Erskine College in Due West, S.C., describes itself as a “liberal arts” institution, but as far as that freedom applies to the hearts and minds of its students, it seems limited. In response to two male athletes on its volleyball team coming out in an article published on OutSports.com last year, the college, which is aligned with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian tradition, released a strongly worded denouncement of homosexuality on campus that many read to be a behavioral ban. The document, titled “Statement on Human Sexuality,” was submitted by the Student Services and Athletic Committee and adopted by the board of trustees last Friday. It reads:
“We believe the Bible teaches that monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intended design for humanity and that sexual intimacy has its proper place only within the context of marriage.
“Sexual relations outside of marriage or between persons of the same sex are spoken of in scripture as sin and contrary to the will of the Creator (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-11).
“Therefore, the Erskine community is advised to practice humility and prayerfulness when engaging in any conversations or other actions related to these topics. Erskine’s conduct policies and procedures seek to uphold biblical standards, promote repentance and grace, and point people to Jesus Christ.
“As a Christian academic community, and in light of our institutional mission, members of the Erskine community are expected to follow the teachings of scripture concerning matters of human sexuality and institutional decision will be made in light of this position.”
The statement will now be added to the school’s official manuals and used to further make procedural rulings, according to an article posted to Erskine’s official Web site on Thursday.
It is unclear how the newly adopted statement will affect student life going forward; however, Erskine said in a followup statement on Friday that the new language “does not ‘ban’ any individual or class of individuals from attending Erskine.” It will, however, make students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), including Juan Varona, who along with Drew Davis, was one of the two volleyball players who came out last year, feel unwelcome and disappointed.
“The release of this statement makes me disappointed because I have never received anything but kind treatment from everyone at this school, and my sexual orientation is no secret. So it took me by surprise,” Varona said via OutSports.com.
“I understand the religious stand on adultery, which is part of the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and that would apply to heterosexual and homosexual people. But when I saw the mention of sexual orientation being an issue, it just made me sad and worried for other gay people who might be struggling with confidence to come out,” he added.
Reaction from those outside the college has been mostly negative, as well, with many taking to Twitter to denounce what they see as a step in the wrong direction in a state that has already legalized gay marriage.
Erskine’s official statements may seem shocking in the context of modern America, but it is hardly imaginative. Such “positions” on homosexuality already exist on several other conservative Christian college campuses in the United States, including Baylor University. WNBA star Brittney Griner, who recently got engaged to fellow WNBA star Glory Johnson, attended the private Baptist institution from 2009 to 2013 and recalls how the policy affected her.
“When I was at Baylor, I wasn’t fully happy because I couldn’t be all the way out,” Griner told ESPN’s Kate Fagan in 2013.
The policy against homosexuality on the Waco, Tex., campus is so strict that, according to ESPN’s profile of Griner, “within her first few weeks at Baylor, Griner was asked by a school official to delete a tweet to an ex-girlfriend. Soon enough, she found herself living in a glass closet.”
Like Griner, however, students of every sexual orientation were and likely continue to be upset by the policy. In 2013, the Student Senate passed the Sexual Misconduct Policy Non-Discrimination Act, which demanded “homosexual acts” in the current policy be replaced by the phrase “nonmarital consensual deviate sexual intercourse,” the Waco Tribune reports. The bill was eventually vetoed by the university’s student body president at the time, however.
In some parts of the country, college accreditation boards are demanding conservative Christian colleges revise what they believe to be discriminatory policies and positions. The New England Associations of Schools and Colleges, for example, instructed Gordon College, a Christian institution in Wenham, Mass., to review its official stance on homosexuality last September, the Boston Business Journal reports. The board gave Gordon’s administration a year to provide justification for “what the commission sees is a policy that may be inconsistent with the commission’s standards,” NEASC’s president Barbara Brittingham told the Business Journal.
This article was updated with a new statement from Erskine College administrators.