In a different chapter of Harvard College Faith and Action’s history, I co-led a discussion group for queer Christians. The group, known as Ask, Seek, Knock, or ASK, met every other week from 2014 to 2016 with long breaks for school holidays. Unlike most Christian communities, we chose not to have any official stance on what Christians call the Side A/Side B debate.
Side A Christians think that the passages in Leviticus 18 and the New Testament condemning homosexuality only apply to the same-sex relationships common at the time. They see modern marriage between two men or women as contributing to human flourishing. They believe these unions honor God, who designed some people to be attracted to members of the same sex. As such, they believe the Church should recognize and celebrate gay marriage.
Side B Christians agree that ancient homosexual relationships differ widely from modern gay marriage but believe the Bible prohibits the latter as well. Citing Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and Ephesians 5, they believe that marriage between a man and a woman uniquely symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church. For Side B Christians, choosing to pursue a relationship with a member of the same sex is morally out-of-bounds, since it does not lead to a marriage between two members of the opposite sex.
When the conversations in ASK were academic, we often discussed Side A and Side B. Most of us were still making up our minds on the matter. But for a group of queer Christians, this is not primarily an academic topic, and we quickly moved on to discussing our personal lives.
In leading ASK, I glimpsed the depth and width of the wounds in this part of Christ’s body. Members often spoke of a pervasive loneliness, even among Christian friends. Several were terrified of coming out to their conservative parents. Many struggled with depression, and one lost his faith.
As a bisexual woman, I am often anxious in the many gendered spaces the Church provides. I am afraid of being seen as a snake in the grass. In particular, I don’t want to be deemed too perverted to work with children.
The Church has a passing awareness that queer people are more likely to be homeless, depressed, or suicidal, but ministries catering to us are few. The unsympathetic tone of Doxa two weeks ago is but one example of how out of touch the Church is with the anguish of queer Christians. To adapt, many drift to the fringes of religious community.
Recently, HCFA had at least one queer assistant Bible course leader, but she was asked to step down after beginning a relationship with another woman. In public statements regarding this decision, HCFA implied that they asked the woman to step down because she had not been celibate. Based on the woman’s recent clarification, HCFA leadership seems to have confused celibacy (no sexual activity) with chastity (appropriate relations). To illustrate the difference, a married woman having sex with her husband is chaste but not celibate. Side B Christians believe that a woman dating another woman is celibate but not chaste. In using imprecise language, HCFA has maligned and misrepresented the woman, undoubtedly causing her additional distress.
In addressing this conflict, Harvard demands that HCFA adopt the Side A view. A recent article in the Harvard Ichthus argued that the traditional Side B view is inherently hateful. I suspect a similar assumption underlies a recent Crimson editorial and the Office of Student Life’s choice to place HCFA on probation. As a Side B Christian, I disagree with the assertion that Christians must either be Side A or live in hate.
Side B runs against the grain of most people’s intuitions, including my own at first. I believe God made each human unique, complex, and beautiful. It makes me happy when people find partners who make them happy.
And yet when I read my Bible alongside arguments for Side A and Side B, this is where my conscience falls. Men and women are different, equal, and complementary, and their union produces life. (For a better articulation of Side B than I can give, consider reading the work of Richard Hays.) To be chaste, a queer Christian may either choose to marry a member of the opposite sex or remain single.
I aim to live out my Side B view in love. Almost always that means through actions, not words. My views do not shape how I vote or advise non-Christian friends. Rather, I aspire to foster communities like ASK where queer Christians feel renewed, embraced, and honored as beloved children of God. The Church has so much damage to undo, but faithful Side B Christians are striving for restoration even as we maintain our theological view.
In its defense of BGLTQ Christians, Harvard appears to be uninterested in the contours of Christian life. If Harvard wants to enforce its view of how Christian communities should operate, let it understand the debate it is entering.
If you were a Side B Christian, how would you lead? How would you make students feel welcome without compromising their spiritual development? How would you show them Christ, die for them daily? How would you lavish them with love? Before calling on HCFA’s leaders to publicly repent, it is worth asking the questions that weigh on their hearts.
Veronica S. Wickline ’16 is a former Crimson columnist and alumna of Harvard College Faith and Action.
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