06/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Christian College Trustee Accuses Alumni Of 'Ambush Journalism' In Gay Dispute

By Nate Reens / The Grand Rapids Press
Religion News Service

HOLLAND, Mich. (RNS) The chairman of the Board of Trustees at Hope College accused a "small group of dissenting alumni" of promoting "ambush journalism" in an ongoing fight over the school's stance on homosexuality.

The alumni group challenged the Christian college's position after Hope officials rejected a campus appearance by gay rights activist Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay about gay activist Harvey Milk.

Trustees chairman Joel Bouwens said the board will discuss the matter at its May 6-7 meeting. But he was critical that Hope leaders received the petition after organizers had already voiced their displeasure via the media.

"Although I find this attempt to promote ambush journalism to be offensive, Hope's Board of Trustees is not shy about addressing issues which relate to its core values of providing excellent academic programs in the liberal arts and nurturing a vibrant Christian faith," Bouwens wrote in a letter.

Bouwens' open letter offended Ron Wiegerink, part of the alumni faction.

"It's a kill-the-messenger approach, and they're not dealing with the substance of our arguments," Wiegerink said. "They're trying to marginalize us and distort how this happened."

The group wants trustees to remove a 1995 Institutional Statement on Homosexuality, which says the college "will not provide recognition, financial or logistical support for groups whose purposes include the advocacy or moral legitimization of homosexual behavior."

The policy divides the campus, limits academic and student freedom, breeds panic and results in prejudiced actions, the alumni group contends.

The discussions began after Black was turned away by the college last October, the men said. The rejection sparked debate because Hope administrators said Black's notoriety would not contribute constructively to the ongoing exploration and dialogue on campus.

Bouwens wrote that he could not speculate on how the board would handle reviewing the policy.

He promised that "you can be confident that the Board will consider this matter in its usual manner: carefully, thoughtfully, thoroughly and prayerfully."