The same-sex marriage ruling has impacted many states that previously banned same-sex marriage. Although same-sex marriage has been legal in Pennsylvania since May of 2014, some have questioned how the new ruling will impact Messiah.
Provost Randall Basinger says the policies and the Community Covenant were put in place before he arrived thirty-three years ago. There have been a few “clarifications” made regarding orientation and behavior, but the policy itself has not changed.
“We’ve been talking about it for ten years and we’ll continue to talk about it. It’s nothing new. It’s a part of what it means to be a Christian institution in the contemporary world,” he says.
2007 alumni and Executive Director of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, Louie Marven says it’s time to move past conversations. “Obviously the work of supporting LGBT students is bigger than taking out those two words (homosexual behavior). I think it involves things like training staff and moving beyond discussions and conversations,” he says.
2005 alumni Lindsay Ladd agrees. “I would emphasize do what’s best for the current students. I think it’s more critical to provide a safe and welcoming environment to current and future students than to appease alumni or those who bestow endowments.”
Other students and alumni recognize Messiah’s rights as a private institution.
“I think Messiah has the right to hold its Community Covenant as it feels fit. I appreciate that the covenant does not encourage conversion, nor does it state that homosexuals should not attend the school,” says 2012 graduate Megan Clapp.
Keith Voets once attended Messiah and is now an Episcopal Priest engaged to another man. He believes the Covenant should more clearly define what “homosexual behavior” is.
“I think Messiah could be invited to take a look at the Community Covenant and say are we unfairly discriminating against a group of people by specifically calling them out on sexual behavior?” he says.
Some Christian Colleges are changing their policies in light of the Supreme Court Ruling. Earlier this month Baylor University, the largest Baptist University in the world dropped its prohibition on “homosexual acts” from its sexual conduct policy says TIME.
However there are presently no plans to change Messiah’s Community Covenant in the near future. Basinger and Dean of Students Kris Hansen-Kieffer say the College is looking to provide more resources related to sexual orientation.
“You students took the LGBT survey this spring that SGA did. We’re looking at some of the survey results and working towards programming. One of the programs will be Justin Lee and Christopher Yuan coming in October to talk about their different perspectives,” says Hansen-Kieffer.
Justin Lee is the author of bestseller Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. He is also the founder of the Gay Christian Network that strives to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Christians. Christopher Yuan is a professor and speaker who touches on topics related to faith and sexuality. He is also the co-author of HOPE Positive: Surviving the Sentence of AIDS, he and his mother’s memoir.
Director of the Engle Center Ellie Addleman says the Engle Center will continue to provide a safe place for LGBT students. Sixth Day Sexuality, a program that deals with sexuality-related issues on campus, will also continue under new program director Mike Blount.
There is also a student run group called The Underground for allies of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) students. According to its tumblr page, the group is a safe place to share different beliefs, experiences, and life stories.
Student and member of The Underground, Kyra Hill, hopes the College makes progress on LGBT issues. “Many students I have spoken with are accepting of those who identify as non-heterosexual and there has been increased dialogue about this topic on campus. I hope this progress continues and one day all students, including those who are non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, will feel welcomed and accepted at Messiah,” she says.
While the college plans to continue discussions on issues related to sexual orientation, Basinger says there are more questions Messiah must ask in light of the ruling.
One of those questions has to do with the College’s tax-exempt status. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently gives tax-exempt status to colleges and other nonprofit organizations with a range of views and religious affiliations. However in 1970, the IRS said it would not grant this status to private schools and colleges that “engaged in racial discrimination” says Inside Higher Ed.
Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status because of this policy after the University prohibited interracial relationships on campus. Although the University sued the IRS, the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that the IRS was within its rights.
Many legal experts expect future challenges for Christian schools from this ruling. At this point, nothing specific is pending in the courts and administrators at Messiah say they will continue to watch as legal proceedings develop.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Voets says he doesn’t expect Messiah or any religious school to change its policies. However, he does have one question for all Christians to ask themselves.
“The question I have for Christianity in general is if a gay couple came to your church, would they be emotionally and spiritually safe at your church? That doesn’t mean you have to marry them, you don’t have to accept that. But would you treat them as a stranger? Are they essentially the woman the crowd was throwing stones at or are you going to welcome them into your arms like Jesus did?” he asks.
This concludes our three-part look at the past, present, and future of LGBT issues at Messiah College. Earlier installments can be found on our website, Facebook, and twitter pages.
The Pulse Media Hub and Swinging Bridge are student-run media outlets funded primarily by Messiah’s Student Government Association and designed to inform the Messiah College Community. We do not represent an official viewpoint of the administration of Messiah College.