OneWheaton is working to change that in some in-your-face ways. During one homecoming weekend, the group held a concert featuring Jennifer Knapp, a former contemporary Christian Music musician who came out as a lesbian in 2010. "Although I disagree with painting sexual orientation and gender identity as a biblical sin, Wheaton has a right to that interpretation," Knapp said. "But I don't know how you can be welcoming but not affirming."
Knapp questions whether colleges such as Wheaton present alternative theological positions.
"Whether it's alcohol or premarital sex, is Wheaton an academic institution willing to present both sides, or is it wanting to churn out soldiers that believe exactly the same things they do?" said Knapp, who used to identify as evangelical but now disassociates herself from the movement.
The college does not typically host speakers who espouse theology that affirms same-sex behavior, but it does not forbid such discussion from taking place. Administrators say they know that students might end up differing with the college theologically.
"This is not a place of indoctrination," said Jones. "This is an educational community. We need to have a high level of patience and tolerance for students working through those issues."
In many ways, Jones said, students need to be thoughtfully engaging the issues.
"Many students have only heard about homosexuality in the context of 'Those bad people who we must oppose,'" he said. "There are many in our student body who want to engage these issues sympathetically, but there are others who are prone to thoughtless speech that can lean in the direction of incivility."
At the same time, he said, Christian colleges are facing outside professional and political pressure on gay issues. Wheaton administrators spent several months preparing for a 2006 visit from Soulforce, a group aiming to change religious leaders' minds on gay issues that was co-founded by Mel White, who was a ghost writer for some evangelical leaders, including Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.
Soulforce members had been arrested at other Christian campuses that ban same-sex behavior, but the group had a cordial gathering at Wheaton and visited again last year.
In 2009, the American Philosophical Association adopted a procedure to "flag" ads from employers that ban same-sex sexual conduct.
"I find that extraordinarily ironic for a discipline that prides itself on spirited debate about fundamental issues," Jones said. "You are inviting the erosion of your distinctions if you don't draw some boundaries."
Administrators also are carefully watching court cases related to federal funding and hiring practices, where the government could pull funding if an institution is deemed discriminatory.
Faculty are expected to sign the same covenant as students, and those who advocate for something contrary to the stated beliefs would be called into question, Jones said.
"If a person disagreed with a clear assertion of the covenant, that has implications regardless of their status, even for those who have tenure," Jones said. In faculty applications, he would consider where a professor stands on sexual intimacy as between a man and a woman in marriage, though questions about whether gay marriage should be legal at a state level would not necessarily come up. "We don't ask about their civic views of gay marriage," he said. "I would not be looking for their policies on a governmental policy voting."
On the "Day of Silence" in April 2012, about 90 students wearing white T-shirts printed with "break the silence" attended a campus-hosted discussion about homosexuality, such as whether Wheaton can be considered a "safe place" for gay students. "You are telling LGBTQ students that no matter where they end up on their journey of identity, you care for them, respect them, and will remain their friend," OneWheaton leaders wrote on a sign-up form for students who wanted to wear T-shirts. One alumnus came out to the rest of the group.
Matthews, the student who came out at Wheaton in 2010 -- he now teaches middle school science in Connecticut - wrestles with whether the group OneWheaton will be an effective network since its views are far from the college's stance on sexuality. He said he followed Wheaton's agreement to refrain from premarital sex during school, but his personal views on the morality of homosexuality have shifted.
Matthews was attracted to men when he began college but hoped he would begin liking women.
He considered sexual orientation conversion therapy, which some evangelical Christians embrace but which the American Psychological Association has said is ineffective and could be damaging. After the Episcopal Church ordained its second openly gay bishop in 2010, Matthews began reading more and eventually embraced a theology that suggests gay Christians do not need to be celibate. At one point, he considered becoming an Episcopal priest.
Matthews said Wheaton was a safe place to come out because he could work through both being gay and being a Christian. If he had gone to another college, he said he might have stayed closeted because people might suggest abandoning his faith, something he wasn't willing to relinquish.
"Quite ironically, had I not gone to Wheaton, I might not have come out," Matthews said. "They weren't going to say what I presumed people at other colleges would tell me, which is, 'If you have conflict between your faith and sexuality, drop the faith.' No one at Wheaton was going to tell me that."