One of our readers alerted us to a recent posting on The Student Movement website, the official newspaper for Andrews University. The words "sexual orientation" were added to a list of personal characteristics protected from harassment and discrimination; however, the change has confused some gay students because they felt the school was acknowledging their presence, but limiting their freedom to express their relationships as heterosexual couples. The handbook states on page 176, “We expect students to refrain from all premarital and extramarital sexual relationships and inappropriate displays of affection, including displays of romantic affection between individuals of the same sex.”
One gay student said, "As a gay student on campus, there is no support for students or faculty that identify as LGBT." The article doesn't specify what kind of support they're looking for. Are these students who acknowledge that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful and they want freedom from their sins? Or are they wanting a club that makes them feel good about their lifestyle?
There's a lot of talk in the church about how we should treat homosexuals in the church. One issue that complicates this discussion is that the church is dealing with what appears to be an increasing number of homosexuals and supporters that no longer think the homosexual lifestyle is sinful. Are churches following the biblical steps outlined in the Church Manual for members who engage in sin and refuse to repent and turn from their sin?
No church officer should advise, no committee should recommend, nor should any church vote, that the name of a wrongdoer shall be removed from the church books, until the instruction given by Christ has been faith- fully followed. When this instruction has been followed, the church has cleared herself before God. The evil must then be made to appear as it is, and must be removed, that it may not become more and more widespread. The health and purity of the church must be preserved, that she may stand before God unsullied, clad in the robes of Christ’s righteousness....
“‘Verily I say unto you,’ Christ continued, ‘whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Page 57
Our universities and colleges should do absolutely nothing that encourages students to continue in their sins, but be ever diligent in loving and encouraging them to over come their sins. Creating clubs that promote sin is not the answer.
I applaud Andrews University for recognizing the need to protect gay students from harassment, but also drawing the line.
This year, Andrews University edited policies in the Student Handbook on pages 174, 176, and 184, of the 2012-2013 Student Handbook, adding the words “sexual orientation,” to the list of personal characteristics protected from acts of harassment and discrimination. This has rekindled an ongoing debate regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students on campus.
Steve Yeagley, Associate Dean for Student Life, said, “We wanted to clarify the position of the church.“
According to Yeagley, a task force, comprised of AU’s faculty, staff, and legal team, came together to adjust the harassment and discrimination clauses in the Student Handbook. Yeagley believes the reason for the change was not the result of previous harassment or discrimination cases. He says that regarding sexual orientation, he is “not aware of any cases that have been formally brought to the [Student Life] office.” He explains, “Students were saying to us they wanted to know how they are protected, [and] what their rights were, especially when it came to how the university would protect them.”
The changes in the handbook occur in a few places. The harassment section simply adds the words “sexual orientation” to a list of traits including race, color, disability, religion and age. The discrimination section on the other hand, is more detailed. An entire paragraph was added regarding sexual orientation. The paragraph specifies that while sexual orientation is not legally protected in the state of Michigan, it is still protected under Andrews policy, “except as necessary to upholding the University’s commitment to the moral propriety as understood by the Seventh-day Adventist Church (pg. 174).” The paragraph then goes on to warn, “However, promoting or engaging in certain behaviors is prohibited (pg.174).”
LGBT students are confused by the handbook changes. An anonymous gay student said, “It’s like [AU] is acknowledging that we are here, and we are gay, but we still can’t act like it or show it. We can’t have a relationship like any of these other couples walking around campus. ”
The student also believes that, while all couples on campus are held to the standards of the church, homosexual students would receive harsher punishment. This assertion stems from the Student Handbook changes on page 176, under Rights to Relationships. The handbook states, “We expect students to refrain from all premarital and extramarital sexual relationships and inappropriate displays of affection, including displays of romantic affection between individuals of the same sex.” This is also stated again on page 184, under Code of Student Conduct. To the LGBT students, there is a clear distinction between the “inappropriate” romantic behavior for heterosexual students, and “displays of romantic affection” regarding homosexual students.
Victor D. Perez Andino, a junior architecture student who is gay, comments, “It is a good thing for the church to have put this in the handbook, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t hold hands with someone if I wanted to.”
Yeagley addresses the issue saying, “We claim the 1st amendment right to discriminate based on our faith-based belief.” As this is an issue that many religious institutions face, Yeagley clarifies, “We need to be aware of the comfort levels of everyone involved.” He explains, “Homosexuality is one of those conversations that the church is just now bringing into the open. […]”
This recent development occurred on October 17, when the Seventh-day Adventist Church reaffirmed its stance opposing homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage, but emphasized compassion and love towards all people. Yeagley reiterates this decision, saying “We have theological positions that we take, but there are pastoral issues that need to be looked at.” Yeagley supports the church’s stance when stating that being part of the LGBT community is not a sin, rather the practice of romantic behavior between same-sex attracted individuals is. Yeagley says, “The problem is the distinction that we make inside the church between orientation and behavior.”
Yeagley underlines his main point saying, “The question, I think, is how we can be as supportive as we can of the church’s position, but also be supportive of students on our campus. […] What we are facing right now is society around us changing.”
This seems to be the core issue for LGBT students as well. A gay student, who is waiting to officially come out, declares that, “As a gay student on campus, there is no support for students or faculty that identify as LGBT.” Since acting on any feelings or attractions would be considered a sin, LGBT members must commit themselves to a life of celibacy in order to be in alignment with the Adventist Church’s views. The student goes on to state, “If the Church and the University are going to take such a stance, they should realize that support groups must be maintained for gay students and faculty. […] We should have a Gay-Straight Alliance that is an approved club on campus.” The student describes the lifelong dilemma of the LGBT community within the church saying, “Imagine that you will never be able to experience the joy of children, or waking up with the person you love. That’s a very difficult thing to deal with.”
Jearmaine Semeleer, a junior marketing major, feels like he understands both perspectives. “I think ‘Why not’? If [LGBT] students are willing to notice that they need help, the church should do everything in their might to help them.” But he continues saying, “The way they word [the handbook] could be offensive, but God is the center of this school.”
Dr. Nancy Carbonell, a psychology and counseling professor at AU’s Graduate School of Education, was a part of the task force that revised the 2012 Student Handbook. She agrees that there needs to be support for LGBT students on campus, and she is proud of AU for revising the handbook. “It’s a step in the right direction,” she remarks, “It might not cover all the issues, but it lets students know they can report their concerns.”
Let your voice be heard. Read the official same-sex union statement (issued by the church), and share your opinions about the subject on our website ausmnews.com.