Friday, April 01, 2005

Sexuality at a baptist college

While some churches find themselves divided over the issue of homosexuality, others are still debating the role of women in the church and in the pulpit. Both debates ultimately come down to a question of hermeneutics. How do we read and interpret the scriptures for our time? How do we parse culturally-conditioned statements that no longer apply to us and "universal" commands that apply to all people and at all times? Is a biblical position that resembles the latter even possible? Finally, how do our own experiences inform our reading of scripture?

In light of these crucial hermeneutical questions, I was surprised to come across the following statement in an OBU press release announcing the development of a new policy on sexuality:
The five-paragraph policy on human sexuality states that it is a “community expectation that OBU students, faculty, and staff will neither engage in nor promote understandings of sexuality that contradict biblical standards.”
The statement disturbs me on several fronts. First, it is so vague as to be impotent. How does one draw a line between "promotion" and "discussion?" On a hermeneutical level, I wonder who determines the contours of a "biblical standard." Whose authority will make this policy relevant? Second, the statement is so vague as to be dangerous and harmful to the academic ethos I found in my years at OBU. For the same reason that the policy is impotent, it could become a destructive tool for institutional power. Academic freedom demands that even the most deep-seated belief be exposed to critique and appraisal. Otherwise, belief ossifies into a dogma that refuses to admit the limits of our understanding as creature and not Creator.

On a pastoral level, I become increasingly concerned that the church is turning its back on students struggling with issues of sexuality. Even those who hold that homosexuality is a sin must admit that the struggles which emerge from the definition of the sexual self are incredibly arduous. For an institution of higher education to take such a hostile posture towards the discussion of a painful topic reflects a blind arrogance bordering on delinquent indifference.

I worry that the school which shaped me to think critically and with compassionate acumen should embrace such a vaguely composed statement. Fortunately, there are voices out there resisting such change. Consider also the experience of this OBU student.