The president of a Christian university in Nashville responded to outcry over the departure of a lesbian coach.
Bob Fisher, president of Belmont University, refused to address the specific case of Lisa Howe, the school's former women's soccer coach, but stressed on Wednesday that sexual orientation is not considered in employment and student admission decisions.
"The Belmont family, like any large family, comprises a rich and diverse mix of people. Within our student community there are many gay and lesbian students as well as gay and lesbian faculty and staff," he said in a statement Wednesday.
"In the ten years that I have served as Belmont's president, sexual orientation has not been considered in making hiring, promotion, salary, or dismissal decisions," he underscored. "I need for you to hear that clearly-sexual orientation is not considered in making hiring, promotion, salary, or dismissal decisions at Belmont."
Howe, who left her position on Dec. 2, welcomed Fisher's comments.
She said on Thursday that she hopes Fisher's statement sets an example for schools across the country, as reported by The Associated Press.
Since her departure, Belmont students have been pushing for gay rights, demanding that college officials change its policy regarding homosexuality. They allege that Howe was forced to resign after she acknowledged that her same-sex partner was pregnant with their first child.
Howe stated in a Monday letter, "I was a good student athlete recruiter, had an organized and professionally run program, and was one of Belmont's best employees. None of that changed when I acknowledged that I am a lesbian and that my partner and I are expecting a baby."
She continued, "I am proud of who I am and my family and our future, and I want every person – no matter what race, religion, nationality or sexuality they represent – to feel the same way."
Since Howe's letter and plight was made public, students have organized a letter-writing campaign and staged a three-hour protest Wednesday,
They have urged the Nashville university to make changes allowing for freedom of sexual orientation and to rehire Howe.
Their pleas reflect the attitude of the younger generation toward gays. Public Religion Research found in 2008 that young white evangelicals are 2.5 times more likely than older evangelicals to say gay couples should be allowed to marry.
More broadly, Thom Rainer of LifeWay Research and his son, Jess, compiled data which shows that most Americans born between 1980 and 1991 (Millennials) are OK with same-sex marriage.
When asked in a survey "How much would you agree or disagree with the statement: I see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married," 40 percent of Millennials agreed strongly; 21 percent agreed somewhat; 15 percent disagreed somewhat; and 24 percent disagreed strongly.
The Rainers published this data in a book entitled, The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation. The book was released for sale on Amazon Thursday.
Rainer said it is important to know what young adults think about these issues. "It will be a critical issue for churches – soon to be led by Millennials – to establish their biblical positions on the issue of same-sex relationships," he stated.
Rainer say the church must take a strong stance on homosexuality in order attract young believers.
"If it is to find relevance with Millennials, the church must be willing to deal directly with the issue of same-sex attraction and relationships," said Rainer. "The church must voice a clear, biblical ethic of sexuality."
In the case of Howe, Fisher maintained in a press conference that the university did not fire the coach based on her sexuality. Rather, he said, it was a "mutual" decision for Howe to resign.
The faculty senate passed a resolution earlier this week, calling for dialogue on the university's policy on gay faculty and staff.
Belmont was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention until 2007. According to the university's website, the school maintains that it is a "Christian community" that espouses Christian values. Faculty administrators and staff are to "uphold Jesus as the Christ and the measure of all things," according to the site.