Georgetown takes pride in welcoming students from different backgrounds onto its campus each year. We offer concern for all of our students and promise a small “C” catholic understanding of how to live. As a top-tier Catholic institution, Georgetown captures an inclusive vision for Catholic spirituality. Georgetown has long been on the forefront of caring for students’ spiritual health. As well as housing the largest campus ministry in the country, Georgetown has been among the first Catholic universities to introduce Jewish and Protestant chaplaincies, and was the first to hire a full-time Imam. But in addition to the university’s impeccable record on religious pluralism, Georgetown’s campus ministry has gone a step further by actively engaging the LGBTQ community’s spiritual needs by collaborating with GU Pride this year.
Most Georgetown students won’t be surprised to hear that the LGBTQ experience on the Hilltop is a uniquely uplifting one, but few may realize how many of their classmates have directly experienced the ill effects of a less inclusive theology. When I came to Georgetown last year, I was utterly unprepared for the warm and welcoming religious community that embraced me. My senior year of high school had provided me with some interesting reflections on my faith that had left me somewhat soured on Christianity. My angst began when the head of my school’s religion department urged students to vote against me for class president because of my support for gay marriage. Surely, he understood that the student body president of Lutheran High School West didn’t have any power to change Ohio marriage law, so his condemnation felt like a personal affront, and I was devastated.
My first year of college featured the dissolution of old friendships, an extremely unhappy family and some piercing introspection. Thankfully, new Georgetown friendships formed, I created strong relationships in the Washington, D.C. community and I found that I was capable of thriving in a new city, school and life. As important as my new relationships were, nothing provided me as much support as my spiritual base.
Coming to Georgetown provided me with a completely new context for spirituality in which members of my community celebrated difference and strengthened one another through our different ways of relating to God. As a Protestant, I was delighted to see a faith community that so obviously embraced the Wesleyan idea of using experience and reason to discern God’s will for our lives. Dedicated members of Georgetown’s ministry team showed concern for me and helped me grow throughout my freshman year. When I wanted to leave campus for a week to attend the founding convention of The Reformation Project, an affirming Christian group, I was delighted to receive broad support from professors, friends and even my RA supervisor.
While I have had a great experience at Georgetown, I think the university can do more to respond to the needs of LGBTQ students who want an active spiritual life. We should engage these issues in theology classes and not shy away from difficult discussions merely to avoid awkward confrontations and political incorrectness. We should be leaders in the ongoing debate regarding inclusion within the Church’s worldwide body. Georgetown is the flagship for Catholic education and can set the tone for thousands of other institutions throughout the world. In our own community, we can continue to make ministry resources accessible for students that do not actively seek them out.
In partnering with GU Pride, campus ministry is boldly reaffirming its commitment to ministering to the spiritual needs of all students. Bravely, in the face of lawsuits by the likes of William Peter Blatty, the Catholic chaplaincy has joined Muslim, Jewish and Protestant leaders in discussing issues of sexuality and faith. GU Pride leaders, exhibiting the same boldness, overlooked the somewhat shaky reputation that religious organizations have on LGBTQ issues in order to form a meaningful partnership. From leading prayer groups for gay students to providing opportunities for Bible study and participation in religious services, campus ministry has done a great deal to make LGBTQ students feel they have a place within the religious community at Georgetown. These changes will have a lasting impact far beyond the realm of spirituality, as we end the stigmatization of gay students within one of the most important cultural realms. In forming this partnership, GU Pride and campus ministry have displayed Georgetown in its best light. United, they have declared that we will care for each student’s entire person. We have made lowercase “C” catholic spirituality truly universal.
Tim Rosenberger is a sophomore in the College.