By Bob Allen
While one Baptist college in Tennessee defended inviting a lesbian to speak on campus, another in Indiana with little fanfare recently elected a president who is openly gay.
Franklin College, a small liberal-arts college in “voluntary association” with the American Baptist Churches USA, announced Jan. 23 the selection of American University administrator Thomas Minar as the school’s 16th president effective July 1.
Minar, vice president of development and alumni relations at Methodist-affiliated American University in Washington, is the first Franklin College president who is openly gay. He is married to Dr. Frank Becker, an academic physician at Northwestern University and director of pulmonary and critical care at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Chicago.
In recent days American Baptist College, a historically black school in Nashville, Tenn., attracted media attention when a group of conservative pastors protested the inclusion at an upcoming lecture series on campus of a lesbian minister who is legally married to her partner.
Meanwhile, Minar’s election at the 1,000-student college established by Baptists in 1834 has so far attracted little attention in churches affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana/Kentucky, one of 34 regional bodies in the United States and Puerto Rico that cooperate with the American Baptist Churches USA.
Soozi Whitten Ford, executive minister of the 300-church body, says the region has deep historical ties to Franklin College. Founded in 1833 as the Indiana Baptist Convention, the region’s first mission endeavor was the establishment of Franklin College the following year.
The region and college have no formal ties, she said, because in American Baptist structure associations with colleges are housed with American Baptist Home Mission Societies, American Baptists’ national ministry arm based in King of Prussia, Pa.
Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, said in a statement he does not know Minar personally but based on what he has read and heard commended Franklin College trustees for their choice.
“It troubles me that some representatives of the church are prepared to intimidate the board of trustees of Franklin College for its decision to call Dr. Minar to this role,” he said. “I am concerned about my fellow Christians who may be intent on harassing President Minar because of his sexual orientation.”
In a recent Q&A interview with the Indianapolis Star, Minar acknowledged he is part of a pioneering class of gay professionals in public life but said he intends to build his legacy on institutional accomplishments.
“Quickly, gay and lesbian folk are finding more and more environments in which our sexual orientation doesn’t have to label us,” he said.
His selection, however, he added, does say something about the school and what is happening in America.
“It says that some labels just don’t matter at Franklin College and that the Franklin community is committed to being inclusive and diverse,” Miner said. “In a broader sense, it says something about the power of inclusion everywhere. Diversity strengthens community and strengthens decision-making.”
Ford said while the Indiana/Kentucky region has no formal relationship with Franklin College, the two have enjoyed a friendly relationship. “The college has been very gracious in allowing various groups to use their facilities free of charge, as their schedule allows,” she said.
For many years American Baptist leaders in Indiana served as trustees, faculty members and even presidents at Franklin College, Ford said, but to her knowledge no one serving on the current board is a member of an American Baptist church.
Wright-Riggins said he thinks a “more appropriate biblical response” than protesting Minar’s selection as a college president would be to applaud his lifelong monogamous relationship with his partner.
“The collapse of the institution of lifelong covenantal marriage in the United States is the greatest sexual and familial issue of ethics in our time, and it is this issue that should attract our moral scrutiny, not the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian people,” Wright-Riggins said.
“I would hope that as Baptists, champions of several fragile freedoms, we would respect the autonomy of our various institutions and manifestations of church,” he said. “While I think it is fair to critique and question each other ‘in love’ with regard to biblical fidelity, I will ever resist any and all efforts to usurp the right of any people to wrestle with and adopt the mandates of Scripture according to their own soul liberty as they engage in community with the Holy Spirit in their midst.”