A recent front-page New York Times story
highlighted battles for acceptance by homosexuals at Christian universities across the nation, including two schools associated with Churches of Christ.
Weeks earlier, an underground website
detailing the anonymous experiences of gay and lesbian students at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., created “quite a stir on our campus,” President David Burks said.
As these developments illustrate, Christian universities face intensifying pressure to embrace society’s changing ideals on homosexuality, administrators say.
“Ironically, as our society becomes more diverse, there is less tolerance for the traditional biblical perspective,” said Mark Davis, dean of student affairs at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
reported that several students at Abilene Christian University in Texas are openly gay, and many more are pushing for change behind the scenes. Last spring, ACU refused to allow the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance, the newspaper said.
The story prompted ACU President Phil Schubert to write an op-ed
in the Abilene Reporter-News
clarifying the university’s stance.
“There is growing debate throughout our culture regarding the shifting mores surrounding the issue of homosexuality,” Schubert wrote. “Christian universities everywhere find themselves in a precarious spot on this topic, having drawn increasing public criticism.”
Schubert said ACU remains committed to biblical principles and believes sex is reserved for the marriage bond between one man and one woman.
But there’s a difference, he said, between someone who is challenged with same-sex attraction and someone who acts upon homosexual desires.
“This is a complex issue requiring individual care and attention,” Schubert wrote. “We are committed to carefully and honestly helping all our students make choices that will honor God in their lives, not just in the area of their sexuality.
“This does not mean that every behavior is acceptable,” he added. “But it does mean we desire to demonstrate compassion toward everyone, even when we have serious disagreements.” HARDING BLOCKS WEBSITE
In Harding’s case, Burks addressed the underground website in a daily student chapel assembly and explained why the university blocked the site using the campus firewall.
reported that Harding’s action “helped cause the site to go viral in the world of religious universities.” However, the paper provided no details to back up that statement.
Acknowledging that anyone with a smart phone or an off-campus wireless signal could access the site, Burks said Harding wasn’t trying to control students’ thinking. But Burks said he personally found the site “offensive and degrading.”
“While the postings appear to be sincere and heartfelt, several were vulgar and profane by anybody’s standards, and the rhetoric is often extreme,” he said.
Under Harding’s student handbook, all sexual relationships outside the context of marriage between a man and woman can result in a student’s suspension, Burks said.
“We believe that sex is the creation of God and is meant to be holy, just as God is holy,” he said. “Consequently, we believe that all sexual relationships outside of marriage are immoral. This includes premarital sex and extramarital sex among heterosexuals, as well as homosexual acts. Those who assert that Harding has a double standard and somehow considers homosexuality to be a sin above all other sins misunderstand our position.”
Neither democratic voting nor societal norms determine what’s acceptable and holy in God’s sight, Burks told students.
Both Schubert and Burks said there’s no place at a Christian university for anti-gay bullying or offensive speech.
“We are committed to creating an environment in which every person is protected from abusive behavior,” Schubert said. “I believe it is vital for us to nurture a spirit of hospitality at ACU, in the name of Jesus.”
Said Burks: “Bullying, whether physically, verbally or on Facebook, is not acceptable behavior at Harding. If we find out about such things, we will act quickly and decisively to protect every member of this campus community.” ‘BUILDING BRIDGES’ WITH GAYS
At Pepperdine, a series of meetings with students, faculty and staff members this past school year reviewed the university’s response to the issue, Davis said.
“While our review ultimately reaffirmed the traditional interpretation of Scripture undergirding our sexual relationships statement, it was helpful to be reminded that this issue, like most controversial moral issues, cannot be reduced to two sides,” the Pepperdine official said.
“The more we study together, the more likely we can maintain unity even when we do not all agree,” he added. “Consequently, we are planning additional opportunities for our community to be involved in small-group Bible studies on sexual relationships.”
This past fall, the University Church of Christ on the Pepperdine campus hosted a “Building Bridges” prayer service and invited gay and lesbian students to “share their stories of struggle,” preaching minister Rich Little said.
“The resulting conversations gave everyone a chance to seek deeper understanding of God’s word on this matter in a spirit of love and safety,” Little said. “The church’s intent was not to affirm anyone’s personal decisions but to seek understanding and encourage spiritual conversations within the church.”
In the minister’s view, the church must become the first place, not the last, that people turn when they deal with questions and struggles.
“Unless we develop a spirit of care and safety,” he said, “this will never happen.”