Mary Newhauser, a junior at the University of Wisconsin, first attended an event at the University of Wisconsin’s interdenominational Christian ministry when she moved to Madison at the start of her college career. Newhauser grew up in Chicago’s suburbs attending a non-denominational Christian “megachurch.” As a person of faith, Newhauser looked for a church she could attend during the school year. At the student activities fair, what she found was The Crossing.
Serving the members of the university campus, the ministry aims to promote inclusivity, environmental stewardship, caring relationships and social justice. The non-profit ministry models itself on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and provides a community open to sharing the “indiscriminate love of God.” The Crossing accomplishes these goals through worship and song, social programming and charitable service.
Here, Newhauser said she “immediately felt very at home.” She said the staff and attendees welcomed her readily. “People who are new to The Crossing, you’re not new for long,” she said.
What stood out for Newhauser was the comfort and intimacy she felt at The Crossing. “They make me feel special. You grow up and you’re a college kid, and you think, ‘Well maybe I don’t need that anymore.’ But you get that here.”
Currently, Newhauser works with The Crossing’s Student Activities Leadership Team, spearheading The Crossing’s LGBT initiative to promote community acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Along with Crossing Intern Evan Karg, Newhauser helps plan LGBT and Christian events throughout the year.
Karg joined the staff at The Crossing this fall. Raised in Freeport, Ill., Karg graduated from Olivet Nazarene University in May. Around that time, Karg realized that he was “meant to be involved in the church, in a life of ministry.”
Initially, Karg decided he would become an ordained minster at the small, conservative denomination of Christianity he grew up in: the Church of the Nazarene. Things did not turn out the way Karg planned, but not because he lacked faith or a connection to Christianity. He decided not to become a minister for reasons more taboo to Christianity:
“I identify as a queer person of faith,” Karg says.
“It’s a process”
National media often present the relationship between LGBT people and religion as oppositional. A recent New York Times article referred to this demographic as one that “straddle[s] one of the most volatile fault lines in America’s culture war.“
Karg’s impressions of coming out to family and friends in the Nazarene community reflected the stigma he faced.
“At that time I was in the closet and very conflicted with the stance of my denomination, and also with the teachings and the subtle sayings of people that … gay people go to Hell, and things of that sort. That haunted me.”
That these statements originated from peers who Karg had shared his spiritual life compounded his pain.
“All that I knew was church and community of faith, and being cut off from that was one of the most difficult things of my life,” he says.
“It’s confusing hearing sermons, hearing this rhetoric that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ … It turns into this process of learning how to hate yourself, or deny part of yourself.”
For Karg, coming out as a gay person became a time where he lost his dreams — his desire to serve God and community. “It’s a process, and a painful process,” he says. He had been a vigilant reader of scripture, and one of the youngest, at 18 years old, to receive a lay person’s Minister’s License, a recognition of his gifts to lead his congregation.
He burned it.
Things changed for Karg.
In losing one book, he found others — the writings of Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy and James Baldwin. In these, he found spiritual connection to the arts. Karg credits one passage in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, for leading him back to the church.
He paraphrases Robinson’s words. “The difference between a scribe … and a prophet is that a scribe just writes the ills of the people who (he) chastis(es), but a prophet rebukes (his) people with gentleness and love.”
Karg says Robinson reminded him, in its best form, Christianity is a religion of forgiveness. He says, “I just started weeping because I realized my roots are in the Church. I am a Christian. And that’s something that even though I want to cast off, for me that’s not an option.
“I still love my relatives and friends who think I’m a sinner or a lesser human being. I still choose to treat them with dignity. And hopefully through that, they will see I want to love God and I want to love others.”
Karg walks a line between the need to soothe his pain and a Christian duty to love the ones who inflicted it. This journey brought him to Madison. He started to attend Grace Episcopal Church. He met Christians who were, as he put it, “affirming and open to all people.” After joining the United Church of Christ, Karg is now applying to theological seminaries. He dreams of ordination.
Karg has found solace in serving his community. He uses his experiences as a way to help others avoid life’s darker paths. He has whittled the lessons of his journey into a message of peace.
“One of the most important things … to tell someone that’s in the process of deciding to come out, and they’re a person of faith, is to tell them ‘no matter what happens, my door will always be open for you, and you will always have someone on your side. You won’t end up out on the street alone as long as you know I’m here.’”
“I would tell them to come to The Crossing because they can find a lot of support here. And a lot of people who will be accepting … and willing to help them on their journey,” she says.
As to her spiritual growth, Newhauser credits the academic connections she was able to cultivate at The Crossing.
“Me coming to the point where I wanna be really supportive of LGBT equality … did not come from pressure here. It just came from a really conducive learning environment,” she says. “I think acceptance speaks a lot more than words could.”
During her own times of struggle, Newhauser remembers an affirmation she learned from her pastor.
“(He) would say, ‘You are a treasured child of the most high God.’ And that’s like something my Mom has always said to me when I’m down, when I fail,” she says.
“I don’t think God sees in sexual orientation. I think he just sees the person in the heart.”
In late October, The Crossing will start hosting a monthly gathering called Queer People of Faith, open to all religious denominations. The intent of this group is to bring together a multiplicity of beliefs concerning faith and sexuality — to foster learning and support.
On Saturday, Oct. 13, The Crossing staff, student leaders and interested community members will participate in an LGBT ally training. This workshop will certify The Crossing as an LGBT ally campus ministry. Anyone can register for the workshop by contacting Evan Karg ([email protected]).