Assistant Professor of Religion Dr. Jeff Jay became the inaugural recipient of the ’shOUT Out award at a ceremony on April 11. The award is chosen by members of ’shOUT and honors individuals or groups who radically improve the support of LGBTQ+ people on the Wabash campus.
At the event, Dr. Jay was commended for his outstanding teaching and research of LGBTQ+ issues. As a professor of religion, Dr. Jay has found innovative ways to explore the intersection of LGBTQ+ and religion, especially Christianity, in the Wabash classroom.
“This award is about making sure that we celebrate those people who take the kind of risks necessary to show that LGBTQ+ people are not going to just sit idly by while our civil rights are stripped away,” said Assistant Professor of English Dr. EJ Pavlinich. “We want to recognize those who are willing to really put in the work to realize Wabash College as a diverse, equitable and inclusive community. It’s more than just words, and I think Jeff Jay demonstrates that with all the things he’s contributed to the community.”
One principle that underpins all of Dr. Jay’s work is a belief that there are ways of interpreting religious texts in a manner open to people of all sexual orientations. For example, he points to the fact that some biblical texts, such as Leviticus or Romans, have often been used to fuel homophobic hate. But Dr. Jay wants to encourage LGBTQ+ students to read these “texts of terror,” as he describes them, in new and different ways.
“There are methods of interpretation that allow people to examine biblical texts in a way that is affirmative of same sex love and romance, and critical of power structures that underpin and enable these texts of terror to condemn LGBTQ+ people,” said Dr. Jay. “There are ways of reading that provide a critique of the texts of terror. They’re sometimes called clobber texts because people take these little snippets out of context and use them as clubs to beat the crap out of people who are just trying to live and be who they are. So LGBTQ+ and queer interpretations enable a critique of the collaborative texts, sort of teasing out the power dynamics that are operative there and how they’re being appropriated as clobber passages.”
Using these kinds of queer interpretations as a starting point, Dr. Jay taught a class in the fall of 2022 titled “Bible, Sex and Power.” By engaging students in meaningful and challenging discussions of well-accepted biblical stories, Dr. Jay tried to promote mutual understanding between religion and LGBTQ+ issues.
“We have to learn to hear each other and connect,” said Dr. Jay. “That’s what happened in my ‘Bible, Sex and Power’ class. We had several outstanding ’shOUT members who were engaged in the material, and it really brought the class to life. There was a lot of honesty going on, and real connections were formed between ’shOUT people and more traditional religious students.”
On top of his work in the classroom, ’shOUT also cited Dr. Jay’s contributions in the wider community as a reason for offering him the award. In spring 2022, for example, Dr. Jay organized an event titled “Queer and Christian” which was designed to foster inclusion at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and religion.
“A lot of Christians will tell you that you can’t be queer and Christian,” said Dr. Jay. “They will say you have to love the person but not the sin. But that doesn’t go far enough. You can’t separate person from sexual orientation—that’s who you are. So at the event last spring, I was trying to make a space for understanding that there are queer Christian people, and this is how they read the text.”
Upon receiving the award, Dr. Jay was quick to recognize the efforts of students in leading the charge for LGBTQ+ representation at Wabash.
“I really do think that the students deserve the credit—I just organized the kittens,” said Dr. Jay. “I directed the energy, and obviously that’s important. But what this award should be about is the way that students can be empowered to do this work. And we as faculty need to appreciate just how energetic, bold, courageous and creative students can be. This award isn’t about us faculty, it’s about students.”