Oral Roberts University’s GLBT alums
If ever one needed proof that GLBT people are everywhere, in every institution, office, school, business or otherwise, the GLBT alumni group ORU-OUT proves the theory conclusively. Formed as a support group for alumni of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Oral Roberts University, ORU-OUT shows that GLBT people reside even in the bastions of Christian educational institutions.
Jeff McKissack, the president of ORU-OUT, says the group began to take shape about 4 years ago when he moved to Dallas, Texas. “The very first night I went out I ran into three [Oral Roberts University] alumni,” he remembers. “Gradually we began to run into other ORU alumni. It almost became a joke. When we’d see each other we’d say, ‘Oh are you out?’ “
The fledgling group held its first official meeting in November of 1999. McKissack says about 14 people showed up from Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Houston and Dallas. Each person there knew of four or five other GLBT alums and the networking began. As the group turns a year old, they now have about 130 members.
Oral Roberts University’s gay undercurrent
McKissack believes they’ve only scratched the surface as far as potential membership goes. “My first year in [Oral Roberts University], there were 30 guys in my wing. Of those 30, eight are now out. That’s 30 percent,” he figures.
But why are there so many GLBT people going to Christian universities like Oral Roberts? McKissack has a theory: “A lot of gay people, especially if you grew up in religious environment, went to Christian college or university for a couple of reasons: We thought we’d be healed or become straight somehow and because it was a safe haven. We weren’t expected to fool around with the opposite sex,” he concludes.
Oral Roberts University and its founder
Oral Roberts himself is famous for many things including his 1980 vision of a 900-foot tall Jesus who promised that his 600-foot-tall City of Faith would be completed. He’s also known for his claim in 1986 that he had to raise $8 million for Oral Roberts University scholarships for medical students or he would die!
Interestingly enough, Roberts, unlike his other conservative Christian evangelist counterparts, is not known for his anti-gay rhetoric. That’s something McKissack feels has helped his organization gain — if not support — at least the respect of the university.
“We have enjoyed a very cordial relationship with the university,” he reveals. “We sent a letter to [Oral Roberts University] President Richard Roberts and Alumni Director George Paul announcing formation of the group. The letter very clearly pointed out we’re not trying to change the university.”
But the group does have three very clear goals in mind:
- Connect with other GLBT alumni;
- Be a resource to current students on campus, and;
- Open up a dialogue with the university about how they treat GLBT students and staff.
Oral Roberts University still not GLBT-friendly
“If you’re found to be gay you’re expelled,” McKissack explains. “I’m hoping we would bring them to a place that they could see this is not something worthy of expulsion in the same way they don’t expel pregnant students or straight people found to be messing around with each other.”
Unfortunately, the alumni group’s pull in this area is limited. McKissack says it’s up to current students to make those kind of changes, but the school has opened dialogue with them.
“The very fact that we have the dialogue going that we do… I mean, Oral told us years ago to expect a miracle… we got it!”
Another mark of the school’s cordial relationship with its GLBT alumni came last June when members of ORU-OUT marched in Tulsa’s gay pride parade. “We went on campus during [pride] wearing our t-shirts. Campus security watched us from a distance, but the alumni director had sent out a memo to campus security directing them to not interfere with us in any way.”
That’s a drastic contrast to how GLBT alumni are treated at other private Christian institutions. Bob Jones University, for example, has banned all GLBT alumni from even setting foot on campus.
Oral Roberts University: Signs of hope
“We’re in a unique position with [Oral Roberts University] and Oral Roberts. He’s always been an upbeat minister,” McKissack explains. “He has not slammed anyone over the years. He’s Mister ‘Something good is going to happen to you and God is a good God.’ To have a message contrary to that would be contradictory to the university’s philosophy.”
McKissack says some members even plan to go to homecoming this year sporting ORU-OUT shirts and gay pride pins to draw attention to their cause. They of course have received some negative reactions from current and former students, but overall McKissack says they’ve received a lot of positive feedback and have even added supportive straight alumni to their membership roll.
But despite the cordial relations, the group says it’s not satisfied with how current GLBT students are treated. They hope they can eventually claim the miracle that Oral promised them and change the hearts and minds of those leading the school. To do that, they need strength in numbers and hope to find other ORU GLBT alumni, and straight supporters, to help them accomplish their goals.
“The greater our numbers, the greater our voice.”
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.