WACO, Texas (ABP) — A moderate Baptist seminary has revoked a student's scholarship — purportedly because he is gay — and the student and gay-rights groups are calling “foul.”
In late December, officials at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Texas sent Matt Bass a letter saying his scholarship was being revoked.
“Your statements that you are living a homosexual lifestyle and that you are accepting of and can affirm or advocate a homosexual lifestyle for yourself and others is inconsistent with our purpose,” wrote Paul Powell, the seminary's dean, in the letter.
Powell, who refused to discuss most specifics of Bass' case with an ABP reporter, said the school would not revoke a student's scholarship if he or she admitted they were gay in orientation, but would if they engaged in “homosexual acts.”
“A person may have a tendency or a bent toward that, but they don't have to practice it,” Powell said. “It's like alcoholism — some people might have a predisposition toward alcoholism, but they don't have to drink; they don't have to become a drunk.”
Powell also claimed that students would not be denied scholarships simply because they openly supported gay rights or gay marriage. “We don't dismiss people for their opinion; it's for their lifestyle.”
But Bass said he believes his orientation and his support for gay rights were the only reasons Truett cut his funds.
The letter informing him that his scholarship had been revoked came, said Bass, after Truett officials questioned him about his sexuality and his views on gay-rights issues in November. The questioning was the result of Bass' having been “outed” to seminary administrators by a staff minister from a church he formerly attended.
During the November meeting with seminary administrators, Bass refused to answer questions about his sexuality. “I believe the questions had a malicious intent — and that's why I refused to answer,” he told ABP. “I would never lie about this to anybody.”
Bass also said he didn't use the term “homosexual lifestyle” to describe the life he leads to any Baylor or church officials.
“It's a phrase I would never use,” Bass said, because it “mischaracterizes the whole issue.” Bass said he believes the term is loaded and used by anti-gay Christians to connote a whole host of behaviors — such as sexual promiscuity or drug use — that he neither practices nor supports.
Although Bass has acknowledged his homosexuality to others, he said Baylor officials didn't ask him if he was a “practicing homosexual.”
Bass did answer administrators' questions about his support for gay rights and gay marriage. “I made it clear to them that it was an issue of theology, and that I'm basically being discriminated against for my theology,” he said.
Bass said the seminary's administration — and that of the larger Baylor campus — does not allow true academic freedom on the topic. “This environment fears talking about these issues. When you debate these issues, which I've done, they hold it against you,” he said. He cited an incident from two years ago in Baylor's undergraduate social-work school, where an openly gay student was not allowed to speak to a class.
Powell, however, said Truett allows free discussion of all issues of biblical interpretation. “We want our students to be free to discuss and debate and to understand clearly what God is saying,” he said. But he added that homosexuality was plainly condemned in Scripture. “It's not up for debate with me. I mean, you can talk about it, but the issue's settled,” Powell said. “The Bible consistently says [homosexuality] is wrong.”
But Bass said that was an inconsistent form of biblical interpretation, and that other Christian scholars mount biblical arguments in support of some gay relationships.
“If they wanted to apply a consistent hermeneutic, they would shoot me when they found out I was gay,” Bass joked, referring to passages from the Old Testament book of Leviticus that call for the execution of homosexuals. “I honestly believe [my view] to be the more biblical understanding of sin — that sin is what breaks fellowship with God,” Bass said. “In none of this have I been sinful.”
But Powell said he also had a fiduciary obligation to revoke the scholarship, which was funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baylor. The BGCT has denounced homosexuality through resolutions passed at annual meetings.
“Not only are we committed to Scripture; we also have to administer money,” Powell said. “What we were doing is consistent with the convictions and beliefs of the people who gave the money.”
But Bass said he did not violate the scholarships' written requirements. “The scholarships that were revoked don't make a single statement about [sexuality]. They say that I need to lead a 'Christian lifestyle' — which is clearly an ambiguous phrase, too,” he asserted.
Baylor spokesman Larry Brumley said Baylor's student handbook includes a policy barring sexual misconduct. He also released a prepared statement that said Baylor embraces ” celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and woman as the biblical norm.”
However, Brumley declined to say if administrators ever investigated heterosexual students suspected of pre-marital sexual activity.
Several gay-rights groups have taken up Bass's case. Randall Ellis, executive director of the Austin-based Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said his organization would begin attempts to convince Baylor students, faculty, administrators and regents to end policies that discriminate against gay students or gay-friendly employees or student organizations. In addition, an unofficial gay students' group at Baylor has protested the action.