Have Faith in Me: Why the Wesley Foundation is Different for LGBT+ Folk

Most people on FSU’s campus have walked or driven by the Wesley Foundation at least once during their time here. It’s a hard place to miss, between its meme-ridden roadside sign, the rainbow flag often hanging from it and the large, rainbow board with Unconditionally written across it on their front lawn. The Wesley Foundation here at FSU is known for its inclusivity and its determination to reach out to the LGBT+ community, making them feel welcomed and safe in a community that doesn’t often do that. 

Many young Christian members of the LGBT+ community have found sanctuary in the Wesley Foundation, a place that allows them to worship without ridiculing or shaming them for who they are. LGBT individuals often struggle with being both gay and religious, and usually, think that they have to choose one or the other or else they’ll tip the balance of the universe. However, the Wesley Foundation shows that these two spectrums can coexist. In order to find out more, I met with the Foundation’s Executive Director and Campus Pastor, Rev. Mike Toluba:

Courtesy: Wesley Foundation

Her Campus (HC): Can I get a brief description of what the Wesley Foundation is?

Rev. Mike Toluba(MT): The Wesley Foundation is an extension ministry of the United Methodist Church that serves the university campus. Our particular Wesley Foundation is a part of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves the campuses of Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College. Additionally, there is a Wesley Foundation on the campus of FAMU as well here in Tallahassee. There are Wesley Foundations on campuses in the United States and various countries around the world.

HC: What kind of services do you offer the LGBT+ community?

MT: Our Wesley Foundation has a history over the last 10-15 years of being a welcoming place on campus for students who are a part of the LGBT+ community. Some years, we have offered discussion groups about issues related to the LGBT+ community. In the Spring of 2019, we raised funds and awareness for the Trevor Project during the season of Lent, the 40-day season leading up to Easter. The Trevor Project provides services for LGBT+ youth that are contemplating suicide. Through a variety of fundraising efforts, we donated over $3900 to The Trevor Project for Easterfest 2019.

HC: What made you decide to reach out to the LGBT+ community?

MT: We believe that students who identify with the LGBT+ community are people of sacred worth because all human beings have sacred worth. The perspective of many people in the LGBT+ community is many churches are not very welcoming places or even discriminating places. Our hope is to show the LGBT+ community that you are loved and welcomed to be part of our Wesley community regardless of how you regard your own sexuality or gender.

HC: Anyone who drives by the Foundation can see the Unconditionally sign out front, and you often hang a Pride flag from the billboard. Why do you work so hard to make the LGBT+ community feel welcome and seen?

MT: We have worked hard to make the LGBT+ community feel welcomed because the United Methodist Church has been engaged in conflict around homosexuality for many years. The United Methodist Church currently does not permit same-sex marriage in our churches or the ordination of clergy who identify as LGBT+. There are many people apart of the United Methodist Church who embrace a more traditional view of marriage and ordination while many others have a much more progressive view in terms of marriage and ordination that would be inclusive of the LGBT+ community. 

Unconditionally was our theme for Easterfest at Wesley last spring when we were raising awareness and funds for the Trevor Project. We have kept the Unconditionally sign in our lawn as an invitation to LGBT+ people that Wesley is a welcoming place for everyone in our university community. My personal belief is that God invites anyone to come and follow Jesus regardless of background or history. My desire is for students to come to know Jesus and follow in the ways of Jesus. Even if Christians are in disagreement about issues around same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT+ people, I believe everyone has a place to belong in the church of Jesus Christ. Everyone is always welcome at our Wesley Foundation.

Courtesy: Wesley Foundation

HC: Many religious people believe that the Bible says being homosexual is a sin. However, your church welcomes those in the LGBT+ community with open arms. What makes you different? Why don’t you take that stance?

MT: Many thoughtful Christian people believe that the Bible regards homosexuality as a sin; however, there are other thoughtful Christian people that interpret the Bible differently. Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been much tension and conflict around different interpretations of the Bible. 

Our Wesley community provides a place for people to encounter the Bible and have a critical conversation about the Bible. There are definitely people even in our Wesley community who interpret the Bible and homosexuality very differently. Our Wesley community has tried to create an environment for students to explore faith and encounter God without judgment of their beliefs or of their questions about faith.     

HC: Regarding my previous question, what would you say to those people?

MT: I understand that Christians might disagree with our approach. I am not advocating that everyone must do ministry like we are doing ministry. I would hope that Christian people could respect other Christians who have a different vision of ministry than their own vision of ministry.

HC: Many people in the LGBT+ community believe they can’t be both gay and religious. They may feel dirty for their identity or like they’re wrong or like they’re disobeying God. What would you say to them? 

MT: Regardless of how you might understand issues of marriage and ordination of LGBT+ people, I hope that people will see the church as a place to explore faith and ask questions. The reality is that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and I think we need to remember that reality whenever you engage with people who are part of the LGBT+ community.

 

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