Azusa Pacific University

Same-sex dating on evangelical campus: Are there two sides of this hot-button story?

Same-sex dating on evangelical campus: Are there two sides of this hot-button story?

Thirty years ago, I asked a gay theologian in Denver a blunt question, while we were thinking out loud about the distant possibility that gay marriage would become a reality.

The question: Did he know anyone in the gay theological world — this man was well connected — who thought that gay women and men should remain virgins until taking vows and forming a monogamous, lifelong relationship with a partner?

After laughing out loud, he said, “No.” The debates, he said, would be about the meaning of the word “monogamous”? Few gay men, in particular, would accept what he called the “twin rocking chairs into the future” approach to absolute sexual fidelity.

About 15 years ago, I asked another gay activist if LGBTQ people lobbying for change in Christian higher education had considered attacking a very specific fault line: If Christian college leaders asked students to promise not to have sex outside of marriage, what would be the doctrinal grounds for banning gay dating?

He said: That’s a very interesting point. That’s going to be an issue someday.

Put those two questions together and you get the tensions on the campus of Azusa Pacific University, where administrators briefly approved a policy stating that gay romance — short of intercourse — was as welcome on the campus as straight. The trustees quickly nixed that revolutionary change.

During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I talked about the APU furor, focusing on a particularly lousy, one-sided news report on the subject that ran in The Los Angeles Times — a newspaper once known for its quality religion-news work.

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Azusa Pacific, doctrine and sex, again: Los Angeles Times acts as cheerleader for one side

Azusa Pacific, doctrine and sex, again: Los Angeles Times acts as cheerleader for one side

After 15 years of work here at GetReligion, it’s easy to describe the question that I hear more than any other when I get into discussions with readers of the blog.

The question: Do you ever get frustrated having to write posts about the same issues in mainstream news, over and over, criticizing the same errors — noting the same holes, the same biases, the same “religion ghosts”?

The answer: Yes, it’s frustrating. However, when we see problems over and over, that means we have to write about them. The repetition shows that the problem is real and is not going away.

That brings me to a new Los Angeles Times story about the ongoing LGBTQ debates at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical college in greater LA. Our own Julia Duin wrote about some of the early coverage in post the other day. Please check that out.

The new Times piece is the same song, all over again. Frankly, this is one of the most slanted stories I have seen in a mainstream publication in a long time. So here we go — again.

The liberal evangelical side of this equation is covered in depth, as it should be. But if you are looking for student voices, faculty voices, trustee voices on the traditional side of this doctrinal debate, you need to look somewhere else. Let’s walk through the overture of the piece.

On a recent fall day, a group of protesters gathered in a university courtyard, many holding rainbow flags. About 100 students and faculty members were fighting for LGBTQ rights on campus.

With a crowd this size, it might have been possible to get a specific figure. However, let me note that APU has about 5,600 students.

This does not mean that a small crowd of this kind is not important. It takes guts to protest your own school when it is a private school that, when you enrolled, you were told upfront the doctrinal standards that would frame campus life. We are talking about a voluntary association, a private school that no one has to attend. People choose to study there, work there, teach there.

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Azusa Pacific's shift on LGBTQ issues gets a round of boos from most media

Azusa Pacific's shift on LGBTQ issues gets a round of boos from most media

For the past month, we at GetReligion have been following a story at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical institution about 25 miles east of Los Angeles at the base of the San Gabriel mountains.

A few weeks ago, the school’s administration lifted its ban on same-sex dating relationships, saying that LGBT students could be romantically involved on campus. (However, they were expected not to be having sex; a stricture that heterosexual students were also expected to observe). This caused much rejoicing among gay students and their allies and it was an unusual step for a conservative Protestant college, to say the least.

Then the school’s trustees stepped in and reversed that decision. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which has had the most complete coverage thus far, picks it up here:

Azusa Pacific University students linked arms and prayed for one another Monday in response to the university board’s decision to reinstate a ban on LGBTQ relationships late last week.

Two hundred students gathered in front of the Richard and Vivian Felix Event Center on Monday morning in support of LGBTQ students who may have been hurting as a result of the reinstatement of the ban. A clause banning same-sex relationships had been removed from the student code of conduct by administrators at the start of the semester but reinstated on Friday…

In time for the Aug. 27 start of the fall semester and following months of discussions between students and university leaders, Azusa Pacific had removed a section from its student conduct policy that outlawed LGBTQ relationships on campus. The altered language referenced a standing ban on pre-marital sex but dropped any mention to orientation.

When the APU student newspaper published an article on Sept. 18 about the move, the 119-year-old university received some kudos but significantly more criticism, especially from Christian media outlets and pundits.

At this point, the newspaper links to (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President) Al Mohler’s Twitter feed.

Headlines claimed the university had “caved,” “surrendered” and was “Losing ‘God First.’”

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Los Angeles Times: Christians finding totally cool new ways to learn Hollywood stuff!

Los Angeles Times: Christians finding totally cool new ways to learn Hollywood stuff!

Let's say you wanted to write a newspaper piece about a big, complex topic, maybe something like Christians trying to find doorways into work in Hollywood. There are two responsible ways to do this kind of news story.

You could take a comprehensive approach and attempt to update the status of the full story, backing up several decades and demonstrating that this is not a new story. You would contact the key players, old and new, and go for a real update on the big picture.

Second, you could do a modest piece that looks at a new institution that is getting into this field, a new school or a new professional program that claims to have a fresh approach. Then you briefly -- three to four paragraphs or so -- mention that there are a host of other people who have been doing this work for (that word again) decades. Perhaps you ask the veterans to critique the current state of this work and evaluate this newcomer in their home turf.

But here is what you do not do, especially if you are writing the The Los Angeles Times, for heaven's sake, which is supposed to "get" Hollywood. You do not write a shallow, barely researched piece about a newcomer on the block and then proceed to ignore all of the professionals who have been working in this field (one more time) for decades.

Alas, this third option is precisely what the Times offered the other day, under this snippy headline: "Selling Stardom: A Christian path to Hollywood."

The story focuses on a program called "Actors, Models & Talent for Christ," which grew out of a talent-search company in Atlanta. Readers are told that it jumped into this new line of work when "owner Carey Lewis became a religious Christian." Here is what passes for the thesis and summary material in this story:

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