The missions board of the Alabama Baptist Convention has formed a committee to work with Samford University in the wake of the faculty voting to give official recognition to an LGBT student group.
Samford is a Southern Baptist school in suburban Birmingham. Final approval of the LGBT group is up to the school’s board of trustees. The board is not expected to formally consider the matter until fall.
Called Samford Together, the group provides a forum for students who want to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity “in an open-minded and accepting environment,” according to the school’s website.
Some supporters of the group say it is more about discussion than advocacy. But leaders of the Alabama Baptist Convention and its missions board say they are worried about the group promoting ideas that go against Scripture.
At a May 12 missions board meeting, convention president John Thweatt presented an open letter to Alabama Baptists saying the convention wants to maintain a good relationship with Samford but also expects the school to hold to biblical teachings.
“We care deeply about Samford University and its future. We care about its leadership, trustees, faculty and students,” the letter said. “We also believe in the full authority of the Word of God and Alabama Baptists have been consistently clear in affirming the Bible’s clear teachings on matters related to gender, sexuality and marriage. We have every right and reason to expect our ministry partners and historic Alabama Baptist institutions to do the same.”
Samford Together was given provisional recognition in spring 2016 and was approved by the student senate in fall 2016. A faculty senate narrowly approved the group earlier this year. A majority of the full faculty voted for approval last month.
Thomas Littleton, a Southern Baptist evangelist who lives in Birmingham, told The Tennessee Star that LGBT activists are working hard to pressure Christians into abandoning biblical teachings about gender and sexuality. Younger people especially are eager “to prove they are not hateful or on the wrong side of history,” he said.
By drawing parallels between LGBT “rights” and the African-American civil rights movement of decades ago, LGBT activists have played on people’s fears of being seen as bigoted, Littleton said, adding that it’s a tactic that has worked across age groups.
“This approach has a lot of weight in Birmingham given its real civil rights struggle history,” Littleton said.
In 2015, Samford student Ike Lambert wrote a column for the school newspaper in which he advocated for a school-sanctioned LGBT group and drew comparisons with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“We may have been one of the last schools to integrate in 1972, but we should not be one of the last schools to show our LGBT peers that they truly are welcomed here at Samford,” Lambert wrote.
Last month, rising Samford junior Lucy Kate Green wrote on Facebook about those who identify as LGBT in the same way that someone might write about people from a remote village in a developing country.
“Jesus did not fear the world, and He did not turn away his back to it. He was not fearful of people whose lives were nontraditional,” wrote Green, who was elected junior class president for the coming year. “My desire for Samford’s relationship with ST is that you all will see an opportunity. You will see this as an opportunity to get to know someone vastly different from you, with a different story, possibly some different beliefs, and very different adversities.”
Samford president Andrew Westmoreland has tried to remain neutral by not taking a position on Samford Together even though he said before the faculty vote that he personally believes in the biblical definition of marriage.
“A clearer path for a different institution with a different president might be to take a less nuanced approach, lining up either fully in favor of more recent views of human sexuality or in favor of a campus that is closed to the exchange of viewpoints and ideas, but that approach does not reflect who I am, so I would be incapable of leading in either of those directions,” Westmoreland said.
Littleton, the Southern Baptist evangelist, said Christians who want to see biblical standards upheld should pray and become better informed about LGBT tactics and the “heavily-funded activist think tanks.”
“We can only stand firm if we intend to be on God’s side of history,” he said. “Giving up any ground now simply takes Christians to the next front to be conquered.”