Shorter University, a Southern Baptist-affiliated school in Rome, Georgia, is causing a bit of a stir with its new requirement for faculty and staff to sign a “personal lifestyle statement.” The statement asks employees to affirm that they won’t sell or possess illegal drugs or drink alcohol within six hours of school functions.
That all sounds innocuous enough, but, as the GA Voice reports, one vow stands out:
“I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality.”
It’s not shocking that a Southern Baptist school would include such a statement — and as a private institution, it is within its legal rights to do so. Employees who happen to be gay and Christian, however, are now in fear for their jobs. One employee told the GA Voice that they now fear witch hunts and vendettas because of the new statement:
A question about these things is how they will be enforced. We now will live in fear that someone who doesn’t like us personally or someone who has had a bad day will report that we’ve been drinking or that we are suspected of being gay. What happens then? There is no defined process and even if there were, there is no way to absolutely prove or disprove the accusation.
The fear is the same experienced by previously closeted members of the military before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s shocking that institutions such as the military and private Christian colleges, who promote the ideas of honesty and integrity would force their members to adhere to statements that may result in employees feeling they must lie or hide to protect their livelihoods.
Certainly, those who don’t like it can find new jobs and Shorter will have the employee base it wants — good, obedient, homogenized Christians who gladly sign a list of beliefs and adhere to the letter of the law.
This is the real problem, however. Any organization, be it the military, a school, a church, or even the local bridge club, that seeks to purify itself from any dissent or diversity automatically dooms itself. Organizations that force its members to conform — even if they do it gladly and eagerly — cuts itself off from the source of any future growth. What causes growth among groups is most often disagreements, differing points of view, or different understandings of the world around them. To automatically shield itself from the necessary messiness and conflicts of community, Shorter is doing itself — and its students — a disservice.
While some employees may find the statement comforting, human beings cannot live too long in the shell of unbending religiosity without suffocating. What seems to die off first is any tolerance for difference, and any compassion one might have for others outside their tight circle. It’s a human trait to want to be among the like-minded — but it is in the challenges and crises of community that real human freedom is found.
As German theologian Eugen Drewermann observed:
“Truth can’t be fixed in a certain formula. We can never possess a doctrine that is valid once and for all, or have a statement for which we give up everything and go through the world threatening all those who don’t recite it in the proper way. Some ways of becoming human can be crushed by fear, but we must dare to try, no matter what it costs.”
Shorter’s threat to its employees and faculty over this statement is born of fear. If they allow themselves to be crushed by that fear, what it really costs them is their humanity.