“We now will live in fear that someone who doesn’t like us personally or someone who has had a bad day will report that we’ve been drinking or that we are suspected of being gay,” said the employee, who declined to reveal his name due to the policy.
The lifestyle statement was adopted by the Board of Trustees Oct. 21 and presented to employees on Oct. 24. It includes the pledge that “I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality.”
The statement also says that employees must be active members of a local church and includes statements about being loyal to the mission of Shorter; not using, selling or possessing illegal drugs; and not using alcoholic beverages in front of students or attending university events within six hours of drinking them.
Employees must sign the document, which includes a notice that they can be fired for violating the policy: “I have read and agree with the Personal Lifestyle Statement and will adhere to it in its entirety while employed at Shorter University. I understand that failure to adhere to this statement may result in disciplinary action against me, up to and including immediate termination.”
The Shorter University employee contacted the GA Voice after a story published Oct. 26 about the policy. In an extensive email interview, he discussed campus reaction to the policy, why gay employees are not the only ones concerned by it, and why a gay person would choose to work for a conservative Christian university.
How would you describe your job at Shorter?
I am a long-time employee of Shorter who is in a position that impacts many.
Why do you not want your name revealed?
I prefer to remain anonymous because the administration is not clearly defining what will happen to a gay person. We’ve learned more from the media about the administration’s view on the policy than we have been told directly. Because of this clear communication issue, I need to preserve my anonymity to help ensure I can continue to work.
Why are you upset about this policy?
The policy has a few major parts:
a. Be an active member of a local church
On the surface, this isn’t so sinister. Shorter is a Christian school. However, there are no guidelines here. What is “active?” Does it mean simply attending or does it mean participating in the various groups and clubs within the Church? How are we to be measured as meeting this requirement? Further, I would say that this requirement automatically rules out any church that is obviously gay-friendly. Were I to report that I attend a Metropolitan Community Church or other church that had a strong GBLTQ outreach, it would raise immediate questions to the fundamental Baptist administration of the school. So, I do not feel free to worship where I choose as a gay Christian man.
b. I will be loyal to the mission of the University.
This isn’t anything to be upset about. Any employer would want loyalty. However, loyalty, to me, isn’t something you simply create by forcing employees to sign a document. Loyalty is to be freely given.
c. I will not engage in activities involving illegal drugs
This is a no-brainer. Obviously, no employer wants employees who pose this risk.
d. I will reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.
This is interesting to me because the statement could have been less offensive if the examples were not included. Why key in on any of them if all sexual activity that isn’t in agreement with the Bible is prohibited? To me, this hints at an anti-gay stance. When taken in context with the very vague comments made by current Board Chairman Dr. Nelson Price in the Rome News Tribune, I would say that doing these things will get you fired.
It also seems to place homosexuality in a different category. By that, I mean that adultery and pre-marital sex are, in fact, choices. Homosexuality is not. I know this point is up for debate in the fundamental Christian world, but to the rest of the world, we know that it isn’t a choice. Without getting in to that whole debate, it does seem anti-gay to hone in on something that is not a choice and that has so few references in the Bible when compared to the myriad heterosexual “thou shall nots.”
e. I will not use alcoholic beverages in the presence of students, I won’t drink in public at all, and I won’t come to any University event within six hours of having had a drink.
It is easy to understand not wanting employees to drink in front of impressionable students and even to ask them not to come to an event smelling of alcohol. The issue with this item is the overreach. Now we can’t have a glass of wine at a restaurant?
A question about these things is how they will be enforced. We now will live in fear that someone who doesn’t like us personally or someone who has had a bad day will report that we’ve been drinking or that we are suspected of being gay. What happens then? There is no defined process and even if there were, there is no way to absolutely prove or disprove the accusation.
Shorter has said in TV interviews that this isn’t really a big change, that the statement was already in the employee handbook. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
I disagree. Homosexuality or having a drink haven’t been mentioned in any document I’ve seen until now. I very specifically sought out the term “homosexuality” when I made the decision to come to Shorter. It seemed reasonably progressive to me, at least for the Baptist world, not to single out homosexuals.
Some might say that you made a decision to work at a Southern Baptist university, and it is no secret that the Southern Baptists are not supportive of gay rights. How do you respond?
I made the decision, I own it, and I’m proud to be a Christian. I don’t see homosexuality as being any less congruent with Christianity than judging people, sexual deviance, dishonesty, pride, lust, envy, sloth, etc. My response is simple: Why is homosexuality so much worse than anything else in the Bible? Why does a homosexual deserve to be fired any more than an obviously egotistical person, or a lazy person, or a dishonest person?
No sin above any other … we’re all sinners and I don’t see that trying to force a person who commits the sin of homosexuality out of the organization as being morally justified if we’re not going to force every single sinner out of the organization.
The bottom line is that I am a gay Christian and I made a decision to be around other Christians. I’m not alone and it is sad to see organizations shun people like me. I’d assume that if you’re a strong Christian, you wouldn’t need to turn those away who sin and instead you’d welcome them with open arms because they love Jesus.
With all of the talk about homosexuality being a sin, I do feel the need to share my own view. I struggle with viewing the Bible as the inerrant word of God if only because I know that I was born this way. And to Christians who would say that what I feel is the work of the Devil, I would only say that I went through a long period of praying, begging, and really trying not to be gay. God didn’t change me or pull me out of it.
Because of this, I don’t feel that I am a terrible person who is damned to hell. God has a plan for me. Telling me I’m going to hell, telling me I’m a bad person … those are judgements and none of us is fit to judge anyone else.
Do you know of other gay employees or gay students? How are they reacting to this?
Yes. Not well. The students don’t have to sign this document, but it certainly doesn’t make them feel good knowing that it is an easy next step to have them sign something similar. In terms of employees, I feel that the larger issue is that behaviors are being dictated AND employees have to sign a document agreeing.
It isn’t enough that, as professionals, everyone knows that you don’t come to work drunk, high, flaunting sexuality, or opening disparaging your employer. It isn’t enough that to come here you have to be a Christian. You have to sign on a dotted line that you’re going to believe things and act a certain way. It is pretty insulting.
What about employees or students who are accepting of gay people? The policy requiring you to “reject as acceptable… homosexuality” would seem to target allies as well.
There is a larger question of what this specific provision means. Rejecting as acceptable could easily be interpreted to mean that you should not love (as a family member or friend) a gay person or that you shouldn’t even talk to a gay person. Then again, to be fair, it could also be interpreted to mean that you do not accept homosexuality, but that you still love the person as Jesus would have you do.
What is next for you? Will you stay at the university? Are you afraid of witch hunts?
I’m not likely to stay with the University because of the fundamentalist movement and the possibility of witch hunts. My faith is strong and I recognize that the University has the legal right to do this, but just because it is legal it isn’t necessarily morally right.
Finally, how has the general reaction been on campus to all of the coverage of this?
Since the announcement, there has been nothing but silence on campus from the President and Board. The coverage has actually proved to be educational in that we’ve learned about their thinking on the topic. More than anything else, I think a lot of people on campus feel insulted that communication is coming through the media instead of directly.