Christian College Riled Over Memo Barring Gay "Advocacy"
The faculty at a Christian Reformed Church college in Michigan are uneasy about the top-down declaration from the school’s Board of Trustees that declares it "unacceptable" for the staff to "advocate" on behalf of GLBT equality.
The Board of Trustees having made its decision, a decree was issued that warned the faculty of Calvin College that supportive written or spoken commentary about GLBT equality, including marriage equality, would not be tolerated.
After the small college’s 300 faculty members received the memo, a meeting of about 130 of the faculty convened to discuss the top-down manner in which the policy was decided and announced, reported an Aug. 28 Grand Rapids Press article.
The article included a quote from Faculty Senate vice chairwoman Karin Maag, who said, "We see this as an opportunity for a discussion on campus about these issues, for which there is a range of opinion."
Added Maag, "We’re really at the very start of that process."
Maag contrasted the manner of the decree’s implementation as compared with the way such business is typically carried out at the school.
"We usually follow a more ’bottom up’ approach, where a change might come from a committee--and we have a lot of committees--then be recommended to the Faculty Senate and get the seal of approval from the full faculty," Maag explained.
"Then everybody has an opportunity to express their opinion on a controversial topic."
The article said that, according to Maag, the faculty, by and large, didn’t know about the new policy until the memo was delivered.
The board’s fait accompli was not viewed with universal complacency. "The way this was handled feels strange, and there is fear that we’d be heading down a slippery slope when the next issue comes about," Maag noted.
The Christian Reformed Church follows a Calvinist tradition of faith that teaches that those who are saved have been chosen by God as a matter of mercy, rather than by dint of the individual’s personal efforts at virtue.
In this context, charitable conduct is seen as a way of living up to God’s merciful example.
The church’s official Web site draws distinctions between "homosexuals" (people with an innate sexual attraction to individuals of the same gender) and "homosexualists" (those who engage in same-sex relationships).
Whereas "homosexuals" are not necessarily "sinners" because of their orientation, "homosexualists" are "sinners" because of their actions, according to the church’s definitions.
Text at the site says that, "Christian homosexuals, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, holy obedience, and the use of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom.
"Opportunities to serve within the offices and the life of the congregation should be afforded to them as to heterosexual Christians."
The site’s text refers to homosexuality as "a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world," and speaks of gays in terms of pathology, going on to say that, "The church should do everything in its power to help persons with homosexual orientation and give them support toward healing and wholeness."
The Grand Rapids Press article said that the school had indicated that it abides by the tenets of its faith with regard to gays just last year.
The article also quoted the school’s provost, Claudia Beversluis, who acknowledged that the memo touched on larger issues of academic freedom.
Said Beversluis, "The nature and limits of academic freedom are good debates.
"Part of this is that we don’t exactly know what the policy means, and that’s going to be part of our discussions."
The article cited the provost as claiming that the school has anti-harassment policies in place, and as pointing out that the school gave Soulforce Riders--volunteers who engage the administrations of religious schools nationwide on GLBT topics--a welcoming reception when the Soulforce Equality Ride stopped at Calvin College two years ago.
Even so, the Board saw fit to issue its instructions to ensure that no professors would express advocacy for GLBT causes.
The memo read, in part, "This is a difficult task, but we want to be clear as to the college position on this issue--a position perhaps not conservative enough to suit many on the right nor satisfactory to many on the left."
In cases where students are to be presented with an array of viewpoints, the memo states, "the position of the church and the college should be clearly and sympathetically presented, and advocacy of homosexual practice and same-sex marriage is not permitted."