Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Homosexuality and Religion

by Jessica Coblentz

A large room in Benson Memorial Center overflowed with students-sitting on chairs, standing in doorways, and even squatting on the floor, listening attentively to the panel, "Homosexuality and Religion," the first of a year long student discussion series entitled Faith, Sex, and Ethics. Sponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics through their support of my Hackworth Fellowship, the discussion I facilitated last month explored the ways in which religion informs students' moral views on homosexuality.

Initially, it may be no surprise that an event concerning this topic drew crowds-homosexuality has long been a popular and controversial topic in the public sphere. Yet there was something unique about this particular occasion. The crowd was not drawn to the event to hear famous activists or well-published intellectuals. Rather, it was their peers, senior Katy Erker and junior Cole Li, who would provide the evening's insightful perspectives.

The discussion explored religion and homosexuality by examining the ways in which scripture, religious community, and personal conscience inform these students' ethical positions for or against homosexuality. Each student panelist gave a five-minute presentation on the topic, and then took questions from the audience.

Erker, a sociology major and the director of the Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP), spoke candidly about the complications of being a Catholic in support of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. While acknowledging biblical readings used to condemn homosexuality, she spoke of alternative interpretations that enrich her position on the issue. Admittedly distancing herself from the Vatican's authority, Erker preferred the vital role of her local religious community in ethical discernment. She noted Santa Clara's compassionate atmosphere as an aid to her confident Catholic position in support of homosexuality, citing Campus Ministry's open participation in SCU's Safe Space program as an example.

Cole Li, an electrical engineering and mathematics double major and a leader in SCU's Core Christian Fellowship, identified himself as an evangelical Christian and a biblical literalist, with a position against homosexuality. Recognizing his opinion as unpopular amid a campus he perceives to be generally accepting of homosexuality, Li emphasized the necessity of his loyal adherence to the message he finds in scripture. Serious Christians read the text literally, he explained, thus necessarily occupying a stance against homosexuality. Yet Li also stressed the importance of loving homosexuals despite their sexual identity or behavior. This, too, is a biblical imperative in his eyes. Regarding the influence of his religious community, Li said he has never encountered a discussion of homosexuality in either his local church or his religious group at SCU, though he deemed this an important pursuit for the future.

Following the presentations, the audience provided a half hour of thoughtful responses and questions. One student inquired as to whether shifts in social taboos would affect one's views on homosexuality. Another asked Li and Erker about how sex scandals among church leadership had impacted their views. It was clear throughout the discussion that students were deeply invested in the complex ethical discussion at hand, often incorporating their own experiences into the questions they proposed. Furthermore, the sincere questions made it clear that students revered the honest perspectives of their classmates, even when they were of an opposing viewpoint. In light of the name-calling and polemical assertions common to public debate in our world, this impressed me a great deal.

As the event concluded it was clear that Santa Clara students are actively and passionately engaging in ethical discernment concerning religion and homosexuality. Moreover, they are able to engage this debate publicly in a very thoughtful manner.

In the hours and days following "Homosexuality and Religion" numerous students voiced their appreciation for this type of peer discussion, inquiring when another such event would take place.

The next presentation in the series will be "Pre Marital Sex, Faith, and the Santa Clara University Student: Students Speak on Navigating Conscience and Religious Traditions, " Monday, January 28.

December 2007

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