Opinion: College able to accommodate both sides of gay/straight lifestyle questionPublished 10:48am Monday, April 16, 2012
Included in most American societies these days is a majority of “straights” and a minority of “gays.” Their values and interests are usually perceived as mutually exclusive even though this seems unrealistic and has been unsuccessful. We need to find ways in which both “straights” and “gays” can maintain their integrity without attacking the others. Can we learn how to be honest about ourselves without becoming dishonest about others?
I think I recognize a model in a college, where I participated in a literature conference. The feature article in the student newspaper fascinated me, and I discussed it with some of the faculty. Here seems to be a sensible and reasonable accommodation in regard to the tension between holding to the institution’s historic position and response to its own gay students and provocateurs off campus.
This college is highly rated academically and historically religious. It has always maintained clear and strict standards of morality. Marriage is perceived in what the college is convinced is stipulated in the Bible, which it holds as the “supreme rule of faith and practice.” This, it understands, is marriage as of one man and one woman. Moreover, it is also convinced sexual activity is intended for such marriage and disallows its community (students, faculty, and staff) from either pre-marital or extra-marital sex.
The college has never had, nor does it now have, an explicit prohibition of homosexual activity (however implicit in its doctrine of marriage). So, in fact, members of the college community who engage in homosexual behavior under any condition are in violation of the agreement they signed upon joining the community. Violations can lead as far as expulsion or termination of employment.
This is where the college stands, and this is known by and clear to everyone. The college does not exclude any who consider themselves gay and has consciously both admitted and graduated them. It does not punish or disadvantage them for their belief, but it does expect them to respect the institution’s belief and not act contrary to or work against it while in college. If one is found to do so, there is no discrimination in reaction between homosexual or heterosexual.
A small number of alumni have, from the outside, taken up the cause of “gay rights.” Their complaint is not that the college does not live up to its own standards, but that the college does not agree with this alumni minority. They do not attempt to charge the college with hypocrisy, but acknowledge it is consistent and even-handed. Yet, what they seem to advocate is that present students break the promises they made in application for admission by sexual behavior in protest.
Nonetheless, the college had tolerated this outside intrusion and allowed distribution of their polemical literature as well as free discussion of all sides. It offers both freedom of thought and expression to these who differ from and object to the college’s beliefs and position. The administration urges upon the entire campus community understanding of and respect for the persons and opinions of this group.
The vice president for student development told the newspaper: “We would agree with [the group] in that students who have sexual identity questions need safe places of support.” But he also feels the college probably disagrees with the group’s “definition of support.” Some students express worry that “support” could be tantamount to “affirmation of lifestyle choices.”
I read the group’s statements as asserting it is willing to give conditional allowance for students to conform to college rules, but that it also affirms and supports students who choose to violate these rules. This raises in my mind the issue of which is the greater moral value: acting upon ones moral convictions now but violating a commitment, or complying with ones commitment and postponing preferred behavior.
The provost observes: “The campus is engaged in a sustained conversation that is informed and thoughtful. Many more members of our community are prepared to respond with compassion, thoughtfulness and integrity.”
In a word, the attitude of this college is respectful tolerance of differences in opinion and compassion on individuals’ honest emotional and moral feelings as well as a forthright and consistent sustaining of institutional values.
It is, of course, a good deal easier for a private institution or organization to achieve such balance between conflicting and competing interests than it is for the public or governmental equivalents. We need to talk with each other, as this campus community is talking, and find creative but wholesome ways of achieving this. We need to do this without political fighting, name-calling, or judgmental misrepresentations.