so as not to espouse a particular viewpoint toward or against homosexuality.
“At that point I had to decide, is my goal to make a ruckus and to say what I want it to say and then blow it up and take it to the press when it doesn’t get passed?” he said. “Or do I really want to create a safe space for students?”
In fall of 2007, university professor Phil Bowles and his wife, PLNU faculty Sharon Bowles, approached university officials seeking permission to host All God’s Children, an LGBT discussion group on campus. They were not granted permission to continue at the school, so they sought a venue elsewhere.
P. Bowles was called into a meeting with the provost and dean at the time, John Hawthorne and David Strawn. He said that he was served papers that stated he could not use university resources, use communication channels, refer to the group at university forums, or invite members of the PLNU campus to the group without already being in conversation with them about the topic.
Brower said that it seems contrary to the position of the school to provide the means for the group to meet because of its perceived advocacy of the practice of homosexuality.
“As the university, who is owned by the board on behalf of the church in the southwest United States, it is inconsistent to provide the resources for, and appearance of sponsorship of, that activity which is considered to be in contrast to the position that the church holds, and therefore that the university holds by not just association, but by relationship,” he said.
S. Bowles negotiated an agreement with San Diego First Church of the Nazarene to meet on Sunday afternoons on the church’s campus. They have been meeting there since. Speakers at the group have included authors, professors, students and pastors.
San Diego First Church pastor, Dr. Dee Kelley, says that he hopes that he sees dialogue around the topic continue in smaller, more intimate settings.
“There are topics that I find in scripture that seem to me to be far more productive to discuss in settings that are not from the pulpit,” Kelley said.
Clayton spoke at All God’s Children yesterday. It was the biggest attendance the group has seen since its inception in 2007.
She sat in the PBC, smiling and patient as she watched me finish my meal. We talked about her childhood, and how’s she’s known that she’s been gay since a young age, She’s had multiple girlfriends throughout high school and college.
She has chosen to remain anonymous in this article for fear of repercussion from her coach. She is an athlete at PLNU. She says that she knows personally of several students at the school who are gay, but that they are too embarrassed to admit it in public.
“I had heard that it is possible to have a relationship with God if you’re gay, but that if you act on it, you should feel ashamed,” she said.
Clayton argues that his relationship with God has never been better since his affirmed his sexuality with himself and the Lord.
“It was in naming myself,” he said. “That God affirmed who I am and affirmed his work.”