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Christian school administrator in Florida receives threats after media reports on LGBT school policy

'You're not going to shout us down'

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A Christian school administrator in Florida says he's received threats over media reports about a school policy that requires students to be identified by their biological sex.

Barry McKeen, an administrator for Grace Christian School, located in Valrico about 15 miles east of Tampa, announced in an email on June 6 that any students who violate the school’s stance on sexuality would “be asked to leave the school immediately.”

McKeen told The Christian Post that the email — which outlined definitions of biological sex and sexual sin with specific references to Bible verses — was sent as part of a regular series of summer emails reminding parents of school policies.

“We noticed as last year was wrapping up, some kids being more friendly with the same gender than they probably ought to be,” McKeen said. “We had a feeling we needed to clarify [the policy].”

The email read in part: “We believe that God created mankind in His image: male (man) and female (woman), sexually different but with equal dignity. Therefore, one’s biological sex must be affirmed and no attempts should be made to physically change, alter, or disagree with one’s biological gender — including, but not limited to, elective sex reassignment, transvestite, transgender, or non-binary gender fluid acts of conduct (Genesis 1:26-28). Students in school will be referred to by the gender on their birth certificate and be referenced in name in the same fashion.

“We believe that any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender identity/lifestyle, self-identification, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery and pornography are sinful in the sight of God and the church (Genesis 2:24; Leviticus 18:1-30; Romans 1:26-29; I Corinthians 5:1; I Corinthians 6:9; I Thessalonians 4:2-7),” the email added. “Students who are found participating in these lifestyles will be asked to leave the school immediately.”

McKeen told The Christian Post that the school of about 540 students has had a similar policy in place for years, and to date, no student has been excused or expelled over the policy. 

In fact, McKeen said the policy is “literally verbatim” in the handbooks of more than a dozen other Christian schools, and aside from terminology updates, the policy is the same as it was when the school started in 1975.

“I’m not suggesting on Day One it had transgender in there, but it certainly dealt with the homosexual issue,” said McKeen. “That’s why it’s been surprising for me. Because A) it’s not a new policy, and B) we weren’t forced to enforce it yet.

“Nobody was kicked out; we didn’t approach anybody,” he added.

Since that announcement and the ensuing media coverage, McKeen said there was a law enforcement presence on campus last Friday following the NBC News story. 

While there weren’t any specific threats made toward the school, McKee said two separate individuals threatened him personally, including one who said they would “burn my house down.”

Not only did Grace Christian hire additional security, but McKeen said, “we have a lot of kids at the school whose parents are in law enforcement, so they began to show up anyway.”

In response, McKeen posted a video on the school’s Facebook page to refute some of what he called erroneous reporting by NBC News and other outlets.

The NBC News story also referenced a similar policy that was enforced at another Christian school in Louisiana, claiming it was “shutting its doors” to the LGBT community.

“That’s the crazy part,” he said. “The reason I made the video is because I felt like we were painted as hateful.”

McKeen said that while he had no problem with NBC News reporting on the school’s policy, he says a quote attributed to him saying “if you’re gay, you’re going to Hell” is inaccurate.

“I know I didn’t say that because it’s not my doctrine,” he said. “What I believe is any sin will send you to Hell if you don’t know Jesus.”

McKeen, who is the administrator of Grace Christian, is also the pastor of Grace Community Church, which is on the same campus as the school.

He took over the church in 2004 from his father-in-law, whom McKeen said took “some stands for Christian schools” in order for them to operate free from state intervention.

“There wouldn't be Christian schools, honestly, if it wasn’t for him. I’m not about to stand here and cave [to political pressure],” he said.

“For me, it’s like, if we waver on this, we’re just a school, kids can go learn math anywhere,” he added. “What sets us apart is we believe these values, we’re going to stick to these values.”

He says the initial feedback on the story started out as “extremely negative,” but “as the news sources changed, so did the feedback.”

“When it was NBC and ABC and MSNBC and CNN, it was all this hate mail, hate phone calls,” said McKeen, who estimated they received thousands of phone calls, including people swearing at them on the phone.

As reporters continued calling and emailing McKeen about the policy, he said he initially resisted talking to any media on the advice of his attorney. 

But eventually, McKeen said, he felt there was something far bigger at stake.

“I told my church, ‘I have a feeling we are about to be thrust into the center of something enormous,’” he recalled. “‘I don’t know why this small little church and this small Christian school are going to be called to take this stand, but we’re going to do it and I need you to be with me,’ and of course they are.”

Overall, McKeen said, community feedback has been mostly positive: he even received thank you notes from parents following his initial email on the policy.

Grace Christian has also received an estimated $26,000 in unsolicited giving following the initial story, according to McKeen, including $5,000 from a man in Virginia with just a note saying, “Keep the faith.”

McKeen said despite all the controversy, the trans-identified student referenced in the NBC story has a sibling who still attends Grace Christian. He met with her family last week and said they’re “appalled” at their daughter’s actions.

And after what he described as a very long week, McKeen wants to encourage other Christians who are taking a public stand for their deeply-held values.

“You’re not going to shout us down,” he said. “I’m tired of Christians being trampled and shouted down and sworn at and getting scared and crawling back into a hole. 

“We have things to stand for, too.”

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