The Waco Tribune Herald

Question for journalists: Are Baylor's LGBTQ battles about politics or doctrine?

Question for journalists: Are Baylor's LGBTQ battles about politics or doctrine?

Let’s start with this question: Does the following sequence of events add up to a news story or not?

I. The world’s most prominent Baptist academic institution — Baylor University (I’m an alum) — gets involved in some heated debates about whether the campus LGBTQ group will be recognized as an official campus organization. That would (a) give it student-fee funds and (b) signal that regents consider the group’s work to be in accord with Baylor’s mission.

II. Representatives and “Baylor Family” supporters of the group Gamma Alpha Upsilon (GAY) start a petition asking the regents to affirm what previously was known as the Sexual Identity Forum.

III. Doctrinally conservative Baylor-ites respond with a petition of their own.

Here’s an interesting point to note: Only the progressive half of that online-petition equation draws coverage from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

IV. Shortly after that, the Baylor regents decline to meet with representatives of GAY. This draws more ink from the Tribune-Herald, once again with the left side of this debate receiving coverage. There is no content from those supporting Baylor’s doctrinal stance on sex and marriage (other than quotes from university policy and doctrinal statements).

V. Things got kicked up a notch, in terms of heat and public conflict, when the Rev. Dan Freemyer of the progressive Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth delivered the benediction at one of Baylor's spring graduation rites. Baylor traditionally gives this role to a Baptist clergyperson who is the parent of one of the graduates.

There’s more. Here is the top of my national “On Religion” column this week, which served as the hook for this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in): 

God is doing new things in today's world, he said, while offering blunt prayer requests on behalf of the graduates.

"God, give them the moral imagination to reject the old keys that we're trying to give them to a planet that we're poisoning by running it on fossil fuels and misplaced priorities -- a planet with too many straight, white men like me behind the steering wheel while others have been expected to sit quietly at the back of the bus," said Freemyer.

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Wait just a minute: Fading Lutherans (ELCA) in Waco sold their lovely building to Anglicans?

Wait just a minute: Fading Lutherans (ELCA) in Waco sold their lovely building to Anglicans?

I think leaders of The Waco Tribune-Herald team had an interesting religion-beat story on their hands the other day, but it appears that they may not have known that.

It's easy to see the some predictable news trends looming over the recent headline: "Dwindling congregation forces sale of 133-year-old Waco Lutheran church."

There are several valid news angles here, the first of which is that lots of fading urban churches are being squeezed by similar financial and demographic issues. You can see that in this recent story from The Nashville Tennessean that was picked up for further distribution by Religion News Service.

If you visit the core streets and neighborhoods of almost any American city you will find lots of churches -- often from the old "Seven Sisters" flocks of liberal mainline Protestantism -- sitting on what is now prime real estate for re-developers appealing to the gentrification and young singles Millennial crowds. Many of these churches now face a tornado of red statistics, with aging members, low birthrates and declining numbers of converts.

Yes, there are doctrinal issues linked to some of those issues, especially in the American heartland and Bible Belt (think Waco, Texas). However, the Tribune-Herald team isn't very interested in these issues.

Hold that thought, while we look at some summary material near the top of this report. The symbolic voice is that of 94-year-old church member Joyce Heckmann:

Through the years, there were countless Christmas celebrations, church-wide smorgasbord dinners, Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible Schools and more.
But while the years have been kind to Heckmann, they have taken their toll on the aging church building and congregation, members say. The once-vibrant church family boasted 450 members, requiring an extensive expansion project that more than doubled the size of the building in 1958.
Now, members say, they are lucky to have 40 worshipers on Sunday morning. Members recently came to the painful but practical realization that their smallish group could no longer support such a large building.
So they voted to sell the property -- Texas Historical Commission landmark medallion and all -- to Christ Church Waco, an up-and-coming Anglican congregation that has met in least 10 temporary locations since it was formed in 2009.

Now stop the train right there for a minute.

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So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

As long-time GetReligion readers know, I am a conflicted Baylor University graduate. I had great times there and rough times, as well. The later were almost all linked to attempts by student journalists, including me, to do journalism about subjects that cause tension on all campuses (think Penn State), but especially at private, religious colleges and universities.

What kinds of subjects? Well, like sexual assaults. Hold that thought.

These ties that bind have led to lots of GetReligion work because Baylor is frequently in the news. Open the search engine here, enter "Baylor" and you will find pages of material about press coverage of complicated events at my alma mater. Here's how one early post opened:

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world's largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call "Jerusalem on the Brazos." It didn't take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Or how about this language, drawn from one of my national "On Religion" columns?

Every decade or so Baylor University endures another media storm about Southern Baptists, sex and freedom of the press. Take, for example, the historic 1981 Playboy controversy. It proved that few journalists can resist a chance to use phrases such as "seminude Baylor coeds pose for Playboy." ...
I know how these Baylor dramas tend to play out, because in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which students tried to write some dangerously candid news reports. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire.

So now we have another Baylor controversy in the news, potentially a scandal, that involves sin, sex and, wait for it, college football. As you would expect, there has been coverage. But has the word "Baptist" played a significant role? This is an important question, since Baylor has plenty of critics that consider it a hive for right-wing fundamentalists, while others believe it has compromised and modernized too much.

In terms of hard news, the key story is from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

 

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So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

Trust me on this. Headline writers in the great state of Texas, and sometimes even nationwide, cannot resist themselves when it comes to juicy news stories about sex and my alma mater, Baylor University. Consider this doozy of a headline from the alternative Dallas Observer:

GAY SEX A-OK FOR MARRIED BAYLOR STUDENTS! THAT'S HOW WE SEE IT, ANYWAY

Yes, no one expects traditional, American model of the press journalism from this kind of alternative paper handed out for free to sell personals ads, as well as ads for hip nightclubs and fast-food joints. In this case, however, it's handy to read what the Observer said because its story was based, as usual, on its editors reading the mainstream media coverage in Texas and then reacting. So here is a key passage:

Sure, the wording on Baylor's new sexual misconduct policy is incredibly vague. But reading between the lines here, we're pretty sure that Baylor's Board of Regents is tacitly saying that Baylor students are now allowed to have homosexual sex. As long as they're married. And that they perform their homosexual acts in accordance with the Bible. And they understand that their sexuality is a gift from God. How about you just read the full, revised policy below?
Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.

The problem, which you know if you clicked the "misconduct policy" link in that text (here it is again, leading you to the .pdf), is that this is not the "full" text. The policy also includes an "application" statement that says, in typical lawyer language:

This policy will be interpreted by the University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963. Under no circumstances may this policy be construed to waive any of the rights granted to Baylor University under the exemption issued to the University on September 26, 1985, by the U.S. Department of Education covering certain regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 or under the religious exemption Section 702 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now what in tarnation, you can hear editors saying, is the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963?

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