Public Relations or Reality?

I grew up in a small town with a relatively small perspective of the world. Everything began to change in 1978 when I enrolled at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Not only did I meet people from all over (Pennsylvania that is), but I had my first real opportunities to meet homosexuals and born again Christians. I can’t really say that I thought much of either.

Two guys on our floor were reputed to be gay. I would greet them in the hall but didn’t pay much attention otherwise. I will say they received at least some measure of abuse from some of the guys on the floor.

Eventually I met a small handful of professing Christians that I thought to be somewhat normal. As we began to build friendships I was confronted with the reality of the Bible. I had always possessed a vague belief in God, but reading the Bible challenged me in a way I never anticipated. In time I surrendered my life to Christ and got more involved with the conservative Christian community.

On one occasion a gay activist came to speak on campus. A couple of friends and I decided to attend. We wanted a better understanding of this whole issue. The turnout was extremely small: the three Christians constituted almost half of the group.

The speaker was undeterred, gathering everybody together and passionately sharing his vision to see homosexuality become mainstream in American culture. Most of the plan centered on a massive public relations (PR) campaign and the infiltration of key centers of influence.

Ten years later I found myself back at IUP leading a campus ministry. How things had changed! While not violently hostile, the university community was no longer friendly to the conservative Christian faith.

In struggling to get established we decided to change the name of our campus ministry, which required a new constitution. Much to my surprise our constitution required an anti-discrimination statement including sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

In a meeting with a Student Affairs representative I explained our case. Anybody was welcome to attend our meetings and everyone would be treated with respect. But when it came to choosing leaders, we had to be free to choose them according to our beliefs—otherwise we would cease to be Christian!

No matter! The university policy (while illegal) was unbending. We could have gone public, but that’s not really my style. Instead, we appealed to the legal counsel of the PA State System of Higher Education (SSHE). Their response was the same, so we appealed again. Again we received the same answer. For almost two years we were denied campus privileges and our First Amendment rights to freely exercise our religious beliefs.

About that time the university hired a new Vice President of Student Affairs. He seemed like a fair man so I explained our quandary. A short time later we received a letter stating that our constitution would be accepted as we had written it, but we still needed to abide by university policies. I accepted the letter and the issue never surfaced again—for our group.

In the years following I served in various leadership roles and had the privilege of interacting with Christian campus leaders from all over the country. My eyes were now wide open to a very real issue on college campuses across the U.S. And as the college campus goes, so goes the culture! (Check out this recent article from the Christian Post.)

A few years later a gay professor blasted one of our students for her beliefs in front of the class, “We should light Sara on fire and throw her out the window!” Sara bravely responded with love and by the end of the semester had built at least a friendly relationship with the professor.

The trend continues for a vague, nebulous form of spirituality to be accepted, even encouraged, by universities everywhere. Jesus is okay as long as portrayed as some warm, fuzzy god accepting of all. Adherence to the actual teachings of the Bible; however, is highly disdained. Statements by Christ such as “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me,” are by no means acceptable. Upholding Biblical teaching that sexual activity must be limited to a man and a woman within the bond of covenant marriage is immediately labeled as narrow minded and bigoted.

I share all of this to help bring a more complete perspective to this volatile issue. To portray those in the GLBT community as the only victims of discrimination and mistreatment is downright wrong. It’s no less wrong to vilify all who disagree with a homosexual lifestyle as being homophobic and hateful.

Let’s do our best to distinguish between reality and PR!

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2 thoughts on “Public Relations or Reality?

  1. When this series started, I suspected that there was some story behind it. A part of me wonders why this story wasn’t in the first entry. I think it may have fit in better earlier.
    (now that I’m done thinking aloud)

    This is a tough one for me. I can see both sides of it. The university has a certain right to contain the behavior of people in order to protect the campus. The campus ministry has its beliefs to protect from outside ideas. At the same time, the campus ministry was asserting to be part of the university. Because of this, it probably should be beholden to university policy. At the same time, I agree that it is tough to have a leader who doesn’t espouse the beliefs of the ministry. However, I don’t think the possibility of that happening is really plausible. But, I can understand the concern. I think the reality is that there is no such thing as free speech anyway.

    I kind of think of this story in similar terms to applying for a job. Upon hire, there are all sorts of forms and agreements that are signed in order for employment. While, I may not like the idea of giving up certain rights in order to get a foot in the door, sometimes a person has to pay to play.

    I think campus professors on both sides of the issue have at times crossed the line. I read that recently a student was verbally attacked for being a lesbian. (http://www.towleroad.com/2011/10/indianasantiago.html ) I’ve also been told this same professor has done similar things in the classroom before. I think this is the sort of event that university policy is supposed to protect against.

    I might even agree with you that the conservative side suffers at least an equal amount of attack. The only difference that I see between the sides, is that one is being scoffed at for its beliefs and the other for its identity. Part of me wonders which one hurts worse?

  2. Jason, you’re probably right about the timing of this post–although when I began this series on Christianity and homosexuality, I had only the first 2-3 posts planned. My primary purpose was to call Christians to a higher level of compassion in dealing with the GLBT community.The rest has more or less evolved based on the dialogue I’ve had with people since the series began.

    With regard to the freedom of religion and freedom of speech, I’ll share more in my next post, but I must point out that public universities are beholden to constitutional law in formulating their policies. These cases have been making their way into the courts for years and with public universities the hate speech and anti-discrimination codes always lose. The potential would be a reality if Christian groups weren’t fighting this in the courts.

    I readily agree that professors have crossed the line on both sides of the issue and I think that my earlier statements about the need for respect certainly apply in a university setting. At the same time, I’ve watched this story at IUP unfold as a public relations campaign. Why was it the lead story on a Pittsburgh news station on two consecutive nights? Does it merit attention? Probably. Should it be elevated to the lead story above murders and other terrible situations? I don’t think so.

    Also, a highly respected friend of mine is personal friends with the professor involved. She is a very nice (albeit opinionated) person who comes from a Middle Eastern culture. She may not totally grasp the idea that free speech in the U.S. isn’t really free speech. I don’t know the specifics of this situation, but there is also the possibility that someone in the class (not necessarily the lesbian student) baited her into the discussion. I say this to help bring perspective, not to justify any demeaning actions on the part of the professor.

    On another interesting note, the hate speech issue is now being morphed into the anti-bullying campaign (bullying language was used in one of the newscasts about the IUP situation). Personally I feel like anyone who disagrees with homosexuality as a lifestyle is being painted into a corner. Are we against hate speech and bullying? Absolutely! But let’s not allow a much needed awareness to be twisted to suppress freedoms that are fundamental to our society.

    Finally, which group is which when it comes to belief and identity? To me, “Christian” is my primary identity, and as I’ve said before, homosexuality is more of a perceived identity than a real one. I by no means want to see either group hurt or repressed, but in the long run, I think that repressing Christianity will cause far more pain for far more people for a much longer time.

    Jason, I always appreciate your thoughtful dialogue!

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