Sitting among friends and acquaintances from his church, one student forces a smile while the others laugh hysterically at a gay joke.
A TCU student, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his privacy, said this is just a mild one-second reflection of the lives of Christian homosexuals, some of whom feel forced to live in the closet in order to avoid losing their standing in the church and community.
The discrimination that some believe smolders in the Christian Church is the focus of a new four-part lectureship series, sponsored by the Stalcup School of Theology at Brite Divinity School, that begins tonight in an effort to address the realities of homosexuality in the church.
“It is not socially acceptable to ridicule blacks, Hispanics or women… or any other minorities, but even, or should I say especially, with religious people the gay person is seen as less than human,” the student said. “It is so hypocritical.”
Journey of Reconciliation: Gay/Lesbian Experience and the Christian Experience will be a weekly Tuesday night event at University Christian Church hosted by Brite Divinity School associate professor of theology Stephen Sprinkle.
Sprinkle, the first openly gay professor in Brite’s 94-year history, said although there have been some signs of improvement as far as acceptance in religious communities, other things are getting worse.
“Violence is on the rise against gay and lesbian people in this country,” he said. “I think that the church, the synagogue and the mosque must face up to this false understanding of what they teach because it is being used as a justification for violence.”
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ annual report, violence against gays and lesbians in the U.S. increased 24 percent in 2007 and 23 percent in the 2006. The number of gay and lesbian people murdered because of their sexual orientation more than doubled from 10 in 2006 to 21 in 2007.
Sprinkle said he can see acceptance spreading in most religious groups, but the Christian community lags behind some others, namely the Jewish.
“The problem is that gay and lesbian people are endlessly talked about in religious discussion, but their voices are never included,” he said. “This event will be an important opportunity for people to hear the voices of gay and lesbian people, and I am hoping it will open up the possibility of understanding for some people.”
Eilene Theilig, director of the Stalcup School the event’s organizer, said about 30 people had signed up to attend, some of who were traveling from other Texas towns to participate in the series.
“What we hope to do is foster a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the issue and move beyond the debate,” she said. “The gay and lesbian community has a lot to offer to the discussion of what it means to be a Christian.”
Theilig said she felt the event was important because without recognizing the inclusivity of the traditional Christian message, sometimes people of faith unwittingly continue to foster discrimination that can lead to violence against homosexuals.
Sprinkle said he was hopeful about what could be accomplished by the event and thought many would be surprised to find that homosexuals are not as different from them as they may imagine.
“Gay and lesbian people are your relatives, your coworkers… They provide services in the community, they teach your children, style your hair, service your car. They could be the farmer that is putting the food on your table,” he said. “They are literally everywhere, and their lives are parallel to their straight counterparts.”
Sprinkle said the event will focus on not only what it means to be gay and Christian, but will also show the opportunity for reconciliation between the church and the homosexual Christians whom it serves.
Journey of Reconciliation: Gay/Lesbian Experience and the Christian Experience
WHEN: Tuesdays 7-9 p.m., today-Nov.18
WHERE: University Christian Church, 2020 University Drive RSVP: Eilene Theilig at 817-257-7575