Thursday, March 3, 2011

Controversy about Gay Student Website Erupts at Arkansas Church of Christ University

My previous posting had an Arkansas angle with its comments about Rev. Mike Huckabee and my knowledge of that gentleman's political career, since I grew up in and live in Arkansas.  In fact, Rev. Huckabee graduated from a Southern Baptist university in Arkansas, Ouachita University, of which my father's brother was the academic vice-president for some years, and in which my uncle's wife taught English.

And here's another Arkansas story, which pertains to another faith-based university in my state--in this case, Harding University, the alma mater of Kenneth Starr, the Republican independent counsel who hounded President Clinton during Clinton's presidency, pushing for Clinton's impeachment following the Monica Lewinsky revelations.  Harding is a Church of Christ-affiliated university.

Yesterday, the statewide weekly Arkansas Times reported on its blog* that gay and lesbian students and alumni of Harding have launched a website to offer support to those at the university dealing with its disapproving stance towards LGBT students.  The university immediately blocked the website for those using the campus internet system.

This morning, Harding issued a statement about its actions, on which the Arkansas Times reports.  The statement notes Harding's stand on the issue of homosexuality, based in its religious tradition.  By implication, Harding is also claiming its right to discriminate overtly in the case of LGBT students, faculty, and staff, since faith-based institutions in the U.S. are frequently not bound by legal codes that prohibit discrimination in other non-faith based institutions and workplaces.

I'm fascinated to read the discussion that has developed following both of the preceding postings--fascinated above all by the insistence of many of my fellow citizens that religious groups have the "right" to discriminate against those who are gay or lesbian, and an obligation to discriminate, due to their religious convictions.  This is precisely the argument that the Catholic magisterium also promoted in response to the rising tide of gay rights around the world.

What does it say about many Christian institutions and what they are now becoming, I wonder, when one of the characteristics for which these institutions are now most known is their loud assertion of their "right" to discriminate against a vulnerable minority group?  Is this where Jesus would have wanted the churches founded to preserve and transmit his memory to end up?

Peter Gomes, whom Candace Chellew-Hodge eulogized yesterday at Religion Dispatches, certainly didn't think so.  For some of my preceding reflections on Gomes and his thinking about where some churches have ended up vis-a-vis LGBT people, see here and here.

*The Arkansas Times website has been having difficulty today, and is going up and down.  If the links to the postings at its blog don't work for you right away, you may want to try back later.  I apologize for the inconvenience if they're not working when you click on them.

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