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Baylor’s dilemma

Is the university making the right call on LGBTQ issues?

The pastor of the Presbyterian Church (USA) we had begun attending admitted he was in a bind. Though he had inhaled some of the mainline denomination’s liberal breezes, he wasn’t comfortable with the rumors of sexual liberation from higher-ups in the General Assembly. “I’ve put in a lot of years,” he told us during a pastoral visit. “But if they start ordaining homosexual pastors, I don’t know what I’ll do.” We understood. He was less than 10 years away from retirement. Without coming out and saying so, he was hoping to reach that milestone before the liberals reached theirs, so he could retire with a clear conscience and a pension.

That was 1988. We left the PCUSA a few years later and lost contact with the pastor, but he got his wish: The more conservative elements of the denomination held the line until 2011, when the 219th General Assembly voted to allow ordination of homosexuals as pastors, elders, and deacons. If the decision had come a couple of decades earlier, what should our pastor have done?

Easy to say he should transfer his congregation to a more traditional (i.e., Biblical) Presbyterian denomination, surrendering his retirement fund and plunging into a legal maelstrom over church property. Easy to say, “Just step out of the boat and walk toward Jesus—He’ll hold you up.” But out of 12 loyal disciples in that dramatic test case, the only one who was willing to try failed. How many of us would even try?

I was reminded of that pastor by the Baylor University Board of Regents’ recent decision to charter LGBTQ student groups. The board’s action was a long time coming, yet entirely predictable. Cultural imperatives, both inside and outside the university, have been leaning hard, and the administration finally caved. Or they accommodated, depending on one’s perspective.

The boat will be swamped, and Christian institutions will have to brave the storm.

“A Guide to the Decision of the Baylor Board of Regents To Strengthen Care for LGBTQ+ Students on Campus” may shed more light on that perspective than it means to. In the online document, the board insisted the university remains “firmly grounded in its beliefs, statements and policies related to human sexuality.” Yet “Baylor is a place where the health and wellbeing of students come first.” (We outsiders might have thought that the students’ education came first, but perhaps that’s an outmoded concept.) The guide referenced high rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth as a concern for all Christian institutions, as well as their human need for community, respect, and support. “Community” trumps all, receiving six mentions in a two-page document.

What about community with Christ? The only mention of Christ is where “Baylor administrators will approach this work with a spirit of grace and truth, just as Jesus did.” The goal of “this work” is an LGBTQ student group “consistent with the core beliefs and values of the University.” Meaning what, exactly?

The last paragraph may be artlessly revealing: “Additionally, federal and state guidance continues to evolve”—just as moral standards do. Guidance leads to rules and rules to funding, and Baylor is in the same unhappy position as other Christian institutions now feeling the heat. The Board of Regents did not suddenly wake up and realize there were LGBTQ students on campus. For years it rejected requests for charter from the Sexual Identity Forum, a student advocacy group. What changed is the growing rumble of pressure. Rather than wait for a lawsuit, or loss of accreditation or withdrawal of federal student loans, the administration of the world’s largest Baptist university is attempting to protect itself.

And from a practical point of view, who could blame them? The survival of an institution is at stake, much more than an individual pension or small business, and I don’t know the answer. I do know that chartered LGBTQ student groups on campus won’t satisfy the activists. The boat will be swamped, and Christian institutions, if they remain Christian, will have to brave the storm and step out. The only question is when.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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