Courtney Walters ‘17 and Philip Maenza ‘17 will be giving their faith journeys next week, focusing on their understandings of faith and sexual orientation. Both students identify as gay as well as Christian. Their talks will take place in the Center for the Arts (CFA) recital hall Tuesday, March 28, at 7 p.m.
Psychology professor and former counseling center director Michael Lastoria cooperated with Maenza and Walters to plan the event. According to Maenza, Lastoria “wanted to have the campus be able to hear a different side of the LGBT Christian narrative. Both Courtney and I have been wanting to share our stories in a public capacity. So it just kind of worked out.”
“I’ve always wanted to give my faith journey at Houghton,” Walters said, and noted she was told she would not be allowed to do so in a chapel service. She continued, “So if this the platform that I have to do it, then I’ll do it. And I couldn’t have picked a better person to do it with than Phil.”
“Only one narrative of LGBT Christians is told at Houghton and advocated,” Maenza continued, and “we are hoping for nothing more than to share our stories of faith, love and friendship while navigating a same-sex sexual orientation” and Christian faith. Walters concurred and stated, “I think that it’s important for Houghton, especially since it’s a conservative Wesleyan institution, for them to see that just because I identify as gay, doesn’t mean that I am any less of a Christian than other people.”
Maenza and Walters both agreed their time at Houghton has hindered, but also helped, their growth as Christians. Maenza noted, “It hasn’t been easy. People are constantly questioning the genuineness of my faith and/or sexual orientation. People I don’t even know somehow think it is their right to judge or overstep bounds with inappropriate questions. [This] made for a lot of self loathing and self doubt and loneliness.” However, Maenza feels this pressure “really made [him] focus on God and God alone and [he] learned to not always put [his] faith in the church, which are humans, which make mistakes and misinterpret Scriptures.”
Walters stated, “I think Houghton has helped me because I’ve had to come to my view kind of on my own…I believe it in my core, and I know that it’s not influenced by the community around me but it’s part of who I am. I also think that it’s opened me up to discourse on other topics- I talk to people about race a lot more, and different socioeconomic classes. [My sexual orientation] has pushed me to talk about other minority groups’ topics as well.”
Walters did note a lack of support on campus as “difficult.” She stated, “Just because we have a disagreement on this one theological topic, does not mean that I am different than them…. I think that if they can see that I still love God and grow, then they’ll understand, ‘hey, homosexuals aren’t evil’.”
Walters also said it is challenging to be unsure of “safe people” to talk to about her faith and sexuality. “It’s hard to know which professors I can go to and talk about this. I wish that was a little different….[I wish Houghton showed us] some professors we can talk to.”
Colleen Shannon ‘17, who also is a gay Christian, said she shared similar struggles. “The most challenging aspect was navigating this challenging aspect of my life without support,” she said. “In my junior year, I had to strip down my faith to bare bones, all I knew was that I believed that God existed. All these voices around me were telling me that I was wrong, that I was evil….As I sort of rebuilt my faith with voices that told me it was okay to be gay and Christian.” She cited new struggles she has faced this year. She continued,“Going into my senior year, the challenge was finding a place of belonging….the place that Houghton is can’t welcome us on equal terms, and they’ve been working really hard, but ultimately it comes down to your perspective where, if you think that my lifestyle omits me from the kingdom of God, then how can you love me the same?”
The duo’s faith journey’s precede a four person panel discussion on LGBT students at Houghton on the following Saturday night as part of the Student Government Association coffeehouse series. Along with Maenza and Walters, Lily Brunner ‘17 and Micah Cronin ‘17 will participate in the panel.