Yes, people discuss sex on religious campuses

Today’s New York Times front page features a story about a hotly debated issue at many Christian colleges and universities. Yes, gay, lesbian and bisexual students attend religious schools and yes, many of them disagree school policies ranging from behavior to campus activism.

Unfortunately, the Times‘ attempt at examining these tensions fell flat, since the story failed to consider many dimensions that the reporting should have considered. In other words, there are some crucial facts and themes missing.

The RSS headline reads, “Gay Rights at Christian Colleges Face Suppression,” revealing an underlying sentiment in the story that students’ legal rights are being squelched in these schools that are, of course, voluntary associations. The online headline reads, “Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity,” sort of insulting the reader’s intelligence — as though sexuality issues would magically disappear on a religious campus.

The piece deserves Douglas LeBlanc style questions (I marked key phrases in bold letters). Let’s begin with the lead:

Battles for acceptance by gay and lesbian students have erupted in the places that expect it the least: the scores of Bible colleges and evangelical Christian universities that, in their founding beliefs, see homosexuality as a sin.

Why would Bible colleges and evangelical Christian universities be the last place expected for gay and lesbian students to find acceptance? What makes it so unusual? Homosexuality has nothing to do with fundamental beliefs about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, etc., so how is seeing “homosexuality as a sin” a “founding belief”?

Decades after the gay rights movement swept the country’s secular schools, more gays and lesbians at Christian colleges are starting to come out of the closet, demanding a right to proclaim their identities and form campus clubs, and rejecting suggestions to seek help in suppressing homosexual desires.

How does the reporter know that more gays and lesbians are starting to come out of the closet? Where’s the evidence that something is taking place that didn’t take place before?

Perhaps the reporter could make clearer up high that most Christian colleges and universities ask students to sign a code of conduct in which they voluntarily agree to a certain set of rules, including that they will not engage in premarital sex of any kind. Instead, he uses the phrases “forbidden” and “right” as though students are suppressed, with no say in the matter. Once again, voluntary associations exist on the religious and cultural left and on the right in American life.

Many of the newly assertive students grew up as Christians and developed a sense of their sexual identities only after starting college, and after years of inner torment. They spring from a new generation of evangelical youths that, over all, holds far less harsh views of homosexuality than its elders.

The assertion that younger evangelicals have different views than their parents is probably true, but where’s the evidence? Why not cite a poll or survey here? Who determines whether the views are “less harsh” and what does that mean?

Facing vague prohibitions against “homosexual behavior,” many students worry about what steps — holding hands with a partner, say, or posting a photograph on a gay Web site — could jeopardize scholarships or risk expulsion.

“It’s like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object,” said Adam R. Short, a freshman engineering student at Baylor University who is openly gay and has fought, without success, for campus recognition of a club to discuss sexuality and fight homophobia.

Based on the setup quoted above, it looks like Baylor students risk expulsion if they do hold hands or post a photo on a gay website. Is that the case? Can someone in the administration–maybe even its new president Ken Starr — speak to that?

A few more liberal religious colleges, like Belmont University in Nashville, which has Baptist origins, have reluctantly allowed the formation of gay student groups, in Belmont’s case after years of heated debate, and soon after the university had forced a lesbian soccer coach to resign.

How is Belmont considered “liberal” exactly? Compared to what? Is Baylor “liberal”? Liberal explains pretty much nothing in this context.

At Harding University in Arkansas, which like Abilene Christian is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, half a dozen current and former students posted an online magazine in early March featuring personal accounts of the travails of gay students. The university blocked access to the site on the university’s Internet server, which helped cause the site to go viral in the world of religious universities.

How is 44,000-ish (as I’m writing this) hits on that site considered “viral”? Was the site linked at other Christian colleges?

Further down in the story, there’s an anecdote about a former student of North Central University, which the reporter refers to as a “a Pentecostal Bible college.” How is a university a Bible college, even if that’s in its roots?

The story tends to use an example or an anecdote to represent a whole crowd of people. Why not quote individual students or alumni instead of trying to make it seem like they all had the same experience?

Some of the gay students end up disillusioned with Christianity, even becoming atheists, while others have searched for more liberal churches.

David Coleman was suspended by North Central University in his senior year in 2005, after he distributed fliers advertising a gay-support site and admitted to intimate relations (but not sexual intercourse) with other men. He calls the university’s environment “spiritually violent.”

Mr. Coleman, 28, is now enrolled at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn., which is run by the more accepting United Church of Christ. He still dreams of becoming a pastor.

“I have a calling,” he said.

Perhaps the reporter could have asked Coleman to flesh out his quote a little bit more. What does it mean that the campus is “spiritually violent”? “I have a calling,” is kind of a weird way to end the story, since it’s not about about gay seminarians looking to become pastors (that’s a whole different set of issues).

One of the basic problems with the story is that we don’t hear from many administrators or any professors (we hear from one vice president of student affairs). Surely there are some intelligent presidents or people on staff who could speak to the difficulties of navigating these waters. Can you imagine the Times printing a story on a the difficulties of controlling alcohol abuse at major universities without quoting any of the people who set the rules?

Further, why not quote some fellow students on what it would mean if the college were to allow openly gay relationships, clubs, etc.? Would it impact their own decision on whether to go to the school or not?

Finally, part of the fundamental problem with the piece is the Times‘ attempt to put “Bible colleges and Christian universities” together in one category. You will find, for instance, that Westmont College or Calvin College will probably handle the issues differently than Baylor University or Liberty University. The institutions have different regional, historical and denominational ties to consider.

It’s true: homosexuality is a hot issue among many Christian colleges and universities. But the way each institution handles it varies widely and probably doesn’t all fit the Times‘ neat little storyline.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Dave

    Sarah, I confess I didn’t even finish reading your post. It’s an enormous pile of nits. NYT had the temerity to implicitly back BGLT students and implicitly criticize religious colleges that don’t recognize student BGLT organizations. Big whoop.

    This is the kind of post that nudges Get Religion in the direction of a quotidian conservative complaint board, which are a dime a dozen on the Web.

  • Bram

    The issue here is the failure of The Times to recognize its own attitude toward homosexuality as an ideology, a system of presuppositions, presuppositions which not everyone outside The Times will necessarily share. The Times doesn’t seek out alternate views on homosexuality, seemingly because it doesn’t recognize that there *can* be alternate views, views that merit acknowledgement, being *more* than mere “spiritual violence” or “hatred” or “bigotry.” That fact that such views *do* exist may be “news” to The Times, but not less “fit to print,” just for that.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Dave, thanks for at least reading part of it, I think. I would say the same thing if the NYT had gone the opposite direction–journalists aren’t supposed to back anyone or criticize anyone in news stories. They’re supposed to observe and report. Right?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Bram, I’ve seen fair reporting on sexuality issues from the Times, so I don’t know how to broadly say that they hold a particular view in the news dept. I hope reporters can accurately reflect what’s going on.

  • Harold

    How is Belmont considered “liberal” exactly? Compared to what? Is Baylor “liberal”? Liberal explains pretty much nothing in this context.

    But is there anyone that would disagree that Belmont is more liberal than most Baptist-affiliated colleges? I understand the nit, but it’s not like this is a characterization that the reader doesn’t understand and 9 out of 10 Evangelicals wouldn’t disagree with.

    How does the reporter know that more gays and lesbians are starting to come out of the closet? Where’s the evidence that something is taking place that didn’t take place before?

    The anecdotes laid out in the story??? Again, is this really a nit that any honest person is going to disagree with?

  • Harold

    journalists aren’t supposed to back anyone or criticize anyone in news stories. They’re supposed to observe and report. Right?

    Before leveling this accusation, could you be more specific where the NYT “backed anyone” or “criticized anyone.” This story is about observing and reporting. It may not be the observing and reporting that GR agrees with, but there isn’t really any side picking here.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    DAVE, et al:

    So basically asking that one side of the story’s views be accurately reported is now a conservative thing, a conservative process?

    So the old “liberal” approach to journalism is now, you say, a “conservative” thing?

  • Harold

    Tmatt, can you point out where the story wasn’t accurately reported? There are quotes from school officials, the policies are explained.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    How is Belmont considered “liberal” exactly? Compared to what? Is Baylor “liberal”? Liberal explains pretty much nothing in this context.

    *****

    Once again, this is a key point. Belmont has taken ACTIONS that are different from other Baptist schools. However, Baptist schools FOR HISTORICAL REASONS have always tried not to spell out the details of faith for believers — phrases such as “soul competency” and the “priesthood of every believer” and the “Bible alone” leap to mind (saith a man with two Baylor degrees).

    Now, doctrinal vagueness is getting harder and harder to defend in this age of lawyers and activist

    Parents, professors, students, trustees, donors, etc., etc., are involved in this era of change in which these voluntary associations are having — for legal reasons — to spell out what they believe with more precision.

    The key: What did the students SIGN? What do the covenants say and are they being openly and honestly discussed? There are FACTS in those documents and they need to be accurately covered. And Sarah is right that the covenants are different from campus to campus. None of this is clear in this story. We also never learn that voluntary associations exist on the left as well as the right. Is the goal to force doctrinal changes in them all?

  • Seth

    Harold – With all due respect, I think the article’s title that “Gay Rights …Face Suppression” is clearly picking a side. Unless you would agree that an administration can suppress what they choose at a school (an unpopular, but logically consistent viewpoint). Sarah, this is an interesting critique, and I will be curious if any school administrators respond. If they do (and you learn of that response), would you be so kind as to post a follow-up noting their responses?

  • Bram

    Sarah,

    Instead of “The Times,” I should have said “this particular writer for The Times,” but, still, I think that this writer’s lack of recognition of his or her basic presuppositions as an ideology is one that’s fairly common at The Times, especially where matters like this are concerned, and that that frequent lack of recognition is a very large part of the reason why an article as poor as this one made it into print at The Times. The particular writers is responsible for his or her ideological blindspot and/or ignorance, yes. But The Times is also responsible for the editorial blindspot and/or ignorance that failed to see the blindspot and/or ignorance in this reporter’s work, and allowed it into print, as is, in a way that left the article open to your critique, and to my own.

  • Harold

    What did the students SIGN? What do the covenants say and are they being openly and honestly discussed?

    … Is that REALLY the issue. What an 18 year old kid/adult signed in the midst of life-changing event is”the key.” If a female student at a Muslim school signed an agreement that she would abide by the faith, would we really be holding her to the letter of the contract signed by an 18-year old if she was challenging gender segregation or mandates to wear a niqab?

    Let me offer a counter example. When Christian students at a public university sign an agreement to abide by university civil rights rules, would you be saying “what does the covenant say” if they were rebelling against the university to exclude gays from their Christian Legal organization?

    Because a private school’s covenant is just a contract, no different from a contract signed by anyone else.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    HAROLD:

    We are, of course, talking about private schools.

    If secular PRIVATE schools openly state that religious groups will be held to different doctrinal standards than secular groups, when it comes to links between doctrines and membership, then, yes, the Christian students have no grounds for complaint.

    The issue is whether secular schools supported by tax dollars can limit voluntary associations on their campuses (such as Muslim groups or Jewish groups being required to allow Christian evangelists to be members and even officers).

    State schools CAN simply choose, under equal access laws, to ban all students groups from campus, so as not to discriminate against some and not others on the basis of their doctrines.

  • Harold

    If secular PRIVATE schools openly state that religious groups will be held to different doctrinal standards than secular groups, when it comes to links between doctrines and membership, then, yes, the Christian students have no grounds for complaint.

    Of course they have ground for complaint.

    They may not have legal grounds, but they have plenty of room to complain, take those complaints public, and have newspapers write stories about the repressive nature of those institutions. They are allowed to Twitter and Facebook and create organizations outside the college structure. Signing the covenant doesn’t mean that they can’t bring their complaints to the public square and allow people to make determinations.

    That’s really where the big change is. These students aren’t just being silenced, which is what makes this an interesting story.

  • Dale

    Harold says:

    When Christian students at a public university sign an agreement to abide by university civil rights rules, would you be saying “what does the covenant say” if they were rebelling against the university to exclude gays from their Christian Legal organization?

    You’re comparing apples to oranges. Public universities are bound by the speech and religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Private colleges and universities aren’t subject to the same constraints. They are private associations, and they have the right to set their own terms of association. So when a student agrees to those terms and then publicly violates them, the university is free to enforce those by disciplinary action. In the same way, as a private university, Harvard can restrict the speech and association right of students opposed to homosexual behavior, while a public university may not.

    So the contents of student pledges, and the fact that the college or university is holding students to that pledge, is central to the story. Ignoring the student pledges is one of the many instances of bias in this story– “nits” only to those who think it appropriate for the NY Times to present opinion and advocacy as fact.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    HAROLD:

    As you know, I was referring to the rule of law and legal complaint.

    Of course, students have every right to openly oppose the policies of the schools they have chosen to attend. And the schools have every right to hold them to their word and, thus, dismiss them. That’s true for liberal private schools as well as conservative.

  • Dave

    Terry @7:

    I read the article this post is about. It’s a straightforward story about BGLTs trying to get recognition on religious campuses. It refers to the fact that religious campuses are not accepting of BGLT advocacy organizations.

    This is normal journalism. Objecting to it is culturally conservative, in exactly the manner of online conservative culture.

    The press does not fail to get religion in this instance, and the article only falls into GR’s ambit because it deals with homosexuality. That is the mark of a quotidian conservative complaint board.

  • Mike

    What troubles me most about this article is the dearth of responses or explanations from administrators. The two or three brief quotes from administrators are far outweighed by the quotes from students. Perhaps the reporter left some additional quotes on the cutting room floor, but I didn’t find the justifications from the administrators very compelling. To me, the nugget of the story is the quote from student Samantha Jones, who explained that this is essentially about “moral validation” of their lifestyle. Without getting to any pros or cons about the issue, what better way to advance their cause than to be recognized on Christian college campuses, rendering them with a quasi-stamp of approval. I do wish the piece had addressed this concern with the administators and had proffered a better explanation of their beliefs and why the push to recognize homosexually on their particular campus conflicts with their values and teachings.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    DAVE:

    Wrong again. You’re ignoring the point because you, apparently, do not care about the mechanics of journalism and the difficult task of dealing with two competing viewpoints and sets of facts.

    The article ignores the arguments of one side. That is advocacy journalism. It would be precisely the same in an advocacy publication on the other side, let’s say a broadcast from Focus on the Family. That would be advocacy journalism, too, and you would detest it.

    So, you are in favor of coverage of Wiccans in which key elements of the legal rights of the Wiccans are ignored or inaccurately reported while their critics are allowed to make their case? I think not. In that case, we would never, here at GR, accuse you of being a Wiccan complaint board case. We would back you on journalistic grounds and you know it. We have done so in the past.

  • Harold

    But it doesn’t ignore the arguments of one side. We have quotes from a spokesman, a university administrator and a university president explaining the position of the schools. It is a story about the students, not the dispute generally, so of course their stories are going to be central to the story.

    Now maybe the argument is that they don’t touch on TMatt’s “lawyering up” defense and making this about legality. But none of the students are talking about suing, suggesting it was illegal, or even arguing the school acted improperly. They are just arguing the schools are hostile places to LGBT students. Knowing how touchy this is for school administrators, I wonder how many people at colleges wanted to talk about it beyond the “they signed a covenant” legal defense.

  • Cliff

    I wish some reporter would probe the Baylor policy with a little more depth. The NYT article cites Lori Fogleman who explains that Baylor prohibits students from participating in “advocacy groups promoting an understanding of sexuality that is contrary to biblical teaching.” How does the Administration define an “advocacy group”? It would seem that some churches and religious organizations would qualify.

    Further, what does this “suppression” really look like at a school like Baylor? So, the university refuses to grant official recognition to the sexuality group – yet they are still allowed to meet openly on campus. Are there other student groups on campus without official recognition status? We don’t know from the article. But the answer is yes.

    The article mentions Administration, Regents and Students. Any faculty support? The group did have faculty sponsors….

  • CAS

    I’m currently a student at Baylor, and I’ve been following this story since a friend told me that a group of students was meeting in one of the study rooms. There are a couple of key points, at least regarding the situation at Baylor, that the New York Times article failed to mention.

    1. All official student groups on campus have to be chartered by the university. That means that the group could use Baylor trademarked logos and university branding. Second, official groups can apply for funding through the Student Government Allocation Fund, which all students pay into as a part of student fees. To be an officially chartered student group is to bear the university’s seal of approval. Right now, the group is meeting unofficially, meaning, without faculty sponsors. From what I’ve seen on campus, students are fine with the group meeting unofficially. There haven’t been protests, and I haven’t heard of any kids getting harassed at the meetings. That said, most people I’ve talked to don’t what the group to be officially chartered.

    2. Baylor is still closely tied to the Baptist General Convention of Texas. A large portion of our funding comes from Texas Baptist churches giving through the convention, and a third of the Regents are selected by the BGCT. If Baylor were to charter a gay student group, we would lose much of that funding and support, which would hamstring the university.

    3. There are a whole list of things that are not allowed on Baylor campus. Alcohol is prohibited from all university owned property, including dorms, apartments, and the stadium. Unmarried students are not allowed to live together. All dorms are single-sex and have visiting hours. There is an Honor Council to handle all allegations of cheating and infractions. And while these rules are enforced to varying degrees, all students are aware of their existence. It is not like the university went out of its way to make life difficult for gay students; the ruling is entirely consistent with the pre-existing rules and culture.

    4. Just because there isn’t a chartered group on campus doesn’t mean that discussions about culture, religion, sexuality, and the intersection of the above don’t occur. Just in my classes, there have been very frank discussions about the Biblical understanding of homosexuality, from all viewpoints, about the cultural cache of gay marriage, and the church’s response and responsibility. Personally, I think these discussions are more fruitful when there are a multiplicity of opinions, and not merely within the confines of a group where like calls to like.

    Finally, Baylor is first and foremost a private, religious institution. Our foundations and core principles aren’t hidden. Legally, we have the right to charter or not charter any group, to put forth an expected code of conduct, and to take a position on controversial issues. Some people may disagree with those decisions- that’s their right. For my part, I’m proud of my school, for not caving on a core conviction- even in the face of scorn from the New York Times.

  • Bram

    Thanks for the information, CAS. Keep on fighting the good fight at Baylor, and keep on speaking truth to power, both here and everywhere you go.

  • Harris

    I agree with Mollie as to the language in the article; her take was pretty much mine as I read the article this morning. That said, several items did jump out.

    First, there was the geographic element. The story centered on Baylor and Abilene Christian (the article just barely touched on North Central in Minnesota). As there’s no love lost on the coasts or in the north for those parts, I do wonder if part of the driver for the article was simply a cultural smackdown.

    Another aspect that seemed odd in its omission was dealing with other evangelical schools. The story is driven by the kids, so I wondered, what? no gays at Gordon? Taylor? Calvin? Wheaton? How other institutions deal with it would seem to be warranted, all the more since this article was not directly tied to an incident, e.g. firing a faculty member or some such.

  • http://www.thebigdaddyweave.com BDW

    I have to quibble with CAS on a couple of points.

    1. My understanding is that the group, at some point, had faculty/staff sponsors. Student groups seeking to be chartered must have a sponsor. I doubt the group will have a hard time finding a sponsor should they seek the charter again next year.

    2. Baylor is tied to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). But it’s incorrect to suggest that “a large portion of [Baylor's] funding comes from Texas Baptist churches giving through the convention.” That’s just not true.

    Baylor has a 400+ million dollar operating budget. The BGCT passes on just 1.5 million to Baylor (down from 1.6 million in 2010). That’s really a drop in the bucket.

    The BGCT does get to select 25% of the Board of Regents (not one-third).

    The lack of clarity with regard to what qualifies as an “advocacy group” (as noted above) and the observation by CAS that BU enforces their rules “to varying degrees,” are areas that a reporter could probe.

  • Bram

    Harris’s observation, if generalized, could be applied to a frighteningly large proportion of the social and cultural coverage — and especially the religious coverage — in The New York Times and in the MSM as a whole:

    “There was [a] geographic element. The story centered on [someplace outside the coasts or in the north]. As [since] there’s no love lost on the coasts or in the north for [other places], I do wonder if part of the driver for the article was simply a cultural smackdown.”

    This “geographic element” is part of why both The New York Times and the MSM have steadily been losing both patronage and prestige for a long time now. People know that they deserve something better than this, that more can be expected of the media than this, and they are therefore less and less willing to settle for less, especially as alternative options have begun to appear.

  • CAS

    To answer a few of the points raised by BDW:

    1. Any group attempting to charter as a student organization has to have a faculty or staff sponsor, that’s true. I’m not sure who was working with this particular group. But that said, all groups have to be approved by the Department of Student Activities and the Vice President for Student Life, and possibly the Student Activities Advisory Committee. In addition, groups dealing with religious issues may also have to be approved by the Office of the President, University Ministries, and the University Chaplain. While they can reapply for a charter next year, it is unlikely that they will receive approval from all of these individuals/organizations. The presence of a faculty sponsor doesn’t really factor into the equation.

    2. I don’t really know the percentage BGCT contributes to the overall operating budget at Baylor, but I do know the loss of their support would be felt deeply. The BGCT provides a large number of scholarships for incoming and current students. A number of academic programs are partnered with BGCT-run or affiliated groups. Lots of high-dollar donors are also part of the BGCT. That’s just the material backlash. The intangible side would be even worse. Given the controversy within the Baptist world when the Board of Regents voted to allow non-Baptist Christians to serve on the Board, the decision to allow this group on campus would likely be seen as an even greater betrayal of Baylor’s Baptist heritage.

    And I do stand corrected: the BGCT elects 25% of the Board, although all members of the Board through 2011 are Baptist.

    3. My statement about the “varying degrees” to which Baylor enforces its rules is meant in a few different ways, and I should explain further. For instance, the rule about visiting hours in the dorms (or residence halls as they’re called now) is largely enforced by Community Leaders (CL’s- what other schools call RA’s). These are upper-level students who apply for the position. Some are very vigilant in the enforcing the visiting hours policy; some are more relaxed. However, the rule is on the books in black and white. Overall, Baylor is more likely to enforce infractions that occur publicly on campus; there are no grand inquisitions into the lives of students. The question at hand deals with the public and official establishment of student organization, so I think it more likely that Baylor would stay to the letter of the law.

    Like you, I’m not quite sure what qualifies as an “advocacy group.” Outside groups can come on campus, with permission from Student Life, but they may not distribute literature, disrupt campus activity, or post information.

    Baylor has a fine line to travel between maintaining the core convictions of the university and respecting the opinions of those students who disagree. For my part, I think they’ve handled the balancing act very well.

  • CAS

    There is one more piece of information I should have included in my post above: the rules for advocacy groups on campus are for outside elements. I’m not sure how or even if they would be applied to current students. It is likely that current students would be directed toward forming a chartered student organization, rather than being allowed to exist as a nebulous advocacy group.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks for jumping in everyone. Specific examples have been great. Let’s keep the issues focused on journalism.

  • Adam R. Short

    Hey, I was one of the people interviewed for the original NYTimes piece and am not here to discuss this pages statements, but was directed here by a friend to answer a question.

    To Cliff [21] the issue is that the policy regarding advocacy is vague and this has lead to a lot of concern about what we can do as students and fear about punishment from the administration. Also as far as “suppression” on campus goes we because we are not a chartered group we can not advertise on campus, reserve a room for a meeting, hold official events, or gather dues to purchase supplies. This does a fair amount to silence us.

    To Cas [21...] I haven’t read all of your comments just the first one and a little of a later one, because I have homework to do, but I would say that your experience of open in class discussion of this topic is atypical and would like to discuss this more at you in length. If you are free now I am in Moody Library on the Garden Level in the back (you should be able to identify me by my picture in the article) or you could come to our meeting this Thursday and talk with me more there (details about time and place on our facebook page).
    Have a good day everybody and I will probably not get around to revisiting this post so if you have more questions please direct them to our facebook page Sexual Identity Forum at Baylor or our website http://www.sifembears.com.

  • Passing By

    I can’t make this about journalism, but have to ask:

    What an 18 year old kid/adult signed in the midst of life-changing event is”the key.”

    a private school’s covenant is just a contract, no different from a contract signed by anyone else

    In a civilized society, people keep their word. At the age of 18, that should already be taught and expected as a given. If not, then at what point should a person learn to honor their agreements and promises?

    But perhaps when it comes to sex, there’s an exemption.

    Well, this is about journalism after all, since the public expectation, expressed in the news and entertainment media, has been that sex is disconnected from commitment, or rather, that one primarily to respond to sexual urges. If you feel it, do it.

    A bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit.

  • Been there

    Sarah: Your analysis is thoughtful and the public comments in response are largely well stated. There is one point with which I take exception in both your piece and some of the comments following.

    I have been interviewed many, many times for news features and articles of various sorts and always go into the process recognizing I am disadvantaged in one very significant regard: the journalist him or herself will be the ultimate decision maker as to what portion of my commentary they choose to use or ignore. To suggest, for example, that one of those quoted in the NYT piece could have said more on this or that topic assumes they did not speak to that question when interviewed by the author. This is a reckless assumption. In fact, if they are professional, it is likely that the spokesperson may well have spoken to the very topic you suggest.

    The problem may well lie not in the quality and comprehensiveness of the institutional response, but in the ultimate authority of the reporter to choose to use for the piece what he or she prefers in the context of the arguement that is being presented.

    I would argue that in this piece, as in most pieces, an arguement was being presented. Therefore, it is entirely likely that aspects of whatever comments were made by the spotlighted institutions ended up on the editing floor.

    Let’s no assume — as we so often do — that the quotes attributed in a story represent the whole of what was provided the reporter.

  • Harold

    At the age of 18, that should already be taught and expected as a given. If not, then at what point should a person learn to honor their agreements and promises?

    I don’t necessarily disagree. I find it intriguing that Christian colleges force “covenants” on students–which are essentially one-way adhesion contracts that place no responsibility on the college–and then threaten to kick a student out of school for a Facebook picture. Yes, the student has paid $20,000 for the privilege of signing the “covenant” and can forfeit their tuition if they signed an agreement at 18 and now have violated by holding hands with someone.

    That’s why the “lawyering up” argument is so odd. You expect that argument from Donald Trump, not God in Christ U. I think that’s what makes these stories so interesting (and uncomfortable for those inside the institutions).

  • Bram

    Harold,

    Christian colleges don’t “force” covenants on students. Students *voluntarily* *elect* to commit to such covenants between themselves and their schools. I fail to see how certain students’ failure to honor the covenants they’ve made is more “Christ-like” than their schools’ fidelity in doing so. It seems to me that — if anything — it would be the other way round. In any case, the big question left unasked is why these certain students desire to remain affiliated with a school with which they disagree in such significant ways. If one is looking for a college where LGBT ideology trumps orthodox Christianity, then one will have no problem at all in finding one.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BRAM:

    I will say this. Many of these covenants are HORRIBLY written and vague beyond belief, often because:

    (a) the school leaders do not want to face these issues or

    (b) because the school FACULTIES are completely divided on the doctrines involved (which was already true at Baylor when I was there in the mid-to-late 1970s).

    Both subjects are TOTALLY valid areas for the NYTs or anyone else to explore, in terms of asking tough questions on both sides.

  • Bram

    tmatt,

    I don’t dispute that some or indeed all of these covenants may indeed be “horribly” worded and therefore vague in all sorts of problematic ways. But that still doesn’t absolve a student from responsibility for having *voluntarily elected* to sign such a convent as that. It seems to me that more is at issue here than certain students’ different understandings of the covenants they’ve signed. There is also their attempt to make an all-too-frequent demand of moral liberals — both Christian and otherwise — especially where sex is concerned: “I’ve changed my mind, so you must change yours to suit me.”

  • http://goodintentionsbook.com bob smietana

    TMatt is right — vague policies proved a real headache in the Belmont case here in Nashville. The school’s board changed their nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation but will not say how that policy is applied to sexual behavior.


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