Homophobia Runs Unchecked: Life at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Matthew Truett, a former seminary student who was expelled for being queer, provides this firsthand account of the damage that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary causes:

Southern was, for lack of a better word, a total mind-fuck. The October before I moved to Louisville to go to Southern, I had officially come out to my family and friends. Their disdain was actually what drove me to enroll at Southern, because I wanted to make them proud and make them look at me like I wasn’t dashing their dreams of a “committed missionary for Christ.” So, I consciously decided to go back in the closet in order to make Southern work, and it was hell.  I lived on campus, worked on campus, and went to classes on campus. I only left campus in order to go to church (Sojourn) or small group. Southern was my entire Louisville life – until it wasn’t.  

I was called into the Dean’s office, and he asked me frankly, “Are you a homosexual?”

When you enroll in classes at Southern (in 2014), you had to sign the Honor Code first. You couldn’t even get to the online form to register for courses without first signing the Honor Code. The Honor Code had your standard “no drinking,” “no drugs,” “no porn or sex before marriage,” and “no going to bars” (you could not even enter a bar without being at risk for being in offense to the Honor Code).  They had statements making you agree that you would not file a lawsuit against anyone while being a student and agreed to non-legal, Christian/pastoral mediation for legal matters. You could not get divorced while enrolled at Southern. As you guessed it, you could not be gay or engage in homosexuality (sex, relationships, marriage, etc).

At that time in American history, this was before the landmark Obergefell case, so gay marriage was illegal in Kentucky anyway, but even identifying as LGBT made you ineligible for enrollment. Of course, I lied, registered for classes, and started my grad program. In fairness, in Evangelicalism, Southern is pretty prestigious, and their president Al Mohler is highly influential in Evangelical social circles. If I was going to sacrifice my very sexuality, I wanted a top-notch education from one of the pinnacles of American Christian education, so Southern was my one and only choice for my Mdiv program.  

As the national conversation started ramping up regarding the possibility of a federal marriage decision for queer people, other students’ blatant disgust and homophobia ran unchecked. Gender roles are very strict at Southern (women cannot take preaching classes because women cannot be ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention), and even men who enrolled in the Biblical Counseling tract were mocked because that was what female students traditionally studied. Seminary dorm life makes “locker room talk” look like child’s play. I knew who I was and what I was sacrificing to even be able to sit in the same common spaces as these men, so I kept a lower profile.  

My internal struggle of sequestering myself, as well as my own growing disgust for the men around me, drove me to begin asking questions such as, “Would it really affect straight marriage if gay marriage was legalized?” This raised many red flags amongst the dorm life leadership (who were also fellow students), and, quickly, my name was taken to the Dean of Students. I was called into the Dean’s office, and he asked me frankly, “Are you a homosexual?” I answered honestly and said yes.  With this “yes,” I was swiftly evicted from my dorm room, fired from my on-campus job, expelled, and left homeless in a new city.

 

It’s clear from Matthew’s story that leadership at Southern is trained to identify the “signs” or “red flags” of homosexuality and report them as soon as they are detected: the textbook definition of a witch hunt. In Matthew’s case, it backfired, because after they left Christianity, they discovered Paganism. Now they are a literal witch. We love to see it. But in all seriousness, we’re glad they lived to tell their story. Not everyone does.