What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Chloe Helffenstein and Johnathan Jones, two queer students at Azusa Pacific University, share how they love and want to be loved.
Even if we have opposing views than our neighbors, we can still get along and mutually respect each other. You never know what you might have in common with someone or why they are the way that they are. People end up in the same place in different ways, and you can’t assume someone’s identity without getting to know them. Helffenstein and Jones discuss the importance of respecting our neighbors, and how you can learn and grow from having an open mind.
Chloe Helffenstein is a sophomore double majoring in public relations and honors humanities at Azusa Pacific. She came to terms with her identity after high school when she realized she wasn’t straight. She then went on to research more information about identities. Helffenstein realized that she most identified with pansexuality because it’s about falling in love with a person and not a gender.
“Pansexual is a non-constrictive identity, and I’ve always been someone who doesn’t like being put into a box, so it’s great,” said Helffenstein.
Helffenstein doesn’t date based on gender, and she doesn’t love based on it either. Instead, she loves everyone equally and gets to know them before making any conclusions. As a pansexual woman, she has chosen to love al, and in turn, deserves love.
Her high school in Colorado lacked diversity, so it was harder for any minority group to have the resources to grow. This caused her to neglect her sexuality until after she graduated and left that space where she wasn’t able to explore other aspects of her identity.
“There wasn’t really any freedom to explore your identity, or, you know, be able to talk to other people that have similar identities or experiences,” said Helffenstein.
Having that safe space to get to meet people who you can relate to and grow with is essential for any young person. Yet, for people of both the LGBTQ+ community and the Christian community, that space is usually hard to find, and those identities are usually stifled.
But here at APU, she finally started to find a community within her friend group and in Tapestry, an LGBTQ+ program on campus; She’s discovered the support she didn’t have before.
“Especially at a place like APU, it’s really great to have support and allies within a Christian community,” said Helffenstein.
Until her newfound support, Helffesntein struggled with loving her neighbors, as she didn’t feel supported. She also found it difficult to love her identity, but through this new space, all she asks for now is for people to be open to learn, and to eventually love. This can be put into action through a dedicated effort to learn.
“Having an open mind and open conversations is one of the most important things to practice,” said Helffesntein.
Another story of discovered support and love comes from Johnathan Jones, who is a junior double majoring in Christian ministries and honors humanities at APU. Jones uses all pronouns and identifies as gay and/or queer.
When Jones came out to his parents at 18 years old, they were very accepting. In their opinion, sexuality is fluid and to not be afraid of reidentify over time. Here, he was loved and accepted; and because of that, he was able to grow in his identity.
However, further discovering his identity within scripture was much more difficult. Jones found that in his studies, “There was a very different understanding of what sexuality and gender identity were [in biblical times]. They weren’t as socially constructed as they are now in western society,” said Jones.
It is his understanding, the Bible doesn’t talk about queer or straight romance. It doesn’t talk about how or who we should love, but instead, primarily focuses on marriage and loving those around you no matter what.
His peers also don’t judge him for his beliefs or say he is any less Christian. Instead, they want to understand why he believes what he believes. He has found an accepting community, even in a very religious space, and has a mentor that helps him learn and grow within this area.
When asked about how people at APU deal with his sexuality, he said he gets asked a lot of questions about what it has done for his faith; how has it affected his relationship with the Church; what his theology is; or how he came to the place he’s at now.
Jones said he doesn’t mind the questions and answers them honestly because they aren’t asked in a hostile way. He has learned to accept the curiosity and wants to teach others how to become more accepting of others.
In the future, Jones said he wants to create a network of housing for queer teens that are experiencing homelessness. He plans to use what he’s learned in school to nurture and help these children.
Jones also attends New Abbey, an affirming church in Old Town Pasadena, where a number of APU students have chosen to participate in because of its inclusivity. The church’s website says that “The communion table invites all of humanity exactly where they find themselves to join in the journey with Jesus.” Jones, and other queer students from APU, craved the community and teachings that New Abbey provides.
However, something that Jones believes halts progression is “welcoming theology.”
“The term welcoming theology is the concept of hating the sin, loving the sinner — where they view anything outside of heterosexuality or being cis-gendered as sinful, but the individual is still worth love,” said Jones.
Jones clarified that this theology is actually harmful to queer people, as it can cause more pain than good, because it isn’t fully accepting or understanding. Instead, it pushes people under the rug. People should be able to unconditionally love all of someone, without hating the sin, Jones explained.
These two courageous students have no hate in their hearts, but instead love and understanding. And through their stories, we can better understand how to love our neighbor.
Helffenstein asks that people have empathy towards the LGBTQ+ community and to be respectful to whoever you meet, even though they might be different from you. Jones asks that people would listen to others, especially if they are talking about their sexuality. When it comes down to it, they are asking that you would love others.