Last fall, just a few months into his tenure, President Don Dowless of Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, a school affiliated with the Georgia Baptists, announced that all employees of the university would be required to sign a Personal Lifestyle Statement. Within this pledge, there was something about alcohol consumption, but the part that has drawn the most attention is the requirement that each employee must renounce premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality. I presume that also means that these folks can’t engage in such behavior either.
As an outsider, this is a tough one. I would never sign such a statement nor do I believe anyone should be asked to renounce homosexuality. In my book, homosexuality is no more a choice than one’s gender. Regarding the other two “sins”, it’s certainly easier to renounce them, although from the national data I’ve seen, not so easy for us to avoid those particular activities. That’s a subject for another blog, I suppose.
From what I have heard and read, the Lifestyle Statement has not gone over so well among the already very Christian staff and faculty at Shorter. It’s hard to know how many people have resigned or are planning to, but from the reports, it looks like many dozens if not more. Interestingly, no student has been asked to sign such a pledge. That peculiarity aside, whose issue is this, really?
I believe such pledges are legal at a private institution. I am assuming Shorter does not accept federal aid as that would change the entire equation, or at least ought to. But if they are just another private club (like the Masters, which still amazingly excludes women from membership), then who is to tell them what they can or cannot do? I would certainly hope their constituents would, and maybe that is what is happening now as faculty and staff choose to walk away from an institution they love. Time will tell what students will do come fall. I am trying to figure out why students would not have been asked to sign on as well. Is Shorter planning on banning gay faculty, but welcoming gay students? That doesn’t seem possible.
Where do I come out on this? Shorter is “a Christ-centered college.” There is no mistaking its religious mission. Assuming the Trustees at Shorter support the pledge (and we have to assume they do), then I suppose they can decide to do what they want to do and interpret Christianity in any way they choose. From the outside, it feels like the wrong approach to take, but I suspect the leadership at Shorter doesn’t care that I feel this way. I would hope, though, that they cared about what their current faculty, staff and students feel. It doesn’t appear that’s the case. My sense is that they just plan to hire folks who are willing to sign the pledge and allow the non-believers to go elsewhere. What they plan to do about students — retaining, recruiting, and disciplining — is a question we’ll have to wait to have answered. The Shorter community looks like it is being divided into believers versus “non-believers.” In the end, for me, it’s a really unfortunate story.