Open letter to the Board of Trustees from Beau Denton

Beau Denton

To the SPU Board of Trustees,

I imagine that your inboxes are quite busy right now, so I’m sending this with a prayer. I pray for soft hearts and open minds as you sit with all that you’re hearing, and I pray that you’re able to take the time and space that’s needed to continue listening and reflecting on something so urgent and vital.

Photo Courtesy of Beau Denton

When I chose to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing at a Christian university, I knew I was likely to encounter people who might be uncomfortable about me identifying as both a gay man and a Christian. I don’t feel any tension between those parts of myself, but I know that some people still see “gay Christian” as an oxymoron. What has surprised me is that, for the most part, the students, alumni, faculty, and staff I’ve met have been nothing short of welcoming, affirming, and empowering. The primary resistance I’ve felt to my ability to show up as a full self in community has been from you, the Board of Trustees.

I admire SPU’s commitment to engaging certain issues of justice and equity. Particularly around the systemic realities of racism and white supremacy, this institution is conspicuous in its efforts to enter difficult conversations and to help the Church become more and more like the body of Christ in the world. Because of that, I trust that—with reflection and accountability—you might be able to recognize the abhorrent power dynamics at play in your Statement on Human Sexuality. Especially in the way that the statement opens with pretty language about the diversity of beliefs in the Christian faith, before ultimately landing in a very particular and very rigid place.

Can you recognize how this stifles diversity rather than embraces it? Can you recognize how this stacks the deck against those of us with different identities and convictions, and how it inhibits meaningful conversation across those differences? For an institution that is daring enough to have a “Social Justice” major, the ignorance and cowardice evident in your recent decision is heartbreaking, and your apparent lack of awareness about the unjust power dynamics at play is stunning. 

If you want to enforce a rigidly conservative view of gender and sexual identities, fine—Lord knows you won’t be the only Christian university to do so. But if that’s the case, please don’t use lofty language about diversity to pretend that you’re something you are not.

You are in a position of great power here, and I know you don’t need me to quote Ben Parker and remind you that with that power comes great responsibility. Especially since you claim to welcome difference and value dialogue, it is your responsibility to set the table and ensure that all who sit at it are cared for and allowed to partake. 

You abdicate your duty when you use your power to elevate one narrow interpretation of Scripture at the expense of all others. And you abdicate your duty when you prop up a dated and harmful policy that prevents LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty from bringing their full selves into this community.

As a 33-year-old graduate student in a low-residency program, your decision—as heartbreaking and hurtful as it is—will have little direct impact on me. I was in a lot of pain when I read the announcement yesterday, and I hate the idea that I’ll have to spend my whole career as a writer apologizing for my affiliation with SPU, but I don’t live on campus, I don’t have to show up for class or work there every day, and I have a great support system, including people in this community. I’ve spent years fighting my way toward a sense of peace with who I am, despite being steeped in rhetoric like yours, and your announcement won’t change that, even if it does feel like a punch in the gut.

However, I am much more concerned about the undergraduate students who are just stepping out into the world and are still getting a sense of who they are. I hope my words are challenging and thought-provoking, but more than anything I hope that you can dare hold those younger students in mind as you consider your impact here, consider the harm they endure when an institution will gladly accept their tuition money but wouldn’t hire them as faculty.

I also ask that you consider the queer faculty and staff in your midst, those who already have to hide to keep their jobs and will now be pushed even deeper into the soul-crushing closet. Think of the harm they endure when they are welcomed with one hand but then pushed away with the other, when the governing authority of their community claims to embrace difference but then declares that who they are and how they love isn’t welcomed here after all.

And I ask that you think of the queer people of all ages who are already wondering if they can reconcile their faith and their identity, already wondering if living into how they’re created will mean turning their back on God. Most of us know that it’s not an either/or situation, that it is possible to foster a meaningful and flourishing faith while loving someone of the same sex or not adhering to false gender binaries or expressing your identity in any number of other ways that reflect the full spectrum of God’s image in humanity. Maybe you don’t know that yet, but thank God that we can keep learning and growing as long as we have breath.

I trust you are wise enough—and have enough basic human empathy—to imagine some of the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and even physical damage that might be inflicted by an abuse of power like this. And because of that, I trust that this has been a difficult, heart-wrenching decision for at least some of you. If that’s true, then I beg of you: Please don’t let this be your final word on the matter. SPU is a vibrant, robust institution, and some of the people here have re-invigorated my faith in ways I haven’t experienced in years. It’s not too late for you to humble yourselves and follow the lead of your community.

In love and with continued hope for change,

Beau Denton