You chose not to name the university in the book. Why?
The last thing I wanted was for this book to be a hit piece on APU. It could be any evangelical school. The academic world is not compatible with evangelical culture. They say it is, and they want it to be, but they don’t want to teach Shakespeare, they don’t believe in science. They have to get stacks of exemptions from Title IX just to get their accreditation.
At some point, you have to ask, what’s the point? If you want to be a university, be a university, the way the Catholics do. They hire all manner of professors and accept all students. Evangelicals say the professors have to believe all the same things, but they don’t really mean it. Students are supposed to go to chapel and sign a statement of faith, but they’ll bring in football players from big schools and won’t make them go to chapel. They want all the appearances and perhaps privileges of being an excellent academic institution, while winking and nodding to the evangelical culture, saying, “Really this is just an indoctrination center to send out good Christian kids with a degree.”
You say the emergence of the gay-straight alliance forced you to choose a path you’d previously had the privilege to avoid.
The school had a kind of don’t ask, don’t tell policy, as long as people weren’t being overtly in support of gay students — because, let’s be real, there were no discussions about trans or nonbinary students during this time. I could point students in the direction of resources outside of Azusa Pacific. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. It’s pretty sad when the only ally you can find is a cis het English professor who didn’t decry homosexuality as a mortal sin. So when the kids decided they wanted to make an underground group, they approached me to be their sort of unofficial faculty adviser.
I sat and cried with so many students who whose parents or friends had disowned them because they’d come out. It definitely meant exposing myself to higher scrutiny from the school, but it was bigger than whatever career I was trying to forge. I had a place of privilege because my wife made more money than me. I was ready to help them.
The events you write about took place more than a decade ago. Why write about them now?
When I first started writing everything down, back in maybe 2010, it was just therapy for me. I thought, the world needs to see the truth about evangelicals, but I didn’t want to write a book that was just negative, because I had seen so much positivity both inside and outside of APU. I hope what comes through in the book is the concept of building bridges between people who don’t agree. I’m still in touch with dozens of students, some of whom made huge strides in their development as human beings to be more caring, more open and accepting. That only happens through, I think, relationships. I wanted to shine light on the problems of the school, but also offer some kind of hope.
Who were you writing this book for, and what takeaways do you hope they have?
I am not really writing this for evangelicals. I wrote the book for anyone who’s intellectually curious about an inside look to this culture. My story has a lot of identity issues that a lot of us deal with in America. Finding our people is a universal problem. But I’m definitely writing for the people who are getting out of faith or are sitting in their churches thinking, “This is toxic, this is problematic.” There is a way out.
This article originally appeared here.