Samford University Declines $3M From Baptist Convention After Row Over Student LGBT Group

(Photo: Facebook)Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

Samford University, a top-ranked private Christian University in Birmingham, Alabama, announced Friday that it will not accept an expected annual $3 million funding allocation from the Alabama Baptist State Convention starting Jan. 1, 2018, after a tense exchange over an LGBT student group.

A release from the university founded by Alabama Baptists in 1841 said the decision was made by the institution's board of trustees after ongoing discussions between the convention and the trustees.

"I believe the action taken by our trustees is something that both parties have been anticipating for some time and will serve the best interests of both Samford and the Alabama Baptist State Convention," Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said. "Our longstanding educational and ministry relationships with Alabama Baptists have always been more significant than money, and these relationships will continue and flourish."

Samford's president further noted that the decision to decline the funding from the Baptist State Convention was also due to a disagreement between the two organizations over an April 27 decision by Samford University's faculty to recommend the approval of a pro-LGBT student group called "Samford Together."

The group received provisional recognition from the university in 2016.

"Samford Together will provide a forum for SU students who want to discuss topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. In an open-minded and accepting environment, students will find community and opportunities to study an array of ideas and opinions on these subjects," a description on the group's website says.

"Samford Together hopes to encourage students' academic development, social consciousness, spiritual formation, and relational clarity, all within a community of peers who might share experiences, concerns, fears, difficulties, opportunities, and hopes. Samford Together is rooted in the Samford motto and core values, and its members strive to follow Christ on a path of learning and communication, knowing that the world will be better as a result of the contributions of all Samford students."

Westmoreland explained that the convention advised the university that if the trustees did not vote against the student group, then it would lose the $3 million funding allocation.

"When the proposed student organization sought official university recognition, convention leadership informed Samford that 'if the trustees decide not to deny permanent recognition and revoke its provisional status, we will not recommend any allocation for Samford University in the 2018 budget,'" Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland told university staff on Thursday, however, that there was wide misunderstanding about the intent and purpose of the student organization and that he did not intend to seek formal recognition for the proposed group from the trustees.

"I will involve these students and others across campus in taking essential steps to create new and ongoing opportunities for robustly engaging these and other important issues," he said. "Our actions at Samford, irrespective of financial considerations, must demonstrate fidelity to God's truth, abiding compassion and respect for all people, and solidarity with the timeless ideals of a strong university."

Responding to Samford's decision, State Convention President John Thweatt said: "We will bring a recommendation to the August meetings of the State Board of Missions Budget Advisory Committee, SBOM Executive Committee and SBOM Trustees to accept the decision from the Samford trustees' executive committee."

Thweatt and Rick Lance, executive director of State Board of Missions, had issued a joint statement in May expressing disappointment that Samford faculty had voted to recognize Samford Together.

"Reports are that the faculty of Samford University voted to affirm the recognition of a student group that identifies with values contrary to biblical teachings on sexuality. We are saddened by this decision, which provides recognition for an agenda that we believe to be contrary to Scripture," they said.

"We strongly believe that the Old Testament and New Testament each speak unequivocally against homosexuality. When addressing same-gender sexual relationships, the Bible without exception never affirms such behavior as an approved lifestyle."

Samford University, according to the school's website, is the 87th oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.