As Patrick Bergquist prepared to speak at Grace Episcopal Church on Friday, he decided to break a cardinal rule of public speaking. He started off by mentioning how nervous he was.
The former resident director of North (now Hutcheson) Hall was aware of the weight of what he had to say. Bergquist came back to the Siloam Springs community for the first time in months to tell the John Brown University community something he never mentioned before: He is a gay Christian.
As the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage remains at the forefront of public debate, many Christians are reevaluating the relationship between homosexuality and faith.
At Friday’s event, titled Reconciling Faith and Sexuality, Bergquist told his story of growing up in a conservative Baptist Church and struggling his entire life with same-sex attraction.
“No way in the world would I have chosen this life,” Bergquist said. “It’s an anathema to everything that I thought I wanted to be about.”
He eventually came to the conclusion that he was called to a celibate life. After leaving the University, he spent time at an Anglican monastery. But then after study and prayer, he came to believe that his years of self-loathing and viewing his same-sex attraction as a form of brokenness had been a rejection of who God made him.
“I’ve explored the text. I’ve wept with the text,” Bergquist said. “I’m trying to live authentically as a follower of Christ, and I’m gay.”
Robbie Castleman, professor of biblical studies, wrote the paper titled, “By Design: The Divine Image & Human Sexuality,” wich helps define the University’s policy on sexuality.
“The policy is that sexual intimacy is reserved for a man and a woman within the bonds of marriage,” said Steve Beers, vice president of student development. “Homosexual behavior will always be outside those bounds.”
Castleman, however, makes a distinction between rejecting homosexual relations and rejecting homosexuals.
“I have dealt with many students over the years that can’t remember a time where they didn’t struggle with same-sex attraction,” Castleman said. “One of the best things the Church can do is to make room for homosexual believers in our families and to give them the emotional and familial support they need to say no to a certain part of themselves every day.”
Bergquist’s echoed those sentiments during his talk Friday night.
“The mandate of Scripture says don’t yell at me, it says invite me to your house for dinner and get to know me and pray for me,” Bergquist said. “LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] people just want to be part of a community. We kick them out of the church, and we’re surprised where they go.”
Junior Brandon Blackman agreed that the Church needs to change its approach to homosexuals and those with same-sex attraction.
“Homosexuality is a sin, but I don’t think that’s the main issue,” Blackman said. “We focus too much on the fact that it’s a sin, and we miss the aspect of love and getting to know those people as living, breathing souls. It’s important that we focus on letting the Holy Spirit do the convicting, God do the judging and us just do the loving.”
Acceptance of other’s struggles with same-sex attraction is one of the founding tenants of OneJBU, a LGBT community group mentioned at the Grace Episcopal event. Jacob Little, a JBU alumn and an openly gay Christian, founded OneJBU.
“Christianity should be about truth and authenticity and not judging people,” Little said. “Yet, there’s a tremendous stigma around the issue of homosexuality, and it’s not something you can talk about.”
OneJBU was organized by a group of JBU alumni who want to reach out to current students with same-sex attraction and to create a supportive environment. OneJBU also wants the University to lessen their stance on the issue of homosexuality.
“JBU has to come to a place where it can accept some ambiguity on the topic,” he added.
That is where Castleman disagrees. She sees the doctrinal issue of homosexuality and the personal issue of same-sex attraction as separate issues.
“The unique authority of the [Bible] … doesn’t change with the culture or with [your] experience,” Castleman said. “Christians need to be more clear about the distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual practice.”
Still, Bergquist wants to see more personal and loving outreach from the church to the secular gay community.
“You can’t argue anyone into the Kingdom of God,” Bergquist said. “It’s only done in the context of a relationship.”
Bergquist also said that relationship needs to be based on a foundation of acceptance, and that clarifying one’s doctrinal beliefs on homosexuality cannot be the first thing a Christian says when meeting a gay person or when someone comes out as gay.
“Don’t say ‘I love you, but I don’t agree with your lifestyle,’” Bergquist said. “Those words hurt deeply.”
“That’s the most damaging thing you can tell a gay person,” Little said. “It leads to years of turmoil and shame, guilt, depression, and it leads to suicide.”
Bergquist said the church is responsible for reaching out to those less fortunate, and that includes the LGBT community and those within the church struggling with same-sex attraction.
“It’s on us as a church to reach out and torch people and save people,” Bergquist said. “We don’t have to agree with them but by God we’ve got to stop them from killing themselves.”