Documentary features stories of sexuality and the church

At a christian college, it can be all too easy for discussions of sexuality and orientation to change from calm conversations to overly politicized and aggressive debates. Even so, Calvin students and faculty are constantly working to change that, and events like last week’s showing of “Through My Eyes: Stories Of Gay Christians,” are signs of those efforts.

“Our goal is to put a human face to what often is a politically and highly charged debate,” said Julia Smith, the Sexuality Series director, who helped organize the event and facilitated small-group discussion afterward. “Especially on a campus where we’ve got LGBT students and other students wrestling with their own questions around sexuality, I think we really need to help people see the human face,” said Smith.

Though attendance can often be unpredictable, the event brought together around 70 individuals, students, faculty and members of local churches. “If more had come we would have needed a bigger room,” said Smith. “I think that points to the fact that people want to engage with this topic in person.”

Participants watched the documentary “Through My Eyes: Stories Of Gay Christians,” which explores the varied stories of Christian young people — both men and women — who find themselves attracted to the same sex. After the film, attendees split into small groups to discuss the film and stereotypes present in society.

As opposed to debates conducted on the Internet, Smith believes personal conversations are what help create empathy.

“It’s about how we love our neighbor, how we include people who are different than us,” said Smith. “How can you love your neighbor if you cannot listen to and try and understand their experience?”

Smith works year-round coordinating events and planning programs that help students and faculty engage conversations of sexuality. Her work incorporates issues of singleness, marriage, sexual orientation, LGBT issues, pornography and much more. Fortunately, Smith is not the only one on campus involved in promoting discussion and fostering a welcoming community.

“I work closely with Broene, campus ministries and residence life,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of different departments working in these areas. It’s a team effort.”

In the coming months, Smith is looking forward to more Sexuality Series events in which students can participate and get involved. In March, Smith is planning for a discussion of relationships across Burton Street at Woodlawn Church. In April, Calvin will welcome Eve Tushnet, a celibate lesbian woman who converted to Catholicism. Tushnet will talk about her experience in the Church, her choice to remain single and how she sees herself as part of the Christian community.

But the Sexuality Series isn’t the only place where students can engage questions of sexuality and faith. Wesley Hill, Ph.D, will be speaking at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing in April. Hill is the author of a number of books, including “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.” As a gay Christian, Hill’s discussion of faith and sexuality will add yet another perspective to the ongoing conversation of sexuality at Calvin and aims to foster more empathy and dialogue on campus.