Ryan Culpepper


By the time I came to Cedarville as a freshman in 1999 I was already beginning to question many of the dogmatic and conservative stances I had grown up with. I was pleased overall with the education I received at Cedarville, and I met many bright and open-minded students and professors who continue to challenge me intellectually and personally to this day.

At the same time, I was consistently frustrated by the resistance at Cedarville to open dialogue and a free exchange of ideas. There was a refusal to recognize difference. Let me rephrase: there was a refusal to recognize any difference as legitimate. Of course, there were quasi-liberal and humanitarian, even compassionate individuals who "welcomed difference," but only so that they could promptly eradicate it in the name of "outreach," "ministry," "tranformation," or something else. This forced and artificial homogeneity affected me and many of my close friends negatively.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderful, welcoming and supportive community of friends who represented all sorts of differences from the Cedarville definition of normal (acceptable, legitimate, holy): political difference, ethnic difference, sexual difference, theological difference, etc. Each of us faced his or her own type of alienation and rejection at Cedarville. Each felt she or he had to obscure some part of her- or himself during ordinary interactions on campus. Each of us felt unrepresented by the dominant "Cedarville culture." We didn't see ourselves in the "Cedarville family."

By the time I left Cedarville, I was convinced that the beliefs of U.S. Protestant Christianity (as separate from a Christian ethic) were simply incompatible with the reality of human life, which is characterized by plurality and diversity. Beliefs and practices that seek to deny or suppress this reality are necessarily incoherent and unstable. Let me assure anyone who is beginning to question his or her relationship to such reactionary beliefs: they are indefensible logically, philosophically, ethically and pragmatically. That doesn't mean, however, that these beliefs and practices are powerless to frighten us or to wield power over our sense of self. Coming to terms with the conservative beliefs I was raised with, evaluating them soberly, critically, lucidly, and ultimately finding them untenable, was the scariest experience of my life.

Anyone going through such a turbulent process deserves patience, support and real compassion. At the same time, many people, many more than you think, even at Cedarville, have these same questions about their place within the set of Protestant Christian doctrines. Sexual difference is, of course, perhaps the most feared and marginalized of the differences from Christian normalcy. But there are many GLBT individuals, and many more individuals who differ in other ways from this normalcy, who are devoted to respecting difference and to rejecting the narrow, exclusive and indefensible standards for normalcy that right-wing Christianity would like us to believe are natural or God-ordained. Like my community of friends at Cedarville, we are responsible to be a community of support and respect for one another.

After graduating from Cedarville in 2003 with a double major in English and Spanish, I served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine until the end of 2006. In 2007 I married Teresa Ott, a Cedarville alumna, and I am now working on my PhD in Comparative Literature at University of Toronto in Canada. From this vantage point, I would like to say to anyone who is experiencing the real and legitimate anxiety of moving away from the world of conservative Christianity that it's really okay on the other side, and that there is literally a world of challenges and support waiting for you outside the constraints and uniformity of "Cedarville culture." I would be happy to talk with anyone further about my or their experiences.