On Monday, Bil wrote a post about Shorter University, a Baptist college in Georgia that's recently undergone some sweeping administration changes. The college has recently been asking its faculty to sign a "Personal Lifestyle Statement," which declares that they will reject homosexuality, pre-marital sex, public drinking, adultery and drug use. Tons of faculty members have announced that they would not be signing the pledge or staying at the university, including Michael Wilson, a tenured librarian who has worked at Shorter for 14 years and is gay.
Bil wondered in his post why Wilson would have been attracted to working at Shorter, and why he was taking a stand against anti-gay components of the institution now, even though the Baptist church routinely takes tough anti-gay stands.
Michael Thomas Ford left a thoughtful comment on the post, asking us to consider the positive impact that people like Michael Wilson have on students in socially conservative environments. He wrote:
Your remarks about Michael Wilson's decision--particularly your confusion over why he would choose to work at a place such as Shorter--are regrettable, but not unexpected from someone unfamiliar with the world of Christian colleges. As a 16-year-old I was sent to a Christian college. I didn't particularly want to be there, but it was a way out of high school, where I was miserable. As part of the enrollment process, all students had to sign a document stating that we would not participate in a laundry list of behaviors, including owning or using playing cards, dancing, and (in what I can only assume was some kind of reference to those of us with shall we say, drama club sensibilities) "attend the theater as a way of life." Similarly, the faculty agreed to support these rules.
Among my professors I discovered some who not only introduced me to writers and ideas I would never have encountered, but who also saved my life. One was a straight but incredibly gay-friendly woman who was the first person to tell me that God didn't hate gay people. Another--one of the most important people in my life--was a closeted lesbian who risked a great deal by letting those of us struggling with our sexuality know that she was there for us. Ultimately she was betrayed by a deeply disturbed gay boy who conspired with the school's administration to have her removed from her position. She never taught again.
You could argue that these women were somehow hypocritical in choosing to work at such an institution. They, however, saw it as a way to reach and support gay students who otherwise would have no support. They were also devout Christians who felt it was their duty to reflect the true teachings of Christ, even if it meant having to work within a community that itself did not reflect these teachings.
It may be difficult for those who haven't experienced it personally to understand why someone would choose to work at a place such as Shorter. But it's unfair to say that Wilson "helped to continue the Baptist university's indoctrination of young minds with anti-gay rhetoric and hate speech." He may very well have been the one person a gay student there encountered who didn't do that.
Michael's observations bring up a new perspective on socially liberal people living or working in socially conservative environments: These people can serve as encouragement - "guardian angels," if you will - for the socially liberal "rebels" at these institutions.