A renowned Christian professor and author who crafts his message around his struggle with his identity as a celibate gay man living with HIV told Olivet Nazarene University’s student body Wednesday to forget their sexual and cultural identities.
“My identity should never be defined solely by my sexuality,” Christopher Yuan told the audience of university faculty, staff and students. “My identity should not be defined only by my passions or desires or feelings.”
Yuan was speaking at a chapel service at the Christian school, which is located about 50 miles south of Chicago, Illinois and affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene denomination.
“My identity is not ‘gay,’ ‘homosexual’ or — get this — even ‘heterosexual’ for that matter,” he continued. “But my identity, as a child of the living God, must be in Jesus Christ alone.”
Yuan is an educator at Moody Bible Institute, an international speaking minister and the co-author of the book “Out of Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope,” and he centers his message around his “redemption story.”
As a former promiscuous gay man and drug dealer who served a prison sentence and now suffers from HIV, Yuan now travels the world sharing the story of how he “turned his nightmare into an exciting and inspiring story of redemption, grace and transformation,” according to his biography.
Although Yuan currently makes a living publicly testifying about how he has been freed from his former sexual identity, he made it clear that identity should not be found in sexuality, or any cultural stipulation.
This paradox resonated well with the audience at the private Christian institution as students live-tweeted their thoughts throughout his message using a popular university hashtag #onuchapel.
“Amen!!! Your identity is not in your sexuality. (Hetero or homo sexual) it’s in Christ! #onuchapel,” Molly Shirosky tweeted.
“I think Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty would be pleased with this sermon #onuchapel,” another Olivet student, Lucas Fritch tweeted.
“Definitely came into this chapel with negative presuppositions… But praise The Lord I didn’t skip #onuchapel,” Jake Hileman wrote.
Some students were skeptical of the topic being discussed on campus.
“The sad part is, gays will be discussed around campus for months just b/c #onuchapel,” Evan Sherar wrote.
“God said, ‘Be holy for I am holy,’ and what he’s telling me is, ‘Don’t focus on your sexuality, your passions, your desires, your temptations, but focus on living a life of holiness and living a life of purity.’ Because change is not the absence of struggles… but change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles,” Yuan said.
Yuan delivered a similar message at Yale University in 2011 and garnered a very different response from an audience of self-identified LGBTQ allies and Christian students. Yale student Hannah Zeavin, a writer for Broad Recognition, a feminist magazine at Yale, challenged the way Yuan discussed identity during his talk.
“Though Yuan does not like labels, stereotypes, or generalizations, and stated, ‘I am Christopher Yuan, I am unique,’ he applied labels to everyone else. He told the audience he ‘has Gay friends,’” Zeavin wrote. “Yuan did not provide concrete answers about sexuality and religion — but instead stated that queer sex was not holy. Though attendees saw photographs of Yuan as a baby, as a student, in gay clubs, in a mug shot, and heard him testify to the love of God and his own personal redemption, I am left with many more questions than I entered with.”
Olivet senior Rebecca Wilkinson said the response to Yuan’s message probably differed based on the views of the audience.
“I think Olivet students were responsive to his message because it aligned with their preexisting world views,” Wilkinson said.