Man on a mission

It took one semester at Belmont for Robbie Maris to realize something needed to be done. He enrolled as a student in January 2009, and by that summer, Maris started a Facebook page called "Bridge Builders."

Their focus is clear. The mission statement says they will “foster examination of the intersection of the Christian faith and LGBT-related issues.” In the past, these two groups have had their differences. But Maris and many others are trying to illustrate that these two are not mutually exclusive. 

O&A: Tell us about your family.

I grew up in Wisconsin with my mom, dad, older brother and younger sister. My family attended a Lutheran Church, but my dad grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church and mom grew up WELS Lutheran.   My mom was a leader in the youth group, but overall we were a fairly average family living in the suburbs of Milwaukee.

O&A: Did you enjoy going to church as a kid?

I loved our youth pastor and being a part of my church but at times, I didn’t feel like I fit in with the youth group. I was always active in different church activities from Bible study to the praise band. There really never was a question as to whether my family went to church…we just did.

O&A: Tell us about when you realized you were gay.

I started to notice my attractions to the same sex when I was about 14. But I didn’t know what to do with them! They were just there. I kept them to myself. But I started dating my first boyfriend when I was 15, and came out to my family shortly thereafter.

My brother and sister were supportive, but my parents really didn’t know how to react. I wrote my mom a note and she in turn shared it with my dad. It was my youth pastor who gave my parents the idea that I might benefit from attending Exodus International, an organization who feels homosexuality is outside of God’s will. I went down that road through my senior year in high school and then enrolled at Valparaiso, a Lutheran University in Indiana.

However, life became complicated for me in college. I eventually broke down after my first semester frustrated with the Exodus mentality and theology. After a year at Valparaiso University, I took a semester off to begin school at Belmont as a Music Business Major in the Spring of 2009.

O&A: How does God feel about you being gay?

To understand how God feels about anything, you’ve got to look at the Bible. But I don’t believe the Bible says anything about a committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship. And there are Biblical examples of marriage where there were certain practices present in which we do not hold to today. It is important to take into account the context of the times, and the original language in which the Bible was written.

Ultimately, it is your personal relationship with God that matters. I still have a lot of growing to do. But I know that God loves me, just as He does all His children. I am trying to seek His face and live out His message of love.

O&A: Do you have a church home in Nashville?

I have to admit, I church hop. But I honestly feel like I belong to an evangelical church. That’s where I’ve gotten all my spiritual guidance. I’ve visited the gay churches in town, but I just don’t feel like I belong there. 

O&A: What led you to start Bridge Builders?

In the summer of 2009, I started wondering why there was no gay group at Belmont. I also became interested in gay rights. Realizing that Belmont is a “Christian” institution, I wanted to bridge the gap between the two communities.  So I started the group on Facebook, and it grew from there.

O&A: Do you feel isolated at Belmont?

Thankfully, I feel less and less isolated and marginalized. I feel like the administration is listening to us and respecting us. This whole topic used to be the big controversial issue…I don’t feel that way anymore.  Belmont has been making positive steps in recent years. In 2009, they finally withdrew the phrase “homosexual behavior” from the list of misconduct in the student handbook. In 2007 they withdrew from the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and recently, added “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination language of the university.  These were all great steps for Belmont to become the broadly ecumenical Christian institution that it is today.

O&A: Do you think Belmont is leaving its Christian foundation?

Not at all.  I recently wrote a comparison paper between Belmont and Valparaiso University, which has had a gay group on campus since 1990. The former President of Valparaiso, Alan Harre, said “the Bible says nothing about sexual orientation being a sin. We are all under the cross of Christ, we all need salvation.” I definitely feel Belmont is staying true to the Christian faith.

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