Another Christian college faces backlash for student-athlete policy on LGBT issues

LeTourneau University, a small college in Longview, Tex., has become the latest Christian school to face criticism over how it governs the behavior of its LGBT students. In a student-athlete handbook policy reported and excerpted by OutSports, the school prohibits several “sexually immoral or immodest” behaviors, including “same-sex dating behaviors and public advocacy for the position that sex outside of a biblically-defined marriage is morally acceptable.”

Here is the school’s student-athlete policy on sexually immoral conduct, from a handbook accessed at the college’s student athletics site:

Sexually immoral or immodest conduct or the promotion of such, outside of marriage.

These include activities such as (but not limited to): sexually graphic text messaging, chatting, or video conferencing; fornication; sexual promiscuity; and adultery – whether they are heterosexual or homosexual in nature. Cohabitation (sharing a room, apartment, or home) with a member of the opposite gender is included in this prohibition.

Based on biblical standards, we believe that God has created the institution of marriage to be between one man and one woman, and only within this institution does God bless intimate sexual expression; all other intimate sexual expression outside of marriage is considered immoral behavior. Consistent with our desire to celebrate and model a Scriptural approach to sexuality, the University prohibits same-sex dating behaviors and public advocacy for the position that sex outside of a biblically-defined marriage is morally acceptable.

The policy goes on to say that any student “concerned about their experiences with sexual temptation, participation, or addiction – either heterosexual or homosexual in nature – may proactively seek assistance from the Office of Student Life or our counselors without fear of disciplinary action.”

LeTourneau is a nondenominational Christian school. Its athletes compete in Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The same policy also appears in the student handbook that applies to all students at the university.

The school’s stance on same-sex dating and advocacy “has always been our policy,” LeTourneau University spokeswoman Janet Ragland said in an emailed statement to the Washington Post, but the language as written in the student handbook was “clarified” in 2012. No students have been disciplined under the policy prohibiting same-sex dating and advocacy, Ragland said.

The policy is gaining attention now in the middle of a larger conversation about how — and why — some Christian colleges address and limit LGBT behavior among students, including its student athletes.

Erskine College, a Christian university in South Carolina, condemned same-sex relationships as sinful, a year after two members of the school’s men’s volleyball team came out as gay. Erskine emphasized that its statement was not a policy banning LGBT behavior. However, it left many LGBT students there wondering whether the school’s stance meant they were no longer welcome at their own college.

Erskine senior Caitlin Bullock, who is dating another female student at the college, told the New York Times that she did not feel “widely accepted” at home and had previously seen Erskine as a place where she could “be open and talk about it.” Bullock told the Times she was “taken aback” by the school’s statement on homosexuality. “Maybe I can’t go up to people and talk about it. I thought everybody was O.K. with it,” she told the newspaper. “It makes you think twice about who you’re telling what to.” It is also unclear what effect the school’s statement could have on the college’s hiring policies.

OutSports wrote that LeTourneau’s policy banning same-sex dating and LGBT advocacy among its student athletes “runs against the spirit of the First Amendment.” The blog has previously argued that the NCAA should ban colleges with student athletes competing in its tournaments from “discriminating against LGBT community members in any way,” including by asking students and coaches at Christian colleges to sign “lifestyle contracts” that condemn LGBT dating.

In a statement issued to local news outlets, including CBS affiliate KYTX, LeTourneau pushed back on the idea that such a policy should be controversial at all, given the school’s Christian mission. “Our overall policy has always reflected who we are as a private Christian university,” the statement reads. “That’s not new.”

The university, the statement continues, “is very clear in the student and student-athlete handbooks about our Christian mission and faith statement and our behavioral expectations, and all students and student-athletes are provided with the handbooks and are expected to abide by the code of conduct outlined in them.”

World Magazine made a similar argument in a piece about Erskine, a liberal arts college associated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Paraphrasing the response of a spokesman for the school, the evangelical magazine said that Erskine “didn’t feel the need to adopt a belief statement about issues of sexuality that were never questioned 50 or 60 years ago. … But in today’s pluralistic society, the board decided it needed to have some clarity on the issue of how the Erskine community would address issues that have occupied so much of the national conversation.”

Both Erskine and LeTourneau are member universities of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which represents 181 Christian universities around the world. In a statement to The Washington Post, the CCCU said that its institutions “take a holistic approach” to educating its students. “Students willingly choose to join these communities and subscribe to a set of values consistent with the religious beliefs of the institution, not only in theory but also in practice.”

The statement continues, “Their willing commitment to practice self-restraint in sexual activity as well as to practice Christian virtues of community, respect, and kindness creates a character-forming environment where actions and beliefs are integrated.”