Within 24 hours of expressing public approval of same-sex marriage, an openly gay but willingly celibate chaplain at Wheaton College, a conservative Christian school, has resigned from her position, raising questions about the speed of her departure and the school’s ability to respond to the nationwide legalization of marriage equality.
When Julie Rodgers was hired to be a chaplain at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois in 2014, she was lifted up as a charismatic model of evangelical orthodoxy. Openly gay but intentionally celibate, Rodgers was heralded as a pioneer of a unique niche within conservative Christianity: An LGBT person and survivor of “ex-gay” ministries who is public about their sexuality but still refrains from homosexual acts — which Wheaton strictly prohibits among its students. She was brought on specifically to help lead Refuge, an anonymous, unpublicized group for students to “explore questions of gender identity and sexual orientation.”
But all that changed on Monday, when Rodgers published a lengthy, deeply religious essay on her personal blog endorsing marriage equality.
“Though I’ve been slow to admit it to myself, I’ve quietly supported same-sex relationships for a while now,” she writes. “When friends have chosen to lay their lives down for their partners, I’ve celebrated their commitment to one another and supported them as they’ve lost so many Christian friends they loved.”
Rodgers — who has championed “Side B” same-sex friendships that are not sexual — also challenged the idea that all LGBT people should remain celibate, and called out fellow evangelicals on whether or not their purported acceptance of LGBT people is genuine or just theological lip service.
A section of her post, which is now republished at the Washington Post, is below:
Some might find [committed relationships] in friendship, which is wonderful. But most will find it in a spouse because that’s the context we have for making such serious commitments and staying true to them once life happens. When we make those kinds of promises to one another, we need a community to surround us to support us for the long haul. Communities with a traditional sexual ethic have, more often than not, dismissed sexual minorities the moment they moved in this direction. Rather than working out what it would look like for them to stay connected to the church and process all the questions in community, they’ve forced gays to go it alone.
Moreover, that kind of treatment isn’t just reserved for those in relationships. The fire I’ve come under (publicly and privately) as I’ve sought to live into the traditional ethic causes me to question whether this is about genuinely held beliefs or straight up homophobia. I say this with nothing but sadness: the kind of discrimination my friends and I have experienced as celibate gays makes me lean toward the latter.
Because many Christians assume that those who support same-sex relationships do so out of a desire to satiate their appetites rather than sincere Christian convictions, I feel the need to say that I’m not dating anyone (though I’ll add that our public obsession with total strangers’ sex lives does strike me as strange). I’m as single as ever and have remained celibate throughout my twenties. The Side B dream is one I truly believe in: it’s my lifelong goal to persuade people to make cross-country moves for friends, establish relationships across generations, share homes with married couples, and grow old with friends regardless. But it feels important for me to push for those kinds of changes as someone who also supports people in same-sex relationships so that friendship is promoted as a good in itself rather than a quick fix for the gay problem.
My goal now is the same as it’s always been: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the God who’s been my first love all along. When it comes to this conversation, my goal has been to help Christians create the kinds of communities that make LGBT people feel wanted — where we can worship God, use our gifts, serve our neighbors, and find a family to share in the joys and sorrows of living in a world where so many people are so lonely. That looks a little different to me now that I’ve seen so much fruit in affirming communities, but it’s a widening of my circle — not a move in a different direction.
Rodgers concluded her post with an invitation for those who disagree with her to “continue to welcome my friendship and serve alongside me.” But by Tuesday morning, it was clear that she would need a new line of service: Several evangelical blogs reported that Rodgers, after just a year working for Wheaton, had resigned from her position. Her name and title have already been erased from the school’s website, and Wheaton released a short statement on Tuesday that provided few details as to the specific circumstances surrounding Rodgers’ departure.
“Julie Rodgers recently held a position at Wheaton College. Her work schedule was consistent with the academic year and as such, she finished her time on campus in May,” the statement read. “Today, Julie notified the College that she is resigning her position, effective immediately, and will not be returning in August.”
Neither Rodgers nor representatives from Wheaton College returned ThinkProgress’ request for comment, so it remains unclear whether she intended to resign after publishing the post or if the school pressured her to quit. Rodgers gave a vague response to the controversy on her Twitter page, asking people who disagree with her to at least give her positions a fair reading:
Rodgers’ comments are but the latest in a serious of implicit critiques of Wheaton, which has earned a notorious reputation for resisting LGBT rights. The school administration refused to sanction LGBT organizations for students until 2013, and when a student questioned Wheaton’s treatment of LGBT people in a public forum in February, a classmate threw an apple at him “as a warning against insulting the Spirit of grace.” In response, alumni groups such as OneWheaton have formed groups to help support current LGBT students.
Rodgers, however, was praised as a beacon of change, making her abrupt withdraw from chaplaincy a blow for many LGBT students. Justin Massey, a recent graduate of Wheaton who originally founded the Refuge group, lauded Rodgers as “incredible encouragement” for the school’s LGBT students, and praised her public support for marriage equality.