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Duffett and Brigham Weigh in on LGBT Conversation

Eastern’s campus is buzzing with the voices of students, faculty and staff, not to mention posts on social media from alumni, parents and various student groups. This stems from the semester’s hot topic: Dr. Duffett signed a letter on June 25th asking President Barack Obama to exempt religious institutions from a non-discriminatory policy (ENDA) specifically referring to the LGBTQ community.

Eastern’s community of students, faculty, staff and alumni are seeking clarity in a complex situation. Dr. Duffett and Bettie Ann Brigham were willing to sit down and have an honest discussion about the letter, its meaning and future plans.

Dr. Duffett is making efforts to address the LGBTQ issue.Communications Office | The Waltonian

Dr. Duffett is making efforts to address the LGBTQ issue.

Before Duffett addressed the reason behind his signature, he contextualized the situation, explaining the political atmosphere that led him to endorse the letter’s contents. He said, “If the focus is on the letter, it misses, I think, the larger issues of what was happening . . . we don’t get the whole thing.” Prior to Duffett’s endorsement of the letter, the political environment surrounding religious institutions was in flux. According to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga court cases, the atmosphere surrounding religious liberties was contentious. Duffett says of the political atmosphere before the letter, “What we were having was a significant explosion of the whole issue of religious freedom . . . We couldn’t seem to find religious accommodation that fits a number of evangelicals, doesn’t fit religious corporations, and doesn’t fit with the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), of which Eastern is connected to through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, decided to proactively compose and send President Obama a letter regarding his hope to regulate institutions’ hiring processes within the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The letter says, “We ask that you include explicit religious freedom protections in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors.” The council requests federal legal protection for religious organizations’ hiring processes through the religious freedom under the Civil Rights Act. Duffett’s stated reason for signing the IRFA letter was on the grounds of religious freedom.

Responding to the outcry on the LGBTQ alumni-support Facebook page, OneEastern, to his signing of the letter, Duffett stated that the university’s position has not changed. He wrote, “We will not discriminate against students or employees based on sexual orientation.” He cited religious freedom as the reason for the endorsement: “One of the most significant theological tenets of the Baptist movement is the separation of Church and State. This means no government has the right to determine theological views and practices of religious institutions.”

In Eastern’s faculty handbook, an adequate cause for the “termination of tenure and employment” is “conduct detrimental to the well-being of the University: including but not limited to sexual harassment, moral turpitude (such as fornication, adultery, homosexual conduct, etc.)” (81-82). Duffett and Brigham noted that the university has a specific code of conduct that is directly linked to morally sexual practices. Also, as the above conduct statement implies, these moral sexual practices are between heterosexual, and not homosexual, partners. However, when hiring an individual, Brigham says, “We don’t ask the question. We hire the best person for the job, no matter what. This person agrees to the code of conduct that is in the handbook, however.”

Brigham added, “We are as even-handed as we can in the hiring process and in student life.” Both Brigham and Duffett were adamant about Eastern’s non-discriminatory policy in the student handbook (Title IX), among Eastern’s faculty and staff, and throughout the larger student body. Brigham stated, “We don’t address orientation; we address behavior.” Along with Eastern’s other community conduct standards (no alcohol, visitation policy, no smoking, etc.), no one seeks out students who are breaking these standards; it is only when it is discovered that these rules are broken that Eastern punishes students. Some individuals that question Duffett’s signing of the letter asked why Eastern doesn’t reject federal funding so it is not bound by government policy. Both Brigham and Duffett made it clear that students receive federal funding, and not the university, and removing this aid would only hurt students.

Duffett affirms that continuing conversations are necessary, stating that there are three potential stages in place: plan, conversation, and community. There will be a task force to decide Eastern’s larger plan for continuing discussion on the topic of gender and sexuality on campus. Guided conversation will follow the building of the plan, and as a result, the university’s community will be involved and affected. Duffett said, “There are no promises with this though. We’re not asking people to change their views, but we’re a Christian institution.” The plan is for these actions to be guided by Christ for the betterment of Eastern’s faculty, staff, students and alumni.

On August 22nd, Dr. Duffett addressed the faculty and staff at the Fall Gathering concerning the letter he signed. The full transcript of Duffett’s address can be found here.

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