A Straight former BJU Student Speaks Out

Ed. note: When we asked our friend Michael Oleson if he would be willing to write something in support of lgbt-BJU.org, we were astonished because he wrote back the same day with this moving treatise.

Michael Oleson

Michael Oleson

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – The Most Rev’d Desmond Tutu (b. 1931)

This might be one of the most unusual essays I’ve ever written. Maybe that makes sense after having spent some time at “The World’s Most Unusual University.”

I was a bit surprised to be asked to write this. The only thing that really directly connects me to this blog is my BJU background and having friends who are part of this community. I don’t have any gay family members and really didn’t have any gay friends growing up — or maybe I did, but because of the hostile environment, they probably tried to hide their orientation.

I think one area in which I do strongly relate to the LGBT community, though, is in experiencing ostracism and hatred to a degree that was far beyond what many people experience. I know I’m a bit different from many people. My thought processes are different, my sense of humor is different, and my sense of empathy toward other people is different. I feel the pain of others that goes beyond trying to empathize and understand. It is a literal sense of feeling those emotions in a very powerful way. I’ve not really told anyone about that publicly because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. I always thought it was very odd, but now I’ve met a couple of other friends who have that same response to others and realize that there is a very small set of people who share this quality.

There was a point at which I started to hate feeling things so strongly. That weight can be crushing at times. It drove me to defend other kids when I was younger, which often directed bullying my way.

I told one of my closest friends that I wished I could change that trait about myself because I was so tired of all of the hurt that it brought with it. She refocused my perspective by telling me that it was one of my best qualities and it was part of the uniqueness that she loved about me. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before and I still cling to that conversation when I feel different and alone.

Sometimes I wonder about the origins of that facet of my personality. I think this “hyper-empathy” or whatever term could be used for it stems from some of the pain in my past. I was the victim of some incredibly vicious bullying as a child in my fundamentalist church/school. It was far beyond the typical words and teasing.

I was quite shy and somewhat of a loner because of changing schools and churches. I didn’t know anyone. Terms like “gay wad” and “faggot” were thrown at me at first, so in some ways I felt some of the pain of the LGBT community in the fundamentalist culture even as I was growing up. The physical violence soon followed. This was in a “Christian” environment, but now I think it was anything but.

I’m not going to go into extensive details on everything that happened to me, but I will mention a few of the highlights. I still have pencil lead embedded in my right flank from where I was intentionally stabbed with a pencil. I remember being grabbed by the shoulders and having the posterior of my head bashed against a cinder block wall. I still wonder whether I sustained a concussion from that, but I didn’t tell anyone for fear of reprisal. I remember being dizzy and seeing stars for a couple of days. I was pushed through a glass window. I was pushed down a cement stairwell multiple times, one time sustaining an ankle fracture in the process. Of course, I covered for my tormentors because I feared things would get worse. Turns out I was right about that, but that’s another long story.

If anything, all of this forced me to withdraw more and more, which only fed the fire of those that chose to come after me. To this day I don’t understand what I did to bring on this torment. I was quiet and kind, nothing more. Now that I think about it, I’m hoping those would be the same words that could describe me today: quiet and kind.

I think I’m including all of that because it had a major impact on my understanding of what it is like to be abused. Abuse comes in many forms, and I think I experienced just about all of them with the exception of sexual abuse, in the fundamentalist environment.

Somehow even as a child I knew something was wrong with the fundamentalist world, although I couldn’t put my finger on it. All I knew was that my heart was in the right place and I tried to do all of the “right” things, but there was still something that felt wrong. I think my time at BJU helped me see that even more since it took the works-based Christianity to an extreme. Even though I left after two years, I can tell my thinking has been crippled by so many years in what I clearly see as a cult. I wonder what my life would have been without that history getting in the way.

I am going to write an argument intended for those who take the position that homosexuality is a sin. I am hoping that in doing so I can at least drive some compassion and kindness toward people who have suffered so much at the hands and mouths of those who do not show love toward others.

There are so many flaws in singling out a subgroup like the LGBT community. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” If that passage is taken with one of the key verses of Romans that we all were taught indicating “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23), then in God’s eyes, we all are as if we have committed every sin, so for someone who takes the position of homosexuality as sin, they are accountable for it as well.

The Pharisees (who I think were the fundamentalists of that day) tried to trap Jesus with some questioning about a woman who had been caught in adultery. The Pharisees were going down the path of using OT law to justify stoning her. Jesus made a simple reply of “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) It makes me wonder how Jesus would respond to Bob Jones III call for stoning of gay people. I find it deplorable that anyone would call for the stoning of another human being. How in the world does this not strike people as absolute evil? [Does Bob Jones III not follow the Jesus of Christianity?]

My biggest complaint with all of this hatred though has to do with the failure of the fundamentalist Baptist community to see the evil that is inside their own gates. Jesus addressed this as well, saying “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:42).

I am not going to name names, but I will list a few of the qualities of senior pastors I was exposed to in that environment. Two of my former pastors were caught having affairs. One was caught stealing from the church’s offering. One stole a considerable amount of TV equipment from the church after he claimed that God led him to start another ministry using it.

There were other people in leadership positions that were evil as well. I saw and heard child abuse that haunts me to this day and brings me to tears. I’m not speaking of spankings, although plenty of those went way too far. I am talking about horrible physical beatings.

Of course, there were also all of the other false gods that were almost the pinnacle of that world that we were taught to revere. You don’t have to dig too deeply to learn about the character of people like Jack Hyles or Lester Roloff, both of whom I was exposed to repeatedly.

I have been bothered by so much of this for many years now. Until this point, there was no real way we could start connecting the dots of the damage that these environments have done. The internet and social media is changing that dynamic. I just learned of another senior pastor who is alleged to be molesting children in his church. This isn’t yet in the news media, although there are plenty of similar examples to be found in the press. These stories are coming out of the woodwork.

My question to the pastors of these churches is “why in the world are you making the LGBT community the target of all of your hatred? Can’t you see that people’s personal lives are really none of your business?” My hunch is that this is an easy topic to preach about, just like the other things that are banned in their subculture. They shame people into following all kinds of arcane rules in the “non-network” and preach about them. When they don’t address the things that are really wrong within their realms and hit all of these peripheral issues, I suspect that they are simply trying to make sure that they don’t offend their members TOO much, because losing members could impact their bottom line in the offering plate. I have come to the conclusion that most of them are running a business that is nothing more than religiosity. Cultural norms don’t let them tackle it from a racist standpoint anymore, which is clearly the historical incubator of much of fundamentalist thought, so now they have moved to another subculture to unleash their vitriol.

I am also beginning to wonder if this variant of fundamentalism is truly Christian at all or simply an evil decoy. John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I don’t see love in these churches; all I see is division and hate.

I think I first started waking up to this about 10-15 years ago when I realized that the number of people who have done anything hurtful to me from the fundamentalist subculture is far too numerous to count. However, even though I have had gay friends for at least 20 years now, I can’t think of one of them that has ever done anything mean-spirited toward me or ever tried to hurt me in any way. Oddly enough, the largest number of gay friends I’ve gained has been through BJU, and I am proud to be able to call all of them my friends.

My final thought to those who lead these churches and schools is simple. Instead of spending so much time preaching and teaching your interpretation of the Bible, why don’t you start living it as stated in John 13 or I Corinthians 13? Actions speak louder than words, especially when your actions are incongruent with what you claim to believe.


  1. Jan Long says:

    Thanks so much for posting, Michael. After decades of experiences in and out of conservative churches, and having been raised in a conservative Christian home, I have come to the same conclusions. In thousands of years, how much has really changed, except that we are not seeing actual stonings today–at least in the USA? I appreciate your sharing…

  2. Dan says:

    Thank you for this wonderful essay, Michael. Thank you for your support. You certainly captured the essence of bullying that lgbtq children and teenagers suffer throughout their formative years. I’m so sorry you endured this torture, but thank you for your willingness to share. Friends like you make it so much easier for us.

  3. You won’t be the only one attacked, my friend. I will place my name here next to yours, Michael. My full name. I’m not going to be making noise from the outskirts anymore. It’s time to enter the arena and stand with my friends. I’m sure there are some trolls here that will recognize my name, or at least my last one. My parents have quite a recognition factor among BJU fundamentalism.

    Though I am as straight as they come, I have made a few friends among the LGBT-BJU community. Jeffrey, Eddy, Dan (I don’t know how many here have that name), and some more that I don’t recall off hand. I don’t keep track of who’s what because it is something that is a non-issue with me.

    What struck me as interesting while I was reading this post is how many of the fundamentalist leaders so-called have been proven guilty of racism, adultery, theft, rape, incest, abuse, and even murder. Yet if you were to ask the average star-struck worshipper in the pew, they will vehemently defend their pet godling and all of these are nothing but either satanic attack on the character of a Man of God, or malicious gossip brought about by those who are jealous of the godling’s ministry.

    But, if you were to mention the name of a CCM artist or an influential preacher/teacher from another camp, they will immediately attack with a whole host of graceless invectives, such as “Yeah, that artist claims to have been delivered from XY and 2Z, but he/she sings that worldly style, so how much can you really trust his/her testimony?” or “I heard that artist left her husband” or “That preacher refused to step down from the pulpit once his divorce was finalized even though he said he was going to, and bugger off that the church, in an overwhelmingly majority vote, refused to accept his resignation – he should have kept his word no matter what.”

    The point is, they strain out the gnat to swallow the camel. They focus in on the speck and refuse to admit that they have a beam sticking out of their own face.

    Hey Trolls, let me make something clear. I’ve left your cult in my dust. And I won’t have any respect for any thing you say as long as you or your pastor singles out homosexuality, CCM, movies, smut on TV, the Internet, drinking, smoking, dating, premarital sex, KJV, pants on women, or any other hobby horse you/he likes to ride, until you/he also fervently and honestly preaches against gossip at prayer meetings, gluttony, hate speech, racial discrimination by the church, social discrimination by the church and within the church, inappropriate racial slurs/jokes, child abuse, and start living your faith as Jesus would have you live it, not as you want to live it, and in short, proclaim the WHOLE counsel of God, not just the parts that get your panties in a wad.

    You have constructed a false god, and you bow to your idol. You sow discord, and you divide brethren. You cause the little ones to offend. And you tread on those for whom you should have compassion. You have entered at the wide gate. I pray that you find the narrow one.

  4. Nancy says:

    Thanks Michael for using your God given talents of seeing TRUTH to write this post. Your understanding of the oppression of people gives you a light into the heart of the Gay community. I think if the IFB are left to abuse minorities and cultures without former students like Michael speaking out we would see another Holocaust. The brakes of TRUTH and LOVE have to be applied by other victims to stop the victimizations in the future. Thanks for sharing part of your story.

  5. nathanohm says:

    Michael – thank you for your support, your courage, and your willingness to share your own spiritual evolution on this site. We all need more love, that’s for sure. Thank you!

  6. maolesen says:

    I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit since I wrote it. One thing in particular seemed worth adding.

    When I think about the different things that get preached about in fundamentalist circles, I sense this huge focus on the externals (ie., alcohol, music, dating, orientation, etc.). Where are the sermons on heart issues that are much more hidden and much more relevant? Again, I’m going to use a verse to make my point since there are so many times that preachers seem to one to build a sermon from a passage or verse. This is from I Samuel 16:7b “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” In my experience, this one could have used a lot more emphasis.

    In addition, I also had an email from a dear friend of mine and classmate from my fundamentalist high school who read my post. She made a really good point. “I tell them that when the majority of Christians (that I’ve been around) are mean and judgmental, it BECOMES what the church is.” She adds, “It’s the same with a business. If you went into IKEA, and always experienced rude, horrible people giving you shoddy service, you’d simply choose to shop elsewhere.” I couldn’t state it better myself.

  7. Sally Davis says:

    Jonathan Musk, I stand beside you and Michael. Real name. I watched my child be abused and tormented, exactly as Michael describes, so I know it’s an accurate description of what goes on.

    And rather than bothering with a wide gate or a narrow one, I have chosen to skip the gate altogether.

    I stand with my friends.

  8. DJ Forrester-Roberts says:

    Michael, I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been out of the fundamentalist community for over 30 years now and I’m constantly wondering why my depression can sometimes get Death’s grip on me. I, like you, wonder if it didn’t start when I was young listening to all those fire and brimstone services. And I’ve had my share of pastors who stole and a youth pastor who tried to rape me. His wife died last week and while I was sad for her, I was happy for him because he deserves to be miserable. Then going on to BJU where I was (and I’m not making this up) counseled by Jim Berg for being “demon possessed”. I laughed at the time, but maybe somewhere deep down that really hurt me. Maybe somewhere deep inside I BELIEVED it.

    You and I have talked before about the extreme “empathy” thing and I, as you know, am the same way. When my kids were young and got sick, I got sick. When my friends or family suffers, I suffer right along with them. This contributes so much to my severe depression that its mind numbing. My brother is in prison. MY BROTHER! That sweet guy w/the George Clooney looks and a heart as big as Texas is doing 15 years minimum mandatory for trying to get a prescription of Oxy his doctor’s got him addicted to. I wake up every day of my life wondering how he is, Knowing where he is, and knowing that my father and I will never see him again. I empathize with him to the point that I can’t even read his letters much anymore because they’re so depressing and send me back under the covers. I know that sounds horrible, but its how I have to handle it. He’s my brother, he’s a part of me. I feel what he feels. I have two wonderful boys and whenever they’ve been heart broken I guarantee you I feel it two times more than they do.

    Other people obviously aren’t like that. Most don’t give a damn. Why is it WE feel the need to suffer while others suffer? Sometimes it’s easier to hide.
    Point is, I, like you, am not gay. My brother is gay and I have a half sister who’s gay. Before I got on facebook I honestly thought I was so alone. I’d look at old BJU roommates and friends FB pages and see how perfect their little Christian lives are and I’d feel so sad wondering why it didn’t “stick” for me. Sometimes it made me cry I felt so alone. When we’re brainwashed, as I think we were, we have no way to really understand why we tick the way we tock and there seems to be no solid answer, other than the fact that we can’t blame THIS on our mothers, lol.
    But then I found you guys and I feel like I can breathe again. Thanks for writing such an eloquent piece:)

  9. Bob says:

    I’ve been in and around both catholic and protestant churches (baptist, penticostal, presbyterian, Church of Christ) all my life. I’ve heard the Christian religion from up one pulpit and down the other. It all seems so absurd and ridiculous to me that I can’t believe any sensible person would fall for it. Wise up and understand that all these clerics (call them priests, pastors, ministers, preachers, gurus or what you will) are a bunch of charletons and snake oil salesmen, or they are just delusional. They are all looking to con what they can out of you, be it your money, your labor, your subserviance, you wife or your body. Continue to fall for their clap-trap and continue to be screwed by these bigoted, fascist minded con artists. Study science and the humanities and maybe you too can become one of those reviled secular humanists who don’t ever seem to hurt anybody, unless, of course, you think they are subversively leading people to Hell, like the clerics will all tell you.

  10. Brigit says:

    The radio humorist Garrison Keillor said “give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus”. Food for thought, I’d say. I believe the best approach to living is to follow what Jesus said in the gospels, remembering also that he quoted from the Old Testament since the New Testament was not written until after his purpose on earth was fulfilled. He is the constant thread through scripture, old and new. While He is al about love and redemption He is also about “neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more”. The fundies throw out the love and harp on sin and separation, it is equally wrong to throw out renouncing sin and dwelling only on the love. It is a whole gospel. If you read all that Jesus spoke during his ministry, it’s all there, the whole gospel. I have had to admit to myself all these years later that those hateful “Christian” people have never experienced love and it’s up to me to treat them right regardless of how they act, how else will they learn since their leaders are such lousy role models. So, although I don’t go that kind of church any longer, I will show love and acceptance to individual people I encounter because it is a commandment of Jesus. I will also show love to those outside the fold for how else will they know I have something they need, namely salvation through Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. Thanks for letting me ramble.