Journey Story

“More Than A Single Story”: The Unheard LGBTQ Voices of Wheaton College

by Jordan -Ashley Barney

Sitting on the front steps of Wheaton College’s Edman Chapel in the middle of winter amid a hundred fellow students calling attention to there being “more than a single story” was one of the most life-changing experiences I have ever had.

I was holding a sign that read “I am a feminist, a LGBTQ ally, and a Christian—this is my story.”

My friend Justin Massey was sitting next to me holding a sign that read, “I am gay and a beloved child of God—this is my story.”

This was the More Than a Single Story chapel demonstration that occurred January 31st on Wheaton’s campus. I co-led the demonstration with Justin in response to Rosaria Butterfield—a former lesbian and feminist studies professor who has since repented her “lesbianism” after converting to Christianity—coming to speak at chapel.

When I was sitting on those steps I felt the presence of God in a way that I hadn’t before. I felt I was actively pursuing God’s love and justice. And I wasn’t doing it alone—more than a hundred students sat with us that day, taking part in what I feel is one of the most beautiful acts of worship I have ever been a part of. About a month after this, Luke Vander Ploeg, a fellow ally I met on the day of the demonstration, contacted me with an idea for an audio documentary filled with the voices of current and past Wheaton students representing minority sexualities.

We would tell stories—just stories—and that would touch people’s hearts.

I was pumped about it. I am a media studies major, and the idea seemed revolutionary for Wheaton’s campus. No theology or politics, just stories. Our thoughts were that if we changed the game of this entire discussion, then we could actually make an impact.

Often, a personal experience such as a friend coming out to them or something similar causes an evangelical Christian to re-examine their beliefs. We wanted to create this space for students of Wheaton College who have not had this type of experience.

Luke inspired me with his vision and helped me to believe there were more individuals in the world who believed in justice, cared for humanity, and wanted to use stories to help create change. We got to work gathering interviewees, getting studio time, and recording hours worth of stories. The stories are powerful and helped shape Luke and I as individuals to build upon the vision we had for the project. This documentary ended up becoming the More Than a Single Story Project.

On April 22nd, we posted the documentary online, and in its first week it received over 1,000 listens.

This was something Luke and I were not expecting at all. During this time we were still trying to schedule a communal listening event on campus, but were stopped mid-process by our school’s administration. We could not have a public event on campus for a project that contained such “sensitive material”—it was a complicated process with several appeals made by us, but in the end the administration still decided they did not have enough time to prepare the campus. What that means exactly, I am not sure.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church kindly hosted our event, and a Wheaton alumnus paid for pizza and soda. Overall, we had an attendance of over 60 people, including a few faculty and two of the administrators who put a hold on the event. After the listening, we had a Q&A with a few of the students who lent their voices and stories to the documentary. It was all really powerful.

Now, over a month later, there have been 1,636 listens to the prologue and over 7,000 visits to the website.

I am still unsure what sort of an impact it has had, but I am proud of the work, proud of us, and proud of all the brave, amazing people who shared their stories and allowed Luke and I to turn them into this project.

Every time I start to feel like nothing happened or nothing changed because of this I remind myself of a Facebook message I received from a fellow student the night we released the documentary. He wrote:

Jordan, this is beautiful. Thank you so much. Yeah, it kind of hit me like a train. Still trying to process everything. But this was big for me, I think. Something has changed.

This message alone is enough for me.

Of course I want everyone to listen and open their eyes to love and justice, but one person changing their mind makes all the late nights and difficulty with the administration worth it.

I truly believe that stories change hearts, change minds, and (even though it might sound like a truly cheesy ending) have the ability to change the world.

Photo via More Than A Single Story Project

Comments (4)

Renee Barney

As a Wheaton Graduate student
As a Wheaton Graduate student I had visceral spiritual experience when I saw the picture of you all sitting there. I was working in the Billy Grahm Center across the street that day. But when I saw the photos I felt the praise, the fight for justice and a sense of the importance of this moment

Jude Hines

Hi, I spoke once at a class
Hi, I spoke once at a class at Wheaton College. I’m born again and was married to a man for 25 years. We got divorced and I fell in love with a woman. I’m so saddened by my evangelical family that no longer accepts me heartily. I now belong to and attend a UCC church. I tell my parents regularly, I think you can be a lesbian and a Christian. I am, so I know.

Thomas Simmons

My dad, Richard Simmons, was
My dad, Richard Simmons, was a BMOC at Wheaton College just after the war–9 campaign ribbons. Along with other all American Honchos like Jim Elliot, Chuck Shanghair (sp) Hal Taussig, Dale Oxley, Harve Chrouser. Many had just returned from the conflagration in the Pacific and the Europe. They were very conservative–fundies we called them. As the years passed his tolerance for intolerance became fundamentally changed. His belief that Germans were congenitally insane turned to a conviction that humans do bad things regardless of their nation. In the end, for him it was pretty much just was Matthew 5 and Matthew 25. He went back to the apostolic church after he wearied of the western hypocrisy and fragmentation, bullying and self righteousness (and found that they had 2,000 years of practice in screwing things up but they were one church). He saw the secular world for what it was and was very much aware of the sins of the church–he liberated a death camp out side of Munchen, in a Christian nation for pity’s sake. But over the years the righteous’s constant targeting of the vulnerable and the disenfranchised-Nah, this obsession with targeting the outsiders and declaring their separation from God then humiliating them. Not happening in the the house of god? Outside of it? Sure but then that means someone is wearing sheep’s clothing. and they ain’t queers.


Interesting that the author
Interesting that the author gives so much credence to her experience and that of GLBT supporters while at the same time discounting Rosaria Butterfield’s.

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