Samford University has decided not to seek formal recognition of a campus LGBT group as originally planned this past spring, but still plans to work toward the group’s goals.
The group Samford Together was given provisional recognition at the Southern Baptist school in spring 2016 and was approved by the student senate in fall 2016. A faculty senate narrowly approved the group earlier this year, and then a majority of the full faculty voted for approval in April. A final decision was up to the board of trustees.
The school intended to ask trustees this fall to grant recognition of the group, but now that won’t happen, Samford president Andrew Westmoreland said in a press release Friday.
The Alabama Baptist Convention and its mission board had strongly criticized the push for formal recognition of the group, saying the school was in danger of compromising biblical teachings on sexuality. The state convention threatened to withhold its annual financial allocation to the school if Samford trustees did not vote to deny permanent recognition of Samford Together and revoke its provisional status.
Westmoreland said Samford has voluntarily declined to accept its annual budget allocation from the state convention effective January 2018. This is the third time since 2008 that Samford has voluntarily reduced the annual funding it receives from the state convention.
“Samford recognizes that gifts from churches to the Alabama Baptist State Convention are not keeping pace with the resources required to appropriately fund the convention’s operations and ministries,” Westmoreland said. “Although Samford is immensely grateful for the financial support of the convention, which we have carefully stewarded, we are also mindful of the valuable ministries that are dependent upon funds allocated through the Alabama Baptist Convention’s annual budget.”
Westmoreland said the school depends heavily on financial contributions from alumni and others and that he is “confident of Samford’s ability to maintain financial integrity.” The amount from the state convention would have been around $3 million.
Regarding the LGBT group, the Samford press release said “the intent and purposes of the proposed student organization were widely misunderstood” and that Westmoreland will “work to accomplish each of the group’s worthy goals” even though he decided against asking for formal recognition of the group.
In a message to employees, Westmoreland said he was committed to addressing topics related to human sexuality and “other important issues at the intersection of Christian understanding and cultural reality.”
“I will involve these students and others across campus in taking essential steps to create new and ongoing opportunities for robustly engaging these and other important issues,” he said. “Our actions at Samford, irrespective of financial considerations, must demonstrate fidelity to God’s truth, abiding compassion and respect for all people, and solidarity with the timeless ideals of a strong university.”
John Thweatt, state convention president and chair of the Samford Relationship Study Group, issued a statement Friday saying that “the matter of recognition of the student organization is in the hands of the leadership of Samford University. They know our concerns about the organization as expressed in person and in print.”
Thweat continued, “In the coming days, the leaders of Alabama Baptists and Samford University hope to ascertain what areas of ministry cooperation – that do not involve Cooperative Program allocations – could be developed for the future which will honor our 175 years of ministry together.”
Supporters of Samford Together have said the group is more about providing opportunities for discussion than asking people to change beliefs based on the Bible. But critics say the group undermines biblical teachings. According to the school’s website, the group provides a forum for students who want to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity “in an open-minded and accepting environment.”
Westmoreland has said he believes in the biblical view of marriage between a man and a woman, but he refrained from taking a position when formal recognition of the group was being debated on campus.