I've been thinking this week about the abrupt resignation/termination of a young, successful women's soccer coach at Belmont (Baptist) University in Tennessee. She is a lesbian with a partner. They are having a baby. She told her team about the baby and was immediately removed from duty or removed herself from duty under duress.
Her student-athletes were devastated, asked the administration to reinstate her and, when denied, held protests on campus. The media got involved. A major donor called for her rehire. The President issued an apologetic statement for his failure to comment sooner, soothing in tone, but with no reinstatement commitment.
So, things are a bit of a mess at Belmont.
The university is ranked amongst the best value campuses in the U.S.. That value is tarnished now because Belmont evidently played foul. Americans like fair-play. This situation won't go away easily and it's complicated.
Belmont is a distinctively Christian institution. As such, it has the legal right to choose who can teach and who cannot as well as who can attend and who cannot. The President claims that sexual orientation has not been an issue in hiring or firing during his tenure. Recent events make this sound like, "I did not inhale".
There is an old saying that we are as sick as our secrets. I sense deep feelings of dis-ease on the campus now. The leaders need to engage the entire campus in deep introspection and healing. Exclusion and discrimination, in all forms, for all reasons, hurt everyone. The litmus test of the real value of Belmont will be its response to this situation. They have an opportunity to take the first step in righting a great wrong and serve as example to their peer institutions throughout America in doing what is right.
I went to a Christian college. My alma mater is struggling just like Belmont is struggling. A few weeks ago they refused to let a gay student write an editorial about establishing a gay-straight alliance on campus. Sad.
Belmont and other colleges and universities that characterize themselves as Christian are really challenged by no strings attached inclusion of young people and faculty who live their lives with full integrity regarding their sexuality and their sex lives. Why? Christians know that Jesus knew everything about everyone with whom he walked and dined and slept.
He never said,
I can only imagine what Jesus would say about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And, He never mentioned homosexuality.
Don't tell me who and what you really are. Pretend. I don't want to know.
I think Jesus would find it unacceptable that most of our Christian institutions (and our government) create policies about sexual behavior rather than the kinds of behaviors He talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.
Consider the climate our rules make for LGBTQ students at these distinctively Christian institutions. They are supposed to have sex only inside marriage (but they can't marry the people they love) and they aren't supposed to be gay (even though they are). I cannot imagine the pain of being an LGBTQ student or faculty member at Belmont now, compelled by fear to lie. I can't imagine that Jesus would ask them to.
The problem in the Institution we call Christ's Church is that even though it claims to be distinctively Christian, it simply fails to conform to the standards of inclusion that Jesus modeled in his life -- bringing the most "excluded" people in society into his circle of love -- as his friends and disciples. Even in the last minutes of his life, He invited a man society considered "unclean" with Him into Paradise -- the thief who hung on the Cross beside Him.
The Church is an institution created by humankind. It is fallible and it is failing in its witness to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people just as it has with women and people of color in the past. Belmont is called to Christian witness. So, now it is time to think out of the box like Jesus did. I believe He is knocking on the door at Belmont and I hope they open it and their arms to everyone.