The pastor of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that we had started dating admitted that he was at a stalemate. Although he inhaled some of the main denomination’s liberal breezes, he was uncomfortable with rumors of sexual liberation from top General Assembly officials. âIt took me a lot of years,â he told us during a pastoral visit. “But if they start ordaining gay pastors, I don’t know what I’ll do.” We understood. He was less than 10 years from retirement. Without saying it, he hoped to take that step before the Liberals hit theirs, so that he could retire with a clear conscience and a pension.
It was in 1988. We left the PCUSA a few years later and lost contact with the pastor, but he made his wish come true: the most conservative elements of the denomination held out until 2011, when the 219th General assembly voted for pastors, elders and deacons. If the decision had been made decades earlier, what should our pastor have done?
It’s easy to say that he should move his congregation to a more traditional (i.e. biblical) Presbyterian denomination, abandon his retirement fund, and plunge into a legal maelstrom over church property. Easy to say: âJust get out of the boat and walk towards Jesus, he will support you. But of 12 loyal followers in this dramatic test case, the only one who was willing to try failed. How many of us would even try?
The recent decision of the Baylor University Board of Trustees to form LGBTQ student groups reminded me of this pastor. The board’s action was long in coming, but quite predictable. Cultural imperatives, both inside and outside the university, were hit hard and the administration finally gave in. Or they accommodated, depending on each person’s point of view.
âA guide to the Baylor board’s decision to strengthen care for LGBTQ + students on campusâ may shed more light on this perspective than it means. In the online document, the board insisted that the university remains “firmly anchored in its beliefs, statements and policies related to human sexuality.” Yet âBaylor is a place where the health and well-being of students comes first. (We outsiders may have thought that student education came first, but that may be an outdated concept.) The guide referred to the high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth as a concern for all Christian institutions, as well as their human need for community, respect, and support. âCommunityâ trumps everything, receiving six mentions in a two-page document.
What about community with Christ? The only mention of Christ is where âthe directors of Baylor will approach this work with a spirit of grace and truth, just as Jesus didâ. The focus of âthis workâ is a group of LGBTQ students âconsistent with the beliefs and core values ââof the Universityâ. Meaning what, exactly?
The last paragraph can be naively revealing: âFurther, federal and state guidelines continue to evolve,â as do moral standards. Guidance leads to rules and rules to funding, and Baylor is in the same dire straits as other Christian institutions that are now feeling the heat. The Board of Regents didn’t suddenly wake up and realize there were LGBTQ students on campus. For years, he rejected charter requests from the Sexual Identity Forum, a student advocacy group. What has changed is the growing rumble of pressure. Rather than wait for a lawsuit, loss of accreditation, or withdrawal of federal student loans, the administration of the world’s largest Baptist university is trying to protect itself.
And from a practical point of view, who could blame them? The survival of an institution is at stake, much more than an individual pension or a small business, and I do not know the answer. I know the chartered LGBTQ student groups on campus won’t satisfy activists. The boat will be submerged and Christian institutions, if they remain Christian, will have to brave the storm and get out. The only question is when.