Faith in School: As Mainstream Churches Continue to Wrestle with Homosexuality, Some Religious Colleges Are Taking an Increasingly Welcoming Attitude toward Gay Students

Article excerpt

After graduating from a Roman Catholic high school in Aurora, Colo., Scott Shields decided to attend Regis University, a Jesuit-run school with a conservative Catholic environment, located in nearby Denver. And despite the church's continued opposition to homosexuality, Shields also decided to come out of the closet.

"There have been times when I wished I had gone to a state school," the 21-year-old says today. "It's more open. There's more of a gay presence. But going from Regis High School to Regis University, I knew what I was getting. I needed to be a name, not a number."

Indeed, Shields has since become prominent on campus: Last spring the junior communications major was elected student body president. His election is evidence that being openly gay at Regis comes with few obstacles, Shields says. And while he continues to get into debates at school about the church's antigay policies, many people on campus have accepted his sexual orientation. "A lot of people come up to me and ask questions," Shields says. "They have told me that I'm the first person they've ever known who is gay."

Openly gay students attending religious colleges are not only increasingly accepted, they are accepted despite their religions' antigay ideologies. Many religious schools, acknowledging the need for qualified students, are welcoming gay students even as debate about gays' acceptance by churches rages on.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church America, which is affiliated with 28 colleges and universities in the Unite States, is just one of the mainstream d nominations grappling with homosexuality. At an annual conference earlier this year, church leaders refused to allow the ordination of noncelibate gay or lesbian pastors.

Students and professors at Lutheran universities have been active participants in the ongoing controversy. For example, Paul Egertson, a pro-gay professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, was asked to resign from his role as bishop after ordaining a lesbian pastor.

While the prohibition on gay clergy has engendered contentious debate Cal Lutheran, the overall climate is a progressive one, says Nick Gordon, a 21-year-old junior. "I think gay and lesbian students are accepted and soon will be treated as if they're not any different," he says.

Gordon heads the school's gay straight alliance, now in its third year And like Shields, he is providing a positive example for those religiously conservative students still uneasy about gay issues. One student who was strongly opposed to homosexuality once asker Gordon to discuss the subject over coffee. "I don't know if my talking to bin changed his opinion," Gordon says, "but I think it helped, because he never knew anyone who was gay."

At Emory University in Atlanta, gay students enjoy an accepting environment once thought impossible at the school with long-standing ties to the United Methodist Church. Students say this environment reflects, in part, the church's waning influence at the school, but they're careful to point out that the church still has an important presence on campus. …