'Homosexual acts' no longer taboo at Baylor?

Higher Education | Critics of the school’s new conduct policy say it’s too vague to protect against future challenges to the sanctity of marriage
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 7/14/15, 12:30 pm

Gay rights activists and secular media were quick to declare victory last week when Baylor University announced it had removed “homosexual acts” from the school’s list of prohibited sexual conduct. Activists believe the change is a move toward affirming homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage. Although a Baylor representative denies the inference, some alumni of the private Christian college in Waco, Texas, said the policy is sufficiently vague to make such presumptions inevitable.

Frustrated with the media coverage, Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said reports have ignored the new policy’s foundation in the amended 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), the doctrinal statement for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It defines marriage as the life-long, covenant relationship between one man and one woman. But critics believe the omission of a marriage-defining statement within the policy puts the nation’s largest Baptist university in a position to accept—if not affirm—gay relationships when pressed on the issue.

“I think the clear implication is they are stepping back from a clear disavowal of homosexual sex,” said Charles Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a 1974 Baylor graduate.

The new policy states: “Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty, and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.”

In a prepared statement, Fogleman said the policy’s previous wording did not reflect Baylor’s “caring community.” Before Baylor’s board of trustees approved the changes May 15, the “sexual misconduct policy” noted specific “misuses of God’s gift,” including “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts.”

Upon initial review, the new policy didn’t bother David Armstrong, a 1977 graduate and former director of admissions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an SBC institution. Although he cut ties with Baptists over their conservative shift decades ago, Armstrong agrees with the denomination’s adherence to biblical marriage. He said a more plainly written policy would have fostered less misunderstanding for Baylor.

“They should have spelled it out better. They went a little too far the other way,” said Armstrong who now serves as director of music and liturgy at Our Lady of the Presentation Catholic Church in Lees Summit, Mo.

During Kelley’s and Armstrong’s years at Baylor, conservatives within the SBC—and its affiliated schools and seminaries—were in the throes of wresting leadership from entrenched liberal control in a battle over the inerrancy of Scripture. The two men came down on different sides of that battle and still see those years through different lenses. But both are equally disappointed with Baylor’s “innocuous” policy change.

By simply adding the definition of biblical marriage as “the life-long, covenant relationship of one man and one woman” Baylor could have defined all sexual conduct outside those bounds as unacceptable without pointing fingers at the outliers.

“What disappoints me is they did not choose to do that,” Kelley said.

Instead, the policy indirectly references the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, amended in 1998 to include the definition of marriage. Although the SBC has passed resolutions defining biblically acceptable parameters for sexual intimacy, no iteration of the BFM, even the most recent 2000 edition, defines human sexual conduct outside heterosexual marriage. That leaves the Baylor policy—and its readers—with no frame of reference for judging a whole host of other issues.

Kelley suspects the obfuscation is intentional and predicts Baylor will be pushed by LGBT advocates to declare whether “homosexual acts are acceptable within the Baylor community.”

It’s not clear whether the university was trying to forestall litigation from LBGT groups or seeking to appease them.

“Several years ago, an organized effort to review and keep current Baylor’s policies began to ensure that the university has the necessary policies and processes in place to comply with the many legal and ethical mandates to which universities are subject as institutions,” Fogleman said in her statement.

But legal challenges are sure to come. Gay rights activists, not satisfied with the legalization of same-sex marriage, are expected to press the government to require Christian colleges and universities to recognize and accommodate same-sex couples or lose their tax-exempt status.

For the foreseeable future, the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) believes Christian institutions are safe from legal challenges.

“The Supreme Court’s affirmation of the First Amendment ensures that institutions will be able to maintain policies consistent with their religious convictions,” said Shapri LoMaglio, vice president for government and external relations for CCCU. “The new legal status of national same-sex marriage paired with the First Amendment can be balanced to ensure that our country affords civil rights to all people, including religious people.”

Baylor is affiliated with CCCU but is not a full member. Full membership requires compliance with four categories, including hiring personnel who profess faith in Christ. Baylor does not meet that requirement. The school also is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which elects 25 percent of the university’s board of regents.

Kelley said Baylor’s actions are not the beginning of a cultural battle on that campus but the middle, with the first skirmishes taking place four decades ago. Other Christian campuses have acquiesced to demands for same-sex partner benefits, and with pressure mounting in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges  decision, more could choose to follow suit.

“Christian institutions are going to have to define themselves in the light of this situation,” Kelley said. “Every institution will face that fight.”

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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