By Abby Petersen and Maddie DeBilzan
Bethel announced Friday that Campus Ministries would launch a discipleship group, called “Prism,” for College of Arts and Sciences students who identify as LGBTQ+. Associate Campus Pastor Jason Steffenhagen will be working with student leaders to form and facilitate the group. The news was shared with the Bethel community at 6 a.m. via Bethel E-Announcements, an automated email service.
“The discipleship group, called Prism, will provide a space for students to share their stories, build community, and grow in their relationships with God,” the announcement said.
Steffenhagen and two of Prism’s student leaders, Maddie Hollander and Chase DuBose, met with The Clarion on Friday afternoon to discuss the new group’s mission.
Prism’s mission will be to cultivate a community within Bethel for students who identify as LGBTQ+. It will operate similarly to groups such as Mighty Men and Rooted – it’s issued by Campus Ministries, but it will be led by the students with the help of Steffenhagen and an additional staff member.
DuBose and Steffenhagen emphasized that Prism isn’t an outreach group – instead, it will focus on reaching in, making sure that students who identify as LGBTQ+ can feel like their stories are heard. For this reason, the group is only open to students who identify as LGBTQ+. Steffenhagen also encourages students who have questions to talk to him.
“The goal of Prism is not to educate Bethel,” said Steffenhagen. “It’s for students to feel known and heard.”
Although Prism is a new official Campus Ministries for LGBTQ+ students, it’s been in the making for years. LGBTQ+ groups have long been cultivating unofficial groups where they could enjoy meals, talk about their faith and pursue a community with each other. The reason Steffenhagen decided to make the group official, he said, is because students such as DuBose and Hollander wanted a group that would outlive any one specific group of leaders.
The group’s creation addresses long-held tensions between the Bethel student body and language in the Student Handbook, which says that “scripture specifically forbids drunkenness, adultery, and fornication (defined as cohabitation and/or premarital sexual relations of both a heterosexual and/or a homosexual nature). Bethel offers help in clarifying issues of sexual identity and moral behavior for students having concerns in this area.”
Although the group is new, Steffenhagen said that its mission and motives are things that Bethel has always aligned with.
In May 2015, The Clarion published “Being Gay at Bethel” a story that articulated the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ students at Bethel. Three years later, the official group has arrived.
For junior JohnMark Shields, the group feels like a long-awaited welcome to him and other LGBTQ+ students at Bethel.
“This group means for queer and same sex attracted students that we have a space to speak about gender and sexuality within a Christian context,” Shields said. “It means we have a chance to be visible in a Christian setting and talk about what many queer or same sex attracted students go through daily.”
DuBose estimates there will be 20-30 Prism participants next year. They will have their first official meeting this spring, where they will celebrate a new group for the LGBTQ+ community at Bethel and discuss plans and goals for the coming year.
“It’s a pure and total outpouring of love that many thought would take many more years to happen,” Shields said.