A Christian School’s Big Decision: Allow an LGBTQ Group or Receive $3 Million? July 21, 2017

A Christian School’s Big Decision: Allow an LGBTQ Group or Receive $3 Million?

***Update***: After speaking with Brit Blalock, the Founder & Director of SAFE Samford, an off-campus group that promotes LGBT equality, I need to update this post with two main clarifications:

1) The school was already divesting itself from the Alabama Baptist Convention money. This coming year was likely to be the final year of donations from them anyway, but the school moved the timeline up a bit. So while they may be out a proposed $3 million this year, they’re not out $3 million per year in perpetuity.

2) While my understanding was that the school’s President had supported the LGBT group in question, it appears that even after saying no to the ABC donation, he nixed the LGBT group’s provisional status anyway. That leaves them with no course of action to pursue university approval. If they wanted to achieve that status, they will now have to start from scratch, rename the group, fill out new paperwork, etc. Considering that it took two years to get to this point, it’s unlikely they’ll be eager to do it again.

Samford University is a private Christian school affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention. Lots of Jesus all around. But the faculty made a smart decision this past April when they voted in support of Samford Together, a group dedicated to discussing “topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity” in an “open-minded and accepting environment.” The next step was to go to the school’s board of trustees for a vote of approval to become a school-sanctioned group. I’m told the school’s President Andrew Westmoreland even voiced his strong support of the group when the faculty voted.


It’s really not as controversial as it sounds. Even (evangelical) Wheaton College in Illinois had something similar. And many Christians — even the ones who oppose marriage equality — will tell you there’s nothing wrong with discussing these topics. Like the Catholic Church, they’ll also say it’s fine to be gay as long as you never ever act on it. That’s the belief on campus, anyway. Samford’s student handbook (on page 78) even says “homosexual intercourse” could result in a $500 fine.


(Having straight unmarried sex could also lead to that fine, but what else do you expect from a Christian school?)

Still, good for the faculty for not running away from the LGBTQ group!

That hint of endorsement, however, upset the people running the Alabama Baptist Convention so much that they vowed to stop giving the school its yearly contribution of more than $3 million if they allowed the LGBTQ group to exist in any formal way. As I say in the update, this money train was likely going to stop in the near future anyway, but we’re still talking about a lot of one-time money.

Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) President John Thweatt and Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions executive director Rick Lance said they were “saddened” by the faculty’s vote, “which provides recognition of an agenda that we believe to be contrary to Scripture.” Thweatt is pastor of First Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala.

“In the days to come,” Thweatt and Lance said in an April 27 statement, “Alabama Baptist leaders will be in dialogue with the leadership of Samford as to the serious implications this action has for the relationship between Samford University and the Alabama Baptist State Convention. We request your prayers as this situation is handled in a biblically correct way.”

The school’s budget is roughly $166 million a year, so $3 million is less than 2% of its funding… but it’s not nothing either.

Here’s the good news: Samford’s President Andrew Westmoreland said earlier this month that they would just plan next year’s budget assuming they would receive no money from the churches. (Update: This was likely already going to happen!) He was siding with the students over the donors.

“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,” said Samford President Andrew Westmoreland. “Our longstanding educational and ministry relationships with Alabama Baptists have always been more significant than money, and these relationships will continue and flourish.”

Sounds incredible. Westmoreland’s statement wasn’t all good, though. He didn’t want to give Samford Together permanent status as a recognized student group (with all the perks that come with it). In fact, he later nixed the group’s application, denying them even provisional status. Blalock notes it’s the only time he’s done that after the faculty voted in support of a student organization. In that YouTube video from earlier this month, he says “I’ve also recognized that the group itself have become such a polarizing matter within the Samford community that it will be better to have the conversations without extending official recognition.”

Westmoreland now says he’ll “work to accomplish each of the group’s worthy goals”… whatever that means. He didn’t elaborate.

So while the headlines are all about how Samford chose its LGBTQ students and allies over a giant pile of cash — and how great is that?! — it’s not like the school is thrilled with the group. And now the school has killed off the group. While members can still meet in private, they will receive no perks from the school itself.

Considering all the ways Christians have hurt LGBTQ people over the years, I’d call that a tiny victory even if the support of the group is no longer really there.

It’s also a reminder of just how bigoted some church groups are. The Alabama Baptist Convention created a horrible situation for the school even though Samford holds bigoted views about homosexuality. Christians always talk about “loving the sinner” when it comes to LGBTQ people. Well, the Alabama Baptist Convention made it clear that even doing that wouldn’t be acceptable if the school wanted the cash. It just shows you how devoid of substance their morality really is.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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