I attempted to register for a class at Northern Baptist Seminary.
The seminary I attend, Chicago Theological Seminary
(CTS), is part of the Association of Chicago Theological Schools
(ACTS), which "was formed in 1984 by twelve theological schools located in the Chicago area to provide means for cooperation among the member institutions in the areas of student cross-registration, library access and acquisitions, interchange among faculty members in the disciplines of theological education, and communications between the schools." - http://www.actschicago.org/index.html
Students at ACTS schools may register at other ACTS schools:
Available to the approximately 3,000 students currently enrolled at its member schools are 400 faculty, about 900 courses offered annually, and library collections of 1.7 million volumes and nearly 5,000 currently received periodical subscriptions.
Except, in the case of at least one school, if you're gay.
Now, granted, there is a stated exception:
Exceptions to the process of cross-registration exist (1) during the summer term when tuition is normally paid to the school offering the course; (2) for D.Min. courses other than Pastoral Care and Counseling and for those students in the ACTS D.Min. in Preaching Program; and (3) in certain courses with limited enrollment. Each school in ACTS reserves the right to limit enrollment in certain courses for pedagogical reasons and to set its own policies for the admission of students from other schools to such courses.
- http://www.actschicago.org/catalog2009/cat06.html#how, emphases mine.
I attempted to cross-register for a class at Northern Baptist Seminary (which has the awesome domain name of seminary.edu). I was aware that the seminary was more conservative, and I did not expect it to be easy to take a class there. But I was willing to sit with far more conservative students in a far more conservative school, in part to keep from having my graduation date from being pushed back another two years, and in part because I do not want to be estranged from my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ.
I didn't want to go stealthily into the seminary for several reasons. First, I am not ashamed of who I am, nor the path taken to get here. While I don't advertise my sexual orientation or transgender history to everyone, I don't take steps to hide these parts of my life either. To do so is to walk in shadow, and I prefer to be in the light.
Second, to hide an aspect of one's life can result in feelings of betrayal should the secret be found out. It is damaging to a relationship when trust is broken: witness what happened with Ted Haggard.
Third, even if the secret is never found out (unlikely as a simple web search will find enough information about me), keeping a secret from those with whom one is in relationship creates an inauthentic, dysfunctional, and, dare I say it, sinful
So, to be as honest and authentic as possible in my relationship to the class, I sent e-mail to the professor teaching the class. I explained my background (Evangelical Free, Bible Students, Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and United Church of Christ), my school affiliation (CTS), and my sexual orientation and transgender history. I asked for advice on what I could do to make the situation easier for everyone involved.
I did not expect the culture clash to be easy. I also did not expect, however, to be rejected from taking any classes whatsoever.
My e-mail to the instructor was apparently forwarded to the administration who, in a very polite but firm e-mail, explained to me that the school's admission policy is applied to cross-registered students. The seminary, in their catalog, under code of conduct, states:
In matters related to homosexuality:
1. Northern will not knowingly admit as a student any person having a homosexual lifestyle.
2. If, without the knowledge of the Admissions Committee, a person is admitted to the Seminary and is found not to be a practicing homosexual, but to be striving to overcome homosexual tendencies, such a person will, in Christian love, be counseled to obtain the best help available so that with the power of God such a person may overcome the problem.
3. If, without the knowledge of the Admissions Committee, a practicing homosexual is found to have been admitted to the Seminary, when such knowledge is discovered, such said practicing homosexual would be counseled to seek education elsewhere and to enter some other vocation, and failing voluntary withdrawal from Northern, would be disallowed to continue at the Seminary.
4. In no case would the Seminary recommend for ordination or for ministry any practicing homosexual or an advocate of a homosexual lifestyle.
5. Congruent with its policy of institutional integrity, Northern Baptist Seminary will not hire a practicing homosexual or an advocate of a homosexual lifestyle, and it reserves the right to dismiss from employment any such person on the grounds that it would conflict with the purpose of the institution.
This means they are reinterpreting the ACTS policy to say:
Each school in ACTS reserves the right to limit enrollment in all courses for pedagogical reasons and to set its own policies
for the admission of students from other schools to all courses.
This in order to prevent any homosexuals from taking any courses at their school, ever.
Northern Baptist may believe my twenty-one year relationship with my spouse to be sinful and unChristian. They may believe my transition, twenty-five years ago, to living as my identified gender to be a violation of Deuteronomy 22:5.
They may well object to my behavior off school grounds, but they were not going to change that by rejecting my cross-registration. They can't make me a straight white male again by denying me the chance to study with their professor and students.
So exactly what
is sinful or harmful about my taking a class at
their school? Exactly what
is made worse by my presence there?
At their school, I'm certainly going to hear about their viewpoint on homosexuality and transgender issues - especially since the class I was going to take was on the Pentateuch, which includes Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Were they afraid that I would rebut the reading of the few verses applied to homosexuals as they were glossing over the dietary laws, mixing of fabrics, wearing of tassels, uncleanness of women during their periods and after giving birth, trimming of beards, and the Jubilee year? Were they concerned that I would point out that Levitical law says nothing about Lesbian relationships? Did they worry that I would point out that the word "know" in Genesis 19:5
is the same as the word "know" in Genesis 18:19
? (I really wasn't planning on it.)
And, perhaps more to the point, how is this following Jesus' example? Did Jesus teach only the holy? Did Jesus not teach prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, Syrophoenicians, Roman soldiers, and (at the cross) thieves and murderers?
I am disappointed that Northern Baptist Seminary chose to not honor its covenant with the Association of Chicago Theological Schools.
I am also sad that sixty faculty and staff are more afraid of me than I
am of them.