More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

So here is an understatement: Some people in my life (readers included) can't seem to figure out why I think that the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org is a logical, constructive and potentially positive development on the Godbeat.

To catch up on this topic, please flashback to last week's "Crossroads" podcast post: "ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news." Then, to get some hints at where I am going with all this, please glace here, as well: "Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants."

The way I see it, both of those posts are related to the Hooters video at the top of this post. I kid you not.

The other day, our own Bobby Ross, Jr., showed remarkable restraint when, in one of his Friday Five collections, he mentioned an interesting controversy on a Christian college campus in West Texas. Here is a piece of the story he mentioned, which ran at The Dallas Morning News under this headline: "Abilene Christian University urges students: Don't work at Hooters."

Hooters is set to open in Abilene this month, but students at Abilene Christian University are being urged not to apply for jobs there. ...
In a written statement, Emerald Cassidy, the school's director of public and media relations, told the station that "we have asked students to consider both what Hooters represents and whether that is something they really want to support in terms of both their faith and the value this business model places on women."

Now, pay close attention to this part:

According to the university handbook, Cassady said, students are challenged to make decisions "that ultimately glorify God" whether on or off campus, adding that the university could review any student it felt did not uphold that standard on a case-by-case basis.

Yes, lurking in that paragraph is an implied reference -- specifics would be soooo much better -- to some kind of doctrinal statement or lifestyle covenant that frames moral and social issues for ACU students.

Yes, that would be precisely the kind of document that your GetReligionistas have consistently urged journalists to find online, when covering stories about hot-button issues in Christian education. At some point leaders in Christian communities -- if they are going to establish binding covenants -- must write out the doctrinal and biblical specifics that they are trying to defend.

If those statements are vague and full of muddy language, then you know that people with good lawyers will eventually challenge them. That's what happens in this litigious age of ours.

Now, do you see the connection to ChurchClarity.org?

Let me connect the dots. Here at GetReligion we have been urging reporters to look for the doctrinal facts that govern how religious groups function when addressing controversial issues. For years, religious flocks, parachurch groups, schools, etc., could get away with saying that they expected members, students, employees, etc., to "uphold Christian values" or maybe the "authority of scripture" and that was enough.

You didn't need a lot of clarity and legal language in an age in which religious leaders could assume that members of their organizations, and even the surrounding communities, agreed on certain basic moral principles. Nice, warm, vague words were enough.

Now, raise your hand if you think that is going to work for religious leaders, when facing legal challenges on these topics these days.

I don't think anyone should have their hands raised, to be blunt about it. In this day and age, religious leaders are going to have to quote biblical chapter and verse, historical documents and whatever else they have on hand (resolutions from relevant denominations, perhaps) to show that your voluntary community is defined by shared doctrinal specifics.

In other words, these leaders will need to get their stuff in order -- especially the language in covenants, handbooks and documents posted on websites.

You see, the lawyers are coming and, sooner or later, there will probably be government authorities arriving, as well. Silence or fog will not be an option.

If that is the case, and clarity on these kinds of issues is a good thing, then I would argue that (you may want to sit down) that ChurchClarity.org research probing online religious statements about LGBTQ doctrines is not all that different from the work that GetReligion scribes have, for more than a decade, been urging reporters to do on topics found in lifestyle covenants.

So what does this have to do with Hooters?

I have seen documents in which Christian campus leaders try to define what is good and what is bad in terms of campus "dress codes." This is tricky stuff, since it can lead to campus discipline cases -- as implied by that statement about ACU females who choose to work at Hooters.

Here is the problem: What is the difference between a female at the campus pool in a bikini and the same coed at Hooters, dressed according to the precise regulations mandated by her employer? What are the doctrinal standards that approve the bathing suit -- perhaps even worn on a beach during a school-sponsored trip -- but reject the Hooters gear? (I taught at a school that faced debates over that a decade or so ago.)

If a young women was disciplined, or even expelled, for Hooters work, do you think lawyers for her parents might ask these questions?

Now, you can learn a few more details about this latest Hooters debate by reading coverage at The Optimist, the ACU campus newspaper. Let us attend.

Dr. Chris Riley, vice president for Student Life, urged students to consider what the Hooters business represents, in response to a request for a statement from The Optimist. 
“As Jesus followers, I think we have to consider what Hooters reflects about how we value others,” said Riley in an email, “and whether we see them as more than ‘products’ to be sold.”

Then there is this:

The city of Abilene Planning and Zoning Department does not consider Hooters to be a sexually-oriented business. Shawn Earl, commercial plans examiner for the department, said the city issued the restaurant a regular restaurant permit.
“If they had any nudity or toplessness, that would fall in a different category,” Earl said. “Because they are fully-clothed, it’s just a standard restaurant.” 
Although the city considers Hooters a standard restaurant, Riley said the business has a primary purpose to provide sexual recreation and cited a 2004 district court case, Hooters v. Winghouse. The judge in that case wrote: “Hooters has admitted that the Hooters Girl’s predominant function is to provide vicarious sexual recreation, to titillate, entice, and arouse male customers’ fantasies. She is the very essence of Hooters’ business.”

Finally, there is this crucial statement:

The Student Handbook, which all students agree to follow when they enroll, gives guidelines for student conduct on and off campus. ... Riley and Mark Lewis, dean of students, said they will consider how the student handbook will apply to students who choose to go to the restaurant as customers.

OK, I will ask: What is the relevant language in that handbook, when it comes to "dress codes" on and off campus? Does it address swimsuits? Clothing in the gym or weight-room facilities? Are young women who wear this kind of clothing judged by one standard, while males who, well, pay close attention to their appearance are judged by another? What does scripture say about the sins of the onlookers?

Just asking.

Once again, any reporter who works near one or more religious educational institutions needs to know how to get answers to these kinds of questions. And what if the answers are not forthcoming? Well, then that might be a job for ChurchClarity.org or others -- no matter what motives drive their research.

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