His decision to go public earned him hundreds of encouraging letters and e-mails from former students and alums whose stories paralleled his own. One of the most satisfying joys of the difficult pain of coming out, he says, on Huffington Post, is simply coming to know that you're not alone--that there are others, and there are many, men and women who understand.
One professor asked him out to lunch at the college cafeteria, then asked him whether or not he still intended, someday, to preach. When he said yes, that faculty member looked up and said, "Hell's real, you know."
Clayton says he picked up his tray and left.
I wonder how many gay students I may have had in 35 years teaching here at the same kind of small, Christian college Todd Clayton attended. I know of two or three, but I'm sure there were more, are more; I can only imagine how difficult it must be--as Clayton says it is--to be both a Christian and gay in a place like this.
If you want to toss out good red meat here in Siouxland, just repeat the phrase "gay marriage," and good Christian folks by the score will be up on their feet, absolutely sure the professor's pronouncement about hell at that Point Loma dining table was the only responsible answer a Bible-believing Christian could give, were he or she across the table from young Mr. Clayton. Voting for someone who is even willing to listen to arguments about gay marriage buys a ticket to Hades.
Two guys I graduated with, 42 years ago, were gay. Both walked away from marriages and kids, marriages that began here. There may well be more--I don't know. What I do know is that both men registered much higher on the righteousness scale when they were here than I did. They were, in fact, poster boy students, in all the right clubs because they said all the right things. One, like Todd Clayton, had his eyes on the ministry. The brightest kid in my high school class is gay. He's a preacher, has been for years. But he long ago left the denominational fellowship of his youth, where there was no place for him.
Todd Clayton is not wrong. Christian colleges like the one where I've taught for most of my professional life have a very difficult time navigating the wildly diverting streams where questions about gay people and gay life eventually lead. It's one thing to say you love them, another to allow them to hold hands.
Clayton says he has a friend, a college recruiter, at a similar college. When he asked her about accepting LGBT students, she said she would tell them to go somewhere else, "somewhere that can celebrate them and love them without condition."
When, several years ago, a candidate for a position in the English Department expressed her determination that she could not and would not condemn gay people, having had several close gay friends in grad school, she was summarily dismissed from consideration here, even though she told us she understood our world, having graduated from a small Christian college herself, and she promised not to preach or teach what she understood would be divisive at a place like Dordt. She was advancing a policy of "don't ask, don't tell." But even that wasn't good enough.
I suppose there is always seams in our theological tents, and when the wind blows hard those seams are most at risk. About all a place like this can do out here on the edge of the plains is hope and pray for calm weather, continue to play "don't ask, don't tell," and tell students like Todd Clayton to go somewhere else, "somewhere that can celebrate them and love them without condition."
Makes life hard. After all, only God can love without condition. Right?