Rev. Paige Wolfanger
I came to Cedarville in 1991 as an enthusiastic, fired up, Jesus-loving, somewhat sheltered, 18-year-old girl. I graduated in 1995 deeply and forever changed. I do not look back on my time at the ‘Ville with particular fondness, and given the choice, I would never repeat it, but I do know that I would not be who I am today without the experiences I had there. Mostly, I like the person I am today, and so I am thankful for all the experiences I have had, and grateful to the God who has brought me through them all.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home and a far more conservative church of Dutch Calvinist extraction, not even being fully aware that there were people labeled “homosexuals” in the world. (Funny how the absence of one single word from your vocabulary can skew your whole worldview, isn’t it?) I was fully aware, however, that when I went to the movies, my attention was drawn to Jodie Foster, rather than to Kevin Costner; that I didn’t have a huge interest in having a boyfriend in high school, but when I had a fight with my best girl friend I cried for days; that blue jeans and a nice short haircut felt far more natural on me than dresses and eye shadow. I didn’t have a word for it, so it wasn’t quite a reality, either.
It wasn’t quite a reality, that is, until Cedarville. At Cedarville, the reality that emerged for me was one of fear and loathing. At Cedarville I learned, in daily chapel, in various classes, in dorm room gossip, in special presentations from groups like the Creation Institute, that there is a word for what I felt, and I was “Lesbianism.” And it was a sin, an abomination to God, and so terribly, terribly against the long list of rules at the ‘Ville.
By the end of my sophomore year I had gotten used to going to chapel nine times a week, used to wearing a skirt every day of the week, used to mandatory, graded outreach and mission, used to praying about everything from the salvation of the world to finding a good parking space at chapel, but I had also fallen deeply, hopelessly in love with a woman. For the first time in my life, my body woke up, and there was sexual desire as well as emotional desire. For the first time in my life I knew the name for this malady. And for the first time in my life, I was ashamed of, and absolutely terrified by, myself.
For the better part of two years, I was sure that I was losing my mind. That was the only explanation I could find for this dilemma, because good Christian girls simply didn’t burn with the urge to have sex with other good Christian girls. None of my other friends in the dorms or classes talked about this problem. The only time it was ever brought up in conversation was by a friend who had caught her roommate kissing another girl. The Dean of Women was called in, and one of these sinners was expelled, and the other, the victim in this scenario, had been allowed to stay on the condition that she go into serious counseling for her sickness. I figured I must be sick, too, sick in my very soul, and I had no idea what the cure might be.
So I prayed, every day, on my knees. I memorized scripture and repeated it over and over again every time I felt attracted to my friend, or another woman. I started seeing a Christian counselor, as far away from campus as humanly possible. I begged God to take this desire away so that I could remain a good Christian girl. God didn’t take it away. But through grace, God also showed me I was still a good Christian.
A lot happened between my graduation from Cedarville and the time I finally and officially came out. And then a whole lot happened between my coming out and my present location in life. Some was good, and some was not so good, but in all of it, I am convinced that the God who made me in the Divine image has walked by my side every step of it, giving me the strength and love I needed to get me through.
Today I am an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, an open and affirming Christian denomination, one of a handful that will ordain glbt persons. I work as the co-pastor of a congregation outside Chicago, and hope that through my ministry I can share the same welcome and grace I have found. I pray for all those Cedarville alumni, students, faculty or staff who are are gay and being told they are sinful. Hear me now. You are not. You are a child of God, made in God’s own image. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different. I also pray for the Board and Administration of Cedarville, other Christian colleges, and all Christian denominations and congregations that continue to build the fences that Christ tore down. Want to talk? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the peace of Christ, who welcomed and loved all, go with you.