Azusa Pacific University announced that they were reversing a decision that allowed non-sexual relationships between same-sex students, just one week after the new policy was announced.
In a news release, the Board of Trustees said, “Last week, reports circulated about a change to the undergraduate student standards of conduct. That action concerning romanticized relationships was never approved by the board and the original wording has been reinstated.”
Albert Tate, a member of the Board of Trustees and pastor at Monrovia Fellowship Church, said they restored the policy because taking out the original language, which simply said that “Students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship,” caused too much confusion.
He told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that, “When we took out the language, everyone else filled that gap with their own language and interpretations, and it was hurtful to LGBTQ students, our faculty, our constituencies outside. We reinstated that language with the intention to strategically partner with our LGBTQ students to find the best language possible to capture our heart and intent.”
When the university announced that they were removing the ban on same-sex relationships, they also promoted initiatives which were designed to increase support for same-sex attracted students on the campus. Both the press release explaining the reinstatement of the ban and Tate’s comments to the San Gabriel Valley Tribuneseem to indicate that Azusa Pacific intends on continuing those programs.
The press release said, “We see every student as a gift from God, infinitely valuable and worthy in the eyes of our Creator and as members of our campus community. We believe our university is the best place for earnest and guided conversation to unfold with all students about every facet of life, including faith and sexuality.” Board member Albert Tate made comments in a similar vein. He commented that they wanted students to “feel and experience the love we have for them and find a way to make sure they know we were all created in the image of God and have great, significant value and worth, while holding onto our vision and value and biblical fidelity.” He also said they will continue meeting so they can produce a policy that upholds a biblical sexual ethic and that shows love and kindness to LGBT students.
Some in the Azusa Pacific community believe the board betrayed their LGBT students. ““We poured our hearts out, were vulnerable and relived our trauma telling our stories, telling stories of previous students who were damaged or hurt in some way by the institution, which had action taken against them for being gay or being in a same-sex relationship,” said Erin Green, an Azusa Pacific graduate and co-executive for Brave Commons, an organization that advocates for LGBT students at Christian universities. She continued, “They looked us in the eye and said this policy is harmful, it’s discriminatory, it’s stigmatizing and we’re going to get rid of it. And we trusted them.”
In recent months, an underground student organization called “Haven” provided a place for LGBT students at Azusa Pacific to support each other. The initial change in policy made Haven an official campus group and attendance at their meetings increased from less than 10 to as many as 50.
Sophomore student Hannah McElfresh said she does not know how the restatement of the ban on same-sex relationships will affect the group. She said, “if it’s shut down, I personally am going to be very deeply hurt.” Yet, she remained hopeful that the group could continue to help others as it had helped her, “We can only dream to love like Jesus did, and I think I’m just recently starting to say that I’m 100 percent OK with being Christian and part of LGBTQ community because I’ve been loved, especially by people at APU who may not even know I’m a part of this.”
Azusa Pacific’s Board of Trustees hopes to show love to students like McElfresh while also maintaining a commitment to biblical values. Tate said he does not want the school’s LGBT students to be forced back “underground” and hopes they will “know they’ve been seen, heard, and loved by us.”
The Board of Trustees closed their statement by showing their resolve to show fidelity to the Bible, believing that this is the best possible course for the institution’s future. “We pledge to boldly uphold biblical values and not waver in our Christ-centered mission. We will examine how we live up to these high ideals and enact measures that prevent us from swaying from that sure footing,” they said, adding, “Through prayerful obedience to God’s Word, we believe APU’s best days lie ahead.”
Scott Slayton is a pastor and writer. Visit his blog One Degree to Another.
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