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Friday, February 10, 2012

Standing Their Ground

by Libby Nelson
Inside Higher Ed
Originally published February 3, 2012

WASHINGTON -- At a panel discussion at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ annual meeting of presidents today, the presenters made one thing clear: American culture may have changed, but their institutions’ interpretation of the Bible -- which views homosexuality as immoral -- will not.

So the discussion, as described by the panelists and members of the audience, dealt not with whether colleges should change their attitudes toward gay students, but how to deal with the controversy that breaks out when students or alumni pressure a college to change.

But the fact that the session, which was closed to reporters, was held at all is an acknowledgment that CCCU colleges -- which all require professors to sign “statements of faith” in Christian doctrine, and many of which have behavioral requirements for their student body, including on sexuality -- most likely have gay students on campus and will confront difficult situations when an increasingly accepting culture clashes with the colleges’ theological beliefs.

“It’s a conversation that’s here to stay, and we want the conversation to be both honest and fair,” said Gayle Beebe, president of Westmont College.

Last year, a group of 31 gay and lesbian Westmont alumni wrote a letter to the college, saying they had lived in an environment of “doubt, loneliness and fear” while enrolled there. More than 100 additional alumni signed on in support, and more than 50 faculty members signed a letter in response, asking forgiveness for causing the students pain.

A few months later, an openly gay student at Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that he planned to transfer after two semesters of bullying. Students had excluded him, he said, a professor had called him an “abomination,” he received death threats on Facebook, and his wallet, keys and student ID were stolen, among other incidents, he said.

“It was a very difficult situation,” said Kim Phipps, Messiah’s president, another member of the panel, in part because the college could not counter accusations without revealing private information about the student himself.

The entire story is here.