The stark choice was presented to the employees of Shorter University, a Southern Baptist school located in Rome, Georgia, in no uncertain terms: It’s either the school’s way or the highway.
"We understand that there are those who do not agree with our beliefs," the president of the university, Donald Dowless (pictured left), stated. "Anyone who chooses not to sign the documents will be choosing to end their employment with the university."
For sexual minorities in the school’s employ, the broader choice comes down to facing unemployment or pretending to be heterosexual and violating their personal integrity in order to hold on to their jobs.
There is a belief among much of the evangelical Christian community that gays "choose" to be romantically and sexually attracted to members of the same gender. Some evangelicals, swayed by mounting scientific evidence that gays are born with innate and unchangeable same-sex patterns of attraction and response, have begun to modify their message, declaring that even if same-sex attraction is indeed innate to gays, their conduct remains a matter of choice.
For some Biblical scholars, however, that argument rings hollow. Theologian and author Jonathan Dudley told EDGE earlier this year that the Bible references homosexuality only a handful of times, and many passages that seem to be anti-gay are not as clear-cut as anti-gay religious leaders claim. Dudley also noted that the Bible’s proscriptions against divorce are much more numerous and unequivocal than the scant few ambiguous passages addressing sexual contact between individuals of the same gender.
Author and religious scholar Jay Michaelson, in his newly published book "God vs. Gay," argues that passages often read as anti-gay are, in fact, describing sexual practices related to cultic worship that was denied the ancient Israelites--not same-sex relationships as they are currently understood. Michaelson also references an array of other behaviors that the Bible condemns, divorce among them, that are commonplace in today’s world, but that excite no fiery, demonizing speeches from either religious or political leaders.
But to Dowless, those ambiguous passages in Scripture were not at all vague or uncertain in meaning.
"These are biblical positions," Dowless told local news channel WSB-TV, according to a Nov. 3 NewsOne.com article. The news channel noted that Shorter University is a private school that does not receive taxpayer money. As a private institution, Shorter is allowed to disregard anti-discrimination laws and fire employees for being gay.
The university also makes active membership in church a condition of employment. The article did not address the question of whether membership in a mosque or temple would be viewed as acceptable.
"Adultery and pre-marital sex are, in fact, choices," noted one employee, who spoke to the GA Voice. "Homosexuality is not. I know this point is up for debate in the fundamental Christian world, but to the rest of the world, we know that it isn’t a choice." That employee, who was not named, indicated that he would probably not sign the document, preferring to seek employment elsewhere.
Many Christian colleges and universities require their students, faculty, and staff to sign on to documentation setting out expectations for their beliefs and their professional and private conduct. But Shorter University’s uncompromisingly anti-gay stance is extreme even for religious institutions, said the president of another religious school, Hubert Krygsman of Canadian school Redeemer University College, which is located in Ontario.
"While most Christian universities and colleges in both Canada and the USA (many of which are members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities) do have some form of conduct policy for employees, board members, and students, these policies are expressed in many different ways," Krygsman told the Toronto Star.
"I have never seen a case where an employee has been asked to sign a statement stating specifically that they are not homosexual," Krygsman added.
For locals with some affiliation to the university, the no-gays requirement from on high seemed a shame, if not a betrayal of the institution and its people. Actor and vlogger Jeffry Self, a native of Rome, Georgia who grew up "right around the corner" from the school, lamented the anti-gay directive in a Nov. 3 Huffington Post op-ed.
Self, who described becoming involved in the university’s theatrical productions as a teenager and meeting positive gay role models, recalled how the school once "served as a beacon of hope, a reminder that I wasn’t a freak and that I wasn’t alone in the world, and that all the things I dreamed of doing were in fact very possible.
"Perhaps today this might seem like the school’s worst nightmare, but to this happily out and proud gay man, Shorter University once served as a place of open-mindedness, intelligence, and love," Self added.
"Shorter is a Baptist college, so I understand that certain ’lifestyle choices’ might not be within their ideas and beliefs, but what I don’t understand is taking what used to be a really wonderful place full of smart, open-minded, creative, inspiring people and turning it into a place of such hostile judgment and fear," Self continued. "I cannot imagine a worse learning environment."