Last week, after months of effort, students at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA were told by the Office of Student Development that, “administration will shut down any club centered around sexual orientation that makes it through the club chartering process.”
In 2010, when Director of Spiritual Life, Todd Clayton, came out while in office, the conversation around LGBT equality was brought to the surface on a campus that previously shied away from any sort of dialogue. Ultimately, Clayton quit after administrators told him he could only remain in his position if he agreed not to, “act gay.”
Now two years later, LGBTQ students and straight allies who were given hope earlier this semester that an LGBTQ club chartering might, indeed, be possible find themselves devastated by the news that no institutional space will ever be created for them.
Sean Lewis, an openly gay senior at PLNU who was spearheading the effort said in a statement that he, “was slightly caught off guard since all my other conversations with the VP left me feeling optimistic.” He continued: “This is an ongoing topic that Point Loma Nazarene University is continuing to brush under the carpet.”
Most shocking to Lewis was the fact that the club charter he proposed was rejected, despite his best efforts to draft a non-divisive mission statement. Since PLNU is affiliated with the Nazarene Church, a conservative Christian denomination that does not recognize the right of LGBTQ women and men to be full members of its community, Lewis intentionally avoided the use of moral-theological statements about LGBTQ rights in his charter.
“We are aware that LGBT students are a suffering population on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), and we have realized that the common exclusiveness of the Christian community can overlook the spiritual and interpersonal needs of LGBT community. Through entering this place, we hope LGBT students at PLNU can share their neglected stories, lingering questions, and increasing trials with their Christian comrades, and together, we can learn what it means to practice listening to and dignifying your political or theological enemy and actively learning to live and love in real-time. We hope to seek reconciliation not based on a change of belief system but rather from a commitment to live in relationship with opposing worldviews while seeking to understand and dignify the humanity of the “other.””
This, however, was deemed too radical a mission by the PLNU Office of Student Development and denied a charter. In response to the school’s decision, Clayton created a petition, calling students, staff, faculty, and alumni who support Lewis’ endeavor to agree to abstain from funding the university through donations until the charter is passed. It reads: “Despite the denominational policy, many of us remain compelled to advocate for LGBTQ rights and find it difficult to remain associated with an institution that so blatantly makes LGBTQ students feel unwelcome and unloved. Institutional complexity does not absolve moral imperative to stand for justice even if that stand comes at great cost.”
Since the petition went live Saturday morning, it has garnered over 500 signatories. What is significant about the petition, however, is the breadth of response: 15 former student government board members, 4 former student body presidents, 3 former directors of spiritual life, 4 current employees, 3 former employees, 32 seminarians, 12 ministers, 1 bold Nazarene pastor, parents of LGBTQ alumni, doctors, nurses, educators, and hundreds of current students.
About the petition, Clayton said, “taking a moral stand against the injustice is crucial. It is telling that an institution is creating graduates that find themselves morally incapable of supporting it after they leave. Signing the petition lets current LGBTQ students know that they are not alone, and that there is a network of alumni who find the injustice done against them atrocious. Injustice couched in religious language and piety remains injustice.” Clayton is currently a student at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.
Take action and stand with the students of PLNU who are seeking to create a space for themselves to be safe on campus. We urge you to sign Clayton’s petition—which will be delivered to the President and cabinet of PLNU later this week—in a similar show of support.