Ban on Same Sex Couple Roils Small Christian College

LOS ANGELES – On a recent fall day, a group of protesters gathered in a university courtyard, many holding rainbow flags. About 100 students and faculty members were fighting for LGBTQ rights on campus.

By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Los Angeles Times

The scene was unusual, though – in some ways radical – given that the location was Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college, and that the debate was over how God would view the issue of same-sex couples.

“This isn’t something sinful, God,” one student said, leading the emotional gathering. “This is something beautiful. I pray that we continue to live out the mission of being difference-makers, God, that this world be a place of equality, God.”

The public display of support for LGBTQ students was a response to the evangelical Christian university’s recent decision to reinstate its ban on same-sex relationships. The school had quietly removed the ban in August and created a new LGBTQ pilot program, which includes the creation of weekly student meetings backed by the university.

But following criticism from conservative Christian media, the university changed course, saying there was a “miscommunication” between the college and its Board of Trustees.
The university said the board never approved the change in the student conduct code and assured students, faculty and staff that the school’s conservative beliefs remain intact: “We affirm God’s perfect will and design for humankind with the biblical understanding of the marriage covenant as between one man and one woman.”

The move has sparked protests and much debate on the small campus in Azusa and offered a window into how the gay rights struggle is playing out in the Christian university world.
USC professor Alison Dundes Renteln said the conflict shows that while gay marriage and equality have become significantly more accepted in broader society in recent years, that change has come slower in Christian communities like Azusa Pacific.

“Most people think it is equality that has prevailed now,” she said. “People think progress is linear, but there’s a back and forth. There are movements, there’s backlash,” she said.

Pepperdine University, a Christian liberal arts college in Malibu, found itself the subject of a lawsuit when two female basketball players accused the university of harassing them because they were dating. The players asserted that the school forced them to leave the basketball team and give up their scholarships, but in 2017, a federal court ruled in Pepperdine’s favor, saying there was not enough evidence to determine that the university had targeted the women based on their sexual orientation.

Religious colleges in California have taken different tacks in addressing same-sex relationships among students, often opting for vague language that discourages sex out of marriage regardless of sexual identity.

Pepperdine opposes sex out of wedlock in general but supports students “who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria,” according to its student code of conduct.

Biola University, an evangelical Christian college in La Mirada, says it is committed to “engaging this conversation with courage, humility, prayerfulness and care,” adding, “We believe, in accordance with Scripture, that we are all broken.”

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