On the heels of the pro-LGBT group OneWheaton's recent formation, a documentary called Let Your Light Shine is currently in production. The movie will explore the persistent homophobia at Wheaton College and within U.S. Evangelical Christianity.
The documentary is the brainchild of Markie Hancock and Stephen Henderson, who connected with each other over their shared experiences as Wheaton College alumni after they both moved to New York City a few years ago.
Hancock, an out lesbian, was invited to join the OneWheaton private Facebook page by another alum. After reading the personal stories of fellow LGBTQ Wheaton College alumni she contacted Henderson, who is openly gay, and they both decided to join forces and produce the documentary.
Henderson, the executive producer of the project, likens what happened with the OneWheaton group to the wave of demonstrations known as Arab Spring, where social media played a big part in uniting fractured populations around one cause. When Henderson and Hancock, the director of the project, saw how many LGBTQ alumni of all ages had joined the private Facebook pageas well as the hundreds and hundreds of people who signed on to the letter on OneWheaton's website as a protest to the policies of Wheaton Collegethey realized the potential of the documentary.
"Both Markie and I have journeyed away from Wheaton College and Christianity," said Henderson. "Yet, [we] look at the OneWheaton site and see that kids who graduated in 2010 were having these same feelings of panic and dreadand, maybe, fantasies of suicidebecause they had been so convinced by this environment [Wheaton College] that God hated them and they were going to hell, [and] that being gay was so terrible. We wanted to blow a whistle on the fact that this indoctrination is still going on at the college."
"The larger documentary will look at the deep and long history of evangelicalism in the United States to see just how normative being an evangelical Christian is and how the United States, as a Christian nation, has been so discriminatory against LGBTQ people," said Hancock. "We will be interlocking that with the gay-liberation movement and how evangelicals in places like Wheaton College are only responding [in a discriminatory way] because LGBTQ visibility is growing, and they are being reactive to this movement. We will link evangelicalism and gay liberation through the prism of a place like Wheaton College and how it all intersects."
Henderson added, "This documentary is not a vendetta against our college. We want to point out that there are hundreds of Christian colleges and thousands of Christian churches in the United States who believe essentially the same thing that Wheaton College believes. Wheaton College's homophobia allows not only churches but also other Christian colleges and even non-religious people to find cover for their homophobia in the fact that places like Wheaton College still foment homophobia."
One of the ways Wheaton College incites homophobia is by requiring students to sign a community covenant pledge that forbids (among other things )premarital sex and same-sex relations, according to Hancock and Henderson, who said that when they went to the school in the late 1970s and early 1980s the pledge was even stricter.
"The taboo against homosexuality in the evangelical Christian world is still going strong, even though they have become more worldly and liberal about certain things like drinking and going to R-rated movies," said Henderson.
"'Let your light shine' is a Bible verse and a Christian song, and we want to expand the notion that it's OK to be evangelical but it's not OK to discriminate against LGBTQ people. [We want to convey] that, surely, your God is big enough to not want to snuff out these lights [LGBTQ people]," said Hancock.
When contacted for a comment regarding the documentary, Wheaton College officials responded, "We do not plan to comment on the documentary at this time."
OneWheaton is a group of LGBTQ alumni of Wheaton College formed to help current students who feel/felt isolated while attending Wheaton College. The organization currently has about 700 signatories to the letter posted on its website, up from 600 people last November. Approximately 365 people have joined the private Facebook group and more than 1,000 people have liked the fan page on Facebook.
Although the creation of OneWheaton was the catalyst for the documentary, Hancock said, "We are not funded or officially affiliated with OneWheaton. However, some of the people we have interviewed are members of [the group]."
The filmmakers are hoping to get financing through the website Kickstarter, fundraising parties and foundation grants.
The documentary trailer is at www.youtube.com/watch. For more information about OneWheaton, visit www.onewheaton.com .