The best of years… the worst of years: an Eastern alum speaks out

It is with great enthusiasm that I sit to pen this letter based on my experiences as a gay man at Eastern University.

I graduated from Eastern with my BA in psychology in 1993. I am writing to express my excitement and pleasure about the upcoming visit by Soulforce’s “Equality Ride.” This is a wonderful opportunity to show that Eastern is serious about its motto: “The whole gospel for the whole world.”

I accepted Christ at Eastern my freshman year. I studied diligently, but found that a strict reading of the Bible gave me the dichotomous answers I was so desperately seeking: a way to deny and reject my gayness.

Indeed, I swallowed fundamentalist dogma as a means by which I could “purge” myself of my sexuality. I recall my own ritual of emotionally beating myself up when I felt affection for one of the male students in my class. “If only I had more faith…,” was a common internal plea. I was convinced that God would vomit in my presence.

Unfortunately, these messages of conditional love were reinforced by faculty and students: “we will love you if….” There was very little Grace.

The musical Godspell came to Eastern and I, of all people, got to play the role of Stephen (Jesus in the show). It was easy to tap into my own motivation for the persona of Jesus. I could quickly connect with the notion of loving as a martyr…especially because I fell in love with one of the male members of the cast.

It was a tumultuous time. My fears continued as I suppressed these feelings hoping, praying they would go away. Indeed, I recall hanging from the cross with tears falling down my face…my fears became reality.

I am, was and always will be gay. In some ways, my own resurrection was the union of my spiritual and sexual selves.

I began to do what the learned faculty had been teaching me for years: think. I engaged my mind. A reading of the Bible seemed to condemn me, but I knew that language and culture and interpretation are tricky things. After all, a reading of the Bible also approves of slavery!

So I studied language and conducted my own exegetical and hermeneutical analysis of Scripture. I prayerfully considered alternative interpretations and I came to the realization that the Bible is a love story about God and me. And I finally felt peace–as a gay man who loves God.

Meanwhile, The Waltonian had been running controversial articles about the debate in Christendom about homosexuality. President Roberta Hestenes called a public forum on sexual standards. I recall sitting in McInnis listening to her codify homophobia as Eastern policy.

I also remember listening to student after student stand up to the microphone to spit out vitriol disguised as Christian love. I don’t think I have ever seen something so un-Christian in my life. Unlike then, I can express these sentiments now because the faculty and administration have no power over me. Silence was a tool of fear.

I suddenly experienced what I refer to now as a spiritual awakening. It didn’t matter what others thought, what mattered was my relationship with the Divine. I slowly rose and went to the microphone with fear and trembling, but confident with purpose:

“My name is Brent Satterly. I’m a gay Christian. Please be careful what you say. Words really hurt.” I sat down.

I lost a lot of friends that day, but I gained my integrity.

Despite challenges, my education at Eastern prepared me for my own growth and development as a professional. I am currently a tenure-track faculty member at Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education.

With the knowledge of experience, practice, wisdom and the scholarship of my field, I charge the following:

As an institution of higher education, Eastern can be a medium for the free exchange of ideas without fear of condemnation or punishment. As Alum, I applaud Eastern for having Soulforce to give voices and faces to “unpopular” opinions. Get to know them. Sit down and talk with them, respectfully and with an open heart.

We learn and grow through relationship. I would encourage faculty and students to do the same.

I know there are gay, lesbian and bisexual students on your campus. I know there are children of gay and lesbian families on your campus. I am speaking for those students who are vulnerable and silent, who cannot speak, who dare not speak…because I am called to do so. I would encourage all faculty and students to listen.

Soulforce’s “Equality Ride,” a group of Christian GLBT people and supporters, will be on campus April 24 near the end of their tour of Christian and military colleges.

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