Baylor University, one of the nation’s most prominent Christian colleges, has dropped a phrase from its student policy on sexual misconduct that specifically forbade “homosexual acts.” Although the revised code does not appear to alter the school’s policy barring same-sex relationships, the change comes as many Christian colleges grapple with how to define their standards for student conduct.
In addition to removing a reference to “homosexual acts,” the school’s board of regents also agreed to drop several other references to specific sexual acts that the school forbids: “Misuses of God’s gift will be understood to include, but not be limited to, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication and homosexual acts,” the old policy read, according to the Waco Tribune, which first reported the change.
Here’s what the new sexual misconduct policy says:
Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.
In a document outlining how the school will apply the new policy, Baylor says that it will “be interpreted by the Baptist University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963,” a reference to a doctrinal document from the Southern Baptist Convention. That document, among other things, defines marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
Lori Fogleman, Baylor’s assistant vice president for media communications, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post on Monday that the changes “were made because we didn’t believe the language reflected Baylor’s caring community.” The new policy went into effect in May of this year.
A handful of Christian colleges have faced criticism for their sexual misconduct policies in recent months, particularly those that apply to the school’s student athletes. In May, LeTourneau University’s policy came under fire for banning “same-sex dating behaviors and public advocacy for the position that sex outside of a biblically-defined marriage is morally acceptable.”
And Erskine College, a Christian school in South Carolina, condemned same-sex relationships as a sin after two student athletes came out as gay. In that case, students at the college were worried that the administration’s stance would make LGBT students there feel ostracized or unwelcome.
Meanwhile, two Christian colleges – Hope College and Belmont – have announced in the wake of the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states that they will provide same-sex couples benefits for their employees. Hope College will continue to support its 2011 policy statement on same-sex couples, Christianity Today noted, which calls for a “a life of chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.”
To many outside of the Baylor community, the change — which likely does not mean that the university is ready to condone same-sex relationships or marriages — might seem insubstantial. But it actually follows a years-long debate on the campus about how the school discusses its Christian values. At the center of that debate has been whether the old policy unfairly singled out homosexual behavior, and not whether the school should change its stance on the issue itself.
Basketball player and alum Brittney Griner criticized the school’s policy in 2014, writing in her book In My Skin that she would “love to be an ambassador for Baylor, to show my school pride, but it’s hard to do that — it’s hard to stand up and say, ‘Baylor is the best!’ — when the administration has a written policy against homosexuality.”
“I’ve spent too much of my life being made to feel like there’s something wrong with me. And no matter how much support I felt as a basketball player at Baylor, it still doesn’t erase all the pain I felt there,” she added, according to an excerpt published in USA Today.
Griner game out as gay in 2013, the same year that the school’s student senate voted to replace the old policy with one that banned “non-marital consensual deviate sexual intercourse.” Here’s how one student described the motivation behind that change, according to USA Today:
“It is not saying that Baylor is OK with homosexuality, or that students will all of a sudden be more welcoming,” Sophomore Jailyn Parnell told The Lariat. “It is saying that we are not going to pinpoint homosexuals. It is saying that homosexual acts are wrong but heterosexual acts committed outside of marriage are also wrong. It is making it more equal.”
The senate vote was eventually vetoed by the student president at the time. Fogleman noted to the Tribune that the current policy change was developed independently of the student government’s actions.
“We are pleased with the recent changes to the policy language and that it states more plainly the expectations of the university,” Fogleman said to The Post.
[this post has been updated]