Evangelical University loosens its ban on same sex relationships. Oh wait — No, It Didn’t.

In its September 20 issue, Christianity Today magazine [aka CT] reported that Azusa Pacific University, or APU (a southern California school that evangelical Quakers founded), had changed its behavioral rules to permit same sex “romantic” relationships (if they did not include sex; APU forbids sex to all outside marriage, and does not recognize same sex marriage).  The shift was featured in a  September 18 APU blog post with this graphic  header:

— OOps, no it didn’t.
APU’s policy change only lasted a few weeks. As word of the change went viral in the evangelical world, criticism poured in, and the APU Board of Trustees quickly stepped in to overturn the change and reinstate the original rules.

The Christianity Today report includes the text of the original rules and the now discarded revision.

The original rules were summarized by CT thus:

““homosexual acts” (among others) are “expressly forbidden” by Scripture; “heterosexuality is God’s design for sexually intimate relationships”; and “humans were created as gendered beings” in order to be fruitful and multiply.” The original policy concluded that:

“Azusa Pacific University pledges to guide the university community toward understanding and embracing their God-given sexuality as reflected in this statement. Any deviation from biblical standard of sexual behavior is sin and therefore is an opportunity for repentance, grace, and redemption, so that as a community we might honor one another and glorify God.”

The revised rule replaced “sin” with this reformulation:

“Any deviation from the biblical standard is an opportunity for repentance, grace, and redemption, so that as a community we might honor one another and glorify God.”

APU’s September 18 blog post stated:

“This change is a result of much dialogue between students and administration. For years, LGBTQ+ students at APU have run an underground support group called Haven. However, because they weren’t endorsed by APU as an official club, they couldn’t gather on campus or advertise their meetings.

The group met in apartments around APU because members only knew about Haven by word-of-mouth. Members of Haven were motivated to have their voices heard after an APU faculty member was the target of a hate crime on campus, where LGBTQ+ slurs were used against him.

Last year, with help from LGBTQ+ organization Brave Commons, Haven members started discussing this topic with administration. Erin Green, co-executive director of Brave Commons and recent APU alumni, coordinated much of these conversations.

Premature.

“We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same-sex romantic relationships while it is impossible to enforce or monitor [whether other students are remaining abstinent],” Green said. “Queer students are just as able to have romanticized relationships that abide by APU’s rules. The code used falsely assumed that same-sex romances always involved sexual behavior. This stigmatization causes harm to our community, especially those serious about their Christian faith.”

The students spoke, and the administrative board listened. Associate Dean of Students Bill Fiala, Ph.D., said that as the board evaluated their code of conduct, they wanted to be attentive to equity.

“The changes that occured to the handbooks around sexual behavior creates one standard for all undergraduate students, as opposed to differential standards for different groups,” Fiala said. “The change that happened with the code of conduct is still in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution. The language changed, but the spirit didn’t. Our spirit is still a conservative, evangelical perspective on human sexuality.”

The Los Angeles Daily News reported on APU’s policy change and its abrupt reversal, which was announced  in a Board statement on Friday, September 28. The statement said, in part:

“We remain unequivocally biblical and orthodox in our evangelical Christian identity. The Bible serves as our anchor.

We stand firm in our convictions, never willing to capitulate to outside pressures, be they legal, political, or social. . . .

Last week, reports circulated about a change to the undergraduate student standards of conduct. That action concerning romanticized relationships was never approved by the board and the original wording has been reinstated.

We see every student as a gift from God, infinitely valuable and worthy in the eyes of our Creator and as members of our campus community. We believe our university is the best place for earnest and guided conversation to unfold with all students about every facet of life, including faith and sexuality. We embrace all students who seek a rigorous Christian higher education and voluntarily join us in mission.

We pledge to boldly uphold biblical values and not waiver in our Christ-centered mission. We will examine how we live up to these high ideals and enact measures that prevent us from swaying from that sure footing.”

The Daily News noted that advocates of the change feel betrayed by campus officials:

“For Erin Green, who graduated from APU in May and is now co-executive director for Brave Commons, a national organization that looks to support LGBTQ students specifically at Christian universities, the reversal is a disappointment. Green, who participated in the discussions last year with university administrators that led to the policy’s removal, went so far as to describe it as a betrayal because the administrators were the ones who reached out to her and other students.

“We poured our hearts out, were vulnerable and relived our trauma telling our stories, telling stories of previous students who were damaged or hurt in some way by the institution, which had action taken against them for being gay or being in a same-sex relationship,” Green said.

“They looked us in the eye and said this policy is harmful, it’s discriminatory, it’s stigmatizing and we’re going to get rid of it,” she said. “And we trusted them.”

Brave Commons: Sadder but Wiser?

APU board member Albert Tate insisted that

LGBTQ students will not be forced back underground and that they will be able to continue having conversations with one another on campus.

“How we structure, support and come alongside that group is secondary to the goal of the group, the goal of gathering together and having all students know they’ve been seen, heard and loved by us,” Tate said. . . .

Tate said he hopes they will continue to meet with university support staff, administrators and board members to craft a policy that is both consistent with the university’s core values and removes language that makes LGBTQ students feel persecuted.

“For anybody on our campus to feel persecuted in any way, shape, form or fashion obviously is not what we want,” Tate said.

In the meantime, Green said students will go back to feeling just that — persecuted.

“They said we could put our trust in them, and we did that,” Green said. “And this is how they treat us, an already marginalized community — push us back down into the fringes.”

APU has a seminary, which includes a “Friends Center”, which offers  courses in evangelical Friends history & theology.

5 thoughts on “Evangelical University loosens its ban on same sex relationships. Oh wait — No, It Didn’t.”

  1. Thanks Chuck,
    I must tell you that when I first read”Without Apology”, some time back I was astonished to read about gay issues related to Quakerism. Shocked even.
    I wonder often when you report on this stuff in relation to Quakerism if you as a presumed Straight Guy TM, find it as weird as I do that this fairly meaningless issue continues to act like such a burr under the saddle of our loved (somewhat) community.
    I have an old friend who is a Baptist minister with a fairly big congregation near Chicago, who goes out on weekends to the bars to get laid in leather—-who says that he just can’t have gay people in the church cause they are too disruptive. I do love that.
    Thanks again.
    Ben Schultz
    The Desert Towert
    Jacumba Hot Springs.

    1. Ben: I was astonished last year to realize that I have been reporting on LGBTQ issues & concerns among Friends for FORTY YEARS, since 1977 (Now 41 going on 42 years.) It’s not what I set out to do, and I never claimed any “expertise” in the matter. During those decades I’ve also written on many other Quaker topics. Yet this one keeps popping up, and mostly there has been no one else stepping up to tell most of the stories I’ve covered. But still I have a strong journalistic bent; so there/here I am. And given what’s been going on in the Senate recently, it seems likely that I’ll have new stuff to cover as long as I can lift these old fingers to a keyboard. C’est la vie journaliste.

    2. Hi Ben, in “Without Apology,” I tell of attending my first national Quaker gathering, in the summer of 1977, at which the various branches were represented. To my surprise (and most others) controversy over gay presence and legitimacy erupted, and nearly derailed the whole event. I was working as a reporter then, but had resolved NOT to do any journalistic work at this Gathering. But the crisis over gay Quaker presence & visibility was so intense, and had such national implications, that I gave up the vow, bought a notebook, and began taking notes. It’s worth recalling that 1977 was also the year when struggle over gay issues exploded onto the national scene in the U.S. Since then, I have done reporting on Quaker issues and concerns for more than forty years. While I’ve covered many topics, gay issues (now LGBTQ, and perhaps more), have kept popping up, and are by no means resolved as I write this. This isn’t what I envisioned; but journalism, like life, is what happens while we’re making other plans.

  2. P.s. and by-the-way, metoo—- By weirdly enough, an aging and entitled fratboy, when I was 15. Never said much about it over the years cause he was “a friend of the family”, I got away from him when a friend of my mom came over and knocked on the door.
    Question—-doesn’t everybody hate drunken fratboys.
    Thanks
    Ben Schultz

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