Gay Pride Week Strains Ties between Va. Baptists and Averett University

A week of "Gay-Pride" events hosted by the Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) at Averett University (AU) in Danville, has strained the historic relationship between the institute and its affiliated church-organization, the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV).

The Feb. 21-26 "Gay pride week", sponsored by the Gay/Straight Alliance, raised critical questions regarding the university's stance on homosexuality -- a lifestyle already clarified as unbiblical by the BGAV.

Upon hearing the news of the event, the executive committee members of the BGAV-related Virginia Baptist Mission Board (VBMB) quickly released a statement of concern.

"Virginia Baptists are clear on this issue [homosexuality]…And we will investigate and see what the proper response should be," the letter, dated March 8, read.

The dispute over the February events follows a longer-running debate over biblical authority and the interpretation of homosexuality between the two organizations.

According to the Associated Baptist Press, the VBMB withheld funds from Averett in 2003, upon reading articles by Averett professors endorsing the ordination of an openly gay Episcopal bishop and disparaging a literal interpretation of Scripture.

It was not until December 2004 that the two bodies came to an agreement regarding the funds. The VBMB decided to fund Averett in launching a series of practical church training and theological education classes for ministers and laity in Southwest Virginia with the monies originally allocated to Averett for 2003.

However, according to ABP, the gay pride week events may reopen a discussion of BGAV-Averett ties and funds.

Richard Pfau, president of Averett, said the university took no part in the planning, funding and implementation of the disputed event.

"There was no official university endorsement," said Pfau. "I learned about it on the first day by reading it in the student newspaper."

Three members from the Baptist Mission Board, including its executive director John Updike, will meet with Pfau on March 17 to discuss the matter at hand.

Among the gay pride week activities, which Pfau said to be "student run" and "not well attended or well publicized,” were forums with an attorney familiar with legal issues affecting gays. The week also provided students the chance to meet with representatives of a national advocacy group called Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Additionally, the members of the Gay/Straight Alliance asked students to sign a petition requesting Averett's administration to add sexual orientation to other categories in its non-discrimination policy, according to ABP. The number of students who have signed the petition has not yet not been identified.

According to Pfau, the “Gay/Straight Alliance students did not need to seek administrative permission to sponsor a week of activities and so are not subject to any disciplinary action.”

However, he considers reviewing the process by which student organizations receive official recognition. The current recognition process involves the organization receiving the approval of the director of student activities after it has drawn up a constitution and purpose statement and its officers have attended leadership-training events.

"It's a rather informal process," Pfau said. "It may need broader administrative involvement."

"That doesn't mean the GSA wouldn't have been approved [under a different system]," he added. "It just means we need to look again at the approval."