Will you sign this letter to the Board of Trustees?Posted: February 7, 2015
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To the Board of Trustees of Greenville College,
It has come to our attention that the Lifestyle Statement is under significant revision. While we embrace the College’s commitment to reexamination and renewal, we, concerned alumni of Greenville College, are deeply troubled by the new Statement’s language, specifically language pertaining to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) people, but also in the structure of the new statement itself as it transitions from a community expectation of conduct to a statement of belief.
The specific language regarding sexual and gender minorities that we find troublesome is as follows:
FREEDOM OF PURITY. We believe certain sexual behaviors, conduct and practices, go against God’s design as articulated in Scripture, and from which a person in this community should naturally abstain. We believe God created male and female with gender at birth, that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that extramarital sex, premarital sex and homosexual intimacy are distortions of God’s created order. In all issues of purity, we have a corporate responsibility to be God’s agents of transformation to persons as they learn to live a Christian life that is wholesome and pure.
While we have faith in and trust that the College, and those drafting the Statement, do not wish to intentionally act with malice toward the LGBTQI community, the language, as written above, makes judgments, distinctions, and exclusions that are problematic for the following reasons:
- The new language dictates belief rather than prohibiting behavior. While the Lifestyle Statement has always prohibited sexual activity outside of marriage, this new language goes much further, declaring that those who are part of the Greenville community believe the statements that follow. As students at Greenville we were taught to respect, listen to, and dialogue with those whose beliefs differed from our own; requiring adherence to a statement of belief runs contrary to those principles. Additionally, the change causes a significant problem of enforcement of these expectations, because these expectations are no longer visible behaviors, but personal beliefs.
- The new statement injures and disrespects LGBTQI people and those who love them. The new statement portrays trans* and gender-nonconforming people as outside of God’s creation, describes same-sex love and relationships as “distortions of God’s created order” and, by singling out LGBTQI people, can easily be read as an indication that they alone are in particular need of transformation as “they learn to live a Christian life that is wholesome and pure.”
- The new language falsely conflates gender identity with sexual orientation. The phrase “We believe God created male and female with gender at birth” addresses gender identity, while the remainder of the statement is explicitly targeted at sexual conduct and behaviors. Additionally, gender identity (identified by the individual) and biological sex (identified at birth) cannot be used interchangeably– they are separate identifiers. This statement also ignores the biological reality of people born intersex.
- The new statement repeatedly uses “we” language, which gives the false impression that the Greenville community as a whole is of one heart and mind on this issue. We assert this is not, nor has it ever been, the case. One of Greenville’s strengths is its diversity of student, staff, and faculty thought and background, and LGBTQI people have attended, and continue to attend Greenville College. While we acknowledge the former Lifestyle Statement as a tool of covenant for individuals’ conduct while a part of the community, we recognize it is also a reflection of the community’s values and understanding of itself. To this end, the revised language communicates a false image of the community’s thoughts on the issue. It is at best, in the language of Greenville faculty, “an issue about which sincere Christians disagree.”
- The new language makes claims about gender and sexuality that reflect heteronormative privilege. Our belief in a God that rejected all privilege in the incarnation for the sake of humanity requires us to monitor closely our own abuse of station within society. A statement written from a place of privilege cannot give any authentic justice to the oppressed, and as such, consultation with the LGBTQI community, specifically Greenville students and alumni who are LGBTQI, is essential for this portion of the Lifestyle Statement.
- The new statement repeatedly appeals to Scripture without acknowledging the important reality that Scripture is not self-interpreting and that people of good will and
intelligence can–and do–disagree on these matters. As a result, the appeal to one interpretation of Scripture as authoritative is misleading at best and incredibly damaging at worst. Moreover, it violates the long tradition of academic freedom and diversity of belief at the college in unreasonably restrictive ways. While we believe Scripture to be the word of God, and authoritative as such, none of us our infallible in our interpretation, and this new language suggests there is no space for discussion on this matter. This goes against the way we were taught to view scripture while students at Greenville. And in the area of purity, as the new Statement labels it, human sexuality and its diversity are difficult interpretive problems that simple solutions fail to grasp.
We acknowledge that the areas of gender identity and sexual orientation are contentious within religious communities and our American culture at large, but it is precisely because of this difference of belief and opinion that Greenville College should not be taking an unreasonably harsh stance one way or the other. As children of God, we understand the call to purity as a call to live as Christ lived. As such, we recognize that the grace of God precedes our response to this grace. Just as Christ died for us without prerequisite and without condition, so too should we include all people without prerequisite and without condition. Regardless of one’s stance on these complicated issues, unmitigated exclusion is never the response of Christ, and must, therefore, never be our own response.
Understanding the challenges that institutions such as Greenville face in deciding how to incorporate LGBTQI people into the community in campus housing, etc., we remind the Board that LGBTQI people are already part of the campus community. Instead of trying to create a religious institution that is outside of federal regulatory protections for sexual and gender minorities, we ask that Greenville seek affirmative ways to incorporate these members of the community as it has previously done to the benefit of those students and the community, rather than single them out and exclude them with this damaging language. Christ’s response to the ostracized was always that of inclusion, and as a Christ-following institution, Greenville should seek to follow this powerful example. This would be a demonstration of true community and God’s love for all creation. Willingness to accommodate and protect minority students would clearly show the ostracized, and the community at large, God’s overwhelming love as we are welcomed to the table as we are.
As Greenville students, we were required to examine the ways our actions and language represented God and impacted others, and as alumni, we expect the College to do the same. We believe the College is capable of creating a Lifestyle Statement that acknowledges and allows diversity of belief, and points toward reconciliation rather than division. Greenville College has the opportunity to show itself as an institution that loves and values all people in all their beautifully created diversity, and should not instead choose a path of exclusion and discrimination.
While we recognize that the leadership and stance of the Free Methodist Church may not agree with our own understandings, and we realize that Greenville faces potential challenges that it has not encountered directly before, we are gravely concerned that the new language of the Lifestyle Statement moves toward greater exclusion and alienation rather than grace and reconciliation. Therefore we ask that the board delay implementation of this change and seek to engage the LGBTQI community of Greenville College and those who love them, including alumni, before these changes are made permanent.
We alumni are deeply troubled by the new Lifestyle Statement for the above reasons, because we continue to care deeply about Greenville College, its legacy, and its future. Because of our concern, some of us will have to thoughtfully consider whether or not we will be able to support our alma mater going forward, financially or otherwise, if this new statement becomes permanent as written above.
In God’s peace and hope,