Azusa Pacific University Reinstates Ban on LGBT Student Relationships

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)The Richard and Vivian Felix Event Center at Azusa Pacific University.

Azusa Pacific University's Board of Trustees has reinstated a ban on LGBT relationships. The decision comes one week after the Christian university had announced that it was going to lift its ban on same-sex relationships among students.

In a statement on Friday, the board said officials never got approval to remove language from the student standards of conduct that prohibited same-sex relationships. The board also said they were standing firm in their convictions and will never "capitulate to outside pressures, be they legal, political, or social."

"Last week, reports circulated about a change to the undergraduate student standards of conduct. That action concerning romanticized relationships was never approved by the board and the original wording has been reinstated," the APU Board of Trustees said its statement posted on the university's website.

"We pledge to boldly uphold biblical values and not waver in our Christ-centered mission," the board added. "We will examine how we live up to these high ideals and enact measures that prevent us from swaying from that sure footing."

In response to the board's decision, Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said: "This is good news for Azusa. There will be tough days ahead as they still have students who support homosexual relationships and who will be disappointed by this news. Nevertheless, the trustees made the right decision. Let's hope and pray they stick to it."

The student newspaper Zu Media reported on Sept. 18 that officials at the university had decided to lift its ban on romantic relationships for LGBT students starting this fall following dialogue between students and the administration, and years of efforts to that end.

LGBT activists had long called for the change, and held a vigil in November 2017 for a former employee who sued the university for wrongful demotion, claiming he was harassed and assaulted by colleagues who believed he was gay.

Erin Green, co-executive director of Brave Commons, a group that aims to support LGBT students at Christian universities, and a recent APU alumni, described the reversal as a betrayal.

Green said in a Facebook post on Saturday that for more than a year she and other students spent hours participating in discussions with university administrators to remove the policy banning romantic relationships among same-sex students.

"We poured our hearts out, were vulnerable and relived our trauma telling our stories, telling stories of previous students who were damaged or hurt in some way by the institution, which had action taken against them for being gay or being in a same-sex relationship," she said an interview with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

"They looked us in the eye and said this policy is harmful, it's discriminatory, it's stigmatizing and we're going to get rid of it," she said. "And we trusted them."

In her Facebook post, Green, whose major at APU was in biblical studies and is now in graduate school at San Francisco Theological Seminary, said the policy change "wasn't to give a green light or go ahead for folks who identify with the LGBT community to run free and wild and do whatever they want on campus. ...

"It actually just gave us a bigger safety net and removed stigmatization toward our community," she added, asserting that LGBT students are "often falsely identified by the conservative Christian community as a sub-human group." Ones who are "inherently involved in illicit sexual activity," which she fervently said is "false."

When APU administrators initially announced the policy change, they said that despite allowing LGBT relationships they would still support "biblical principles of human sexuality," and the belief that "sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman."

Similarly, Bill Fiala, associate dean of students at APU, had described the code of conduct change as still being "in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution. The language changed, but the spirit didn't. Our spirit is still a conservative, evangelical perspective on human sexuality."

Chelsen Vicari, who serves as the evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., said the board of trustees should be "applaud[ed] for their commitment to biblical values and reaffirmation of traditional Christian sexual ethics."

"One suspects the university garnered an outpouring of pressure and frustration from alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff. And in the same vein as the 2014 World Vision debacle, a swift reversal was enacted," Vicari added. 

It's not known whether the university will continue plans for a new pilot program —announced at the same time as the student standards of conduct policy change â€” to provide "a safe space for LGBTQ+ students on campus."