The discipleship group for LGBTQ+ and same-sex attracted students formed last spring under Campus Ministries, following the vision of Bethel University
By Zach Walker and Jared Martinson
When several students approached Assistant Campus Pastor Jason Steffenhagen about starting an official group for LGBTQ+ and same-sex attracted students, he grabbed a notepad and pen and listened.
He contacted Pastors Matt Runion and Laurel Bunker with the idea of starting an LGBTQ+ discipleship group. Through that discussion, Prism was born as another vehicle for Bethel students to live out the first core value of Bethel University — following Christ and living out the teachings of Jesus.
“[Students] wanted a space to be in community, to grow in their faith, to be able to talk about their faith,” Steffenhagen said. ”We talked about the need that we were seeing in our students and the areas where other forms of discipleship might not have been as conducive for them.”
Prism is officially described on the Bethel website as a group created to “provide a caring and supportive community for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+), and same-sex attracted as they move toward becoming whole and holy persons in an increasingly complex world, which requires honest engagement with Scripture, authenticity, and faithful love.”
The description adds what Prism is not: “A group that will determine or create a theological statement… A group that will seek to establish, undermine, or change university policy.”
Many comparable schools in Minnesota, namely MIAC neighbors, have adopted some form of an LGBTQ+ community group sponsored by Student Life or Student Activities organizations. Bethel is the 12th school in the conference out of 14 to sponsor an LGBTQ+ group and the second (next to Macalester) to run that group through the lens of faith.
There are a dozen students signed up as members of Prism. A consistent five to seven attend meetings every week. One of them is Chase DuBose, a group leader who identifies as LGBTQ+.
“We have laughs, we have food, we discuss our relationship to Christ,” DuBose said. “I’ve gotten to know the group members a lot and it’s a joyful experience every time.”
Some meetings will have themes to start discussion — like authenticity or belonging — and the conversation either begins with or steers itself toward Scripture.
“It’s similar to every other discipleship group on campus,” Steffenhagen said. “Sometimes SHIFT (Bethel’s freshman residence hall Bible study organization) will start with a conversation of identity, and then will turn to Scripture.”
Topics are usually discussed in the context of LGBTQ+ experiences and identity.
Steffenhagen continued, “The topic of LGBTQ+ and same-sex attraction is not the beginning of the conversation. It’s usually part of the conversation — a pretty natural one.”
A bill is moving its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives to ban conversion therapy, according to an article on the House’s official website from Feb. 13. The bill would prohibit conversion and reparative therapy for children under 18 and vulnerable adults with a “distinct goal in mind.”
At the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting Feb. 13, Bethel Psychology Professor Andy Johnson provided examples of studies that show conversion therapy’s damage.
“Individuals who go through conversion therapy have higher rates of depression, higher rates of suicidal ideation, higher rates of suicide attempt and higher levels of substance abuse,” Johnson said to the committee.
The bill’s next step is to reach the House Commerce Committee in mid-March.
As for Prism, conversion therapy is not the focus.
“There is no conversion therapy going on [in Prism],” Steffenhagen said.
Bethel identifies as a Christ-centered space devoted to connection with God and other people. Fellowship, belonging and community are a few of the campus buzzwords. To encourage that identity, Bible studies, accountability groups and discussion forums are aplenty. Prism provides that type of space for LGBTQ+ students.
“We hope that all students feel like they have a space to talk honestly about where they’re at in life from a relational, social, educational and faith standpoint,” Steffenhagen said. “I believe Prism is a helpful and necessary component of our discipleship efforts to help all students take ownership of their faith as they grow closer to Christ.”
Prism is currently accepting new members and advertises through posters hung across campus. Interested students should contact Jason Steffenhagen and he will organize a meeting with a group leader.
“This group is good for students who question themselves and can’t bring the discussion up to most people in the Christian community,” DuBose said. “They have Prism to fall back on to ask questions and be able to connect to their Christianity without being shunned.”