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State of the University Address By President Duffett

On August 22nd, Dr. Duffett addressed the faculty and staff at the Fall Gathering concerning the letter he signed (as mentioned in the article “Duffett and Brigham Weigh In On LGBT Conversation”). The text that follows here is a transcript of Duffett’s address.

Before we move ahead I want to attend to some past business. Some today may not be aware that earlier this summer I, along with over a hundred faith community leaders, signed a letter to President Obama seeking explicit religious freedom language regarding his proposed executive order concerning federal contractors and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The letter requested similar language for religious groups as in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VII.

Christian universities as well as other faith traditions have always enjoyed constitutional– i.e., the separation of church and state–to pursue our mission consistent with ones understanding of faith and values and to hire people that align with that faith and those values. This we believe is essential to do the mission God has called us to do.

I signed the letter in the midst of great cultural upheaval on human sexuality and religious freedom. As a Christian university, we, not the government should arrive at our own perspectives on human sexuality. For almost all Christian universities our understanding of human sexuality is shaped, in part, via biblical and theological reflection. The political arena cannot and is not the place for theological and biblical deliberation or intrusion into this conversation.

This was my intent-strongly advocating religious freedom for all religious groups including Eastern University–but the impact of my signing this letter had a quite different affect.

Some were deeply hurt that I insensitively signed such a letter. Some divined my signature as an omen of the future. Eastern University is changing its culture and moving to the right – gays, transgenders and lesbians today, who or what tomorrow? Some understood the intent of why I signed the letter, and thought it was important that I did, but did not like the company Eastern keeps among the signatories
Well, what do I have to say to these things?

I want you to know, not only that I have heard your concerns and pain but I have sought out many of you for conversation. Not only do I feel your pain but am sorrowful that I caused it. Where do we go from here?

First, let me reaffirm that Eastern University today is the same as you have always known – a university committed to the Christian faith, reason and justice with a wide berth and swath of compassion and understanding. This school identifies itself as and is committed to progressive evangelicalism. Nothing has changed.

I have put in writing and say again here that we will not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Part of what it means to be Christian community is that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are welcome as part of this community.

I sense a need among us for sensitive, communal conversation about our common human sexuality. How shall we converse about our human sexuality? What shall we converse about? How shall we live together in a confessional Christian university with certain behavioral expectations about human sexuality? To this end, faculty moderator Dr. Walt Huddell and I, with faculty senate concurrence, will appoint a task force chaired by Dr. Chris Hall and former Dean Dr. Betsy Morgan. They will work out a plan for conversation among us. The presence of God is with us as we address these tough issues with differing opinions that provoke strong emotions. There is no need for fear because as scripture says; “perfect love casts out fear.”(I John 4:18). God is big enough and Eastern University resilient enough to handle this conversation—and handle it well.

Last, at my inauguration as president of Eastern University in April, I laid out what I called a meta-vision for Christian higher education. The purpose of a Christian university is to increase, because of all of our educational endeavors, our love for God and each other within our community and in the world. Given the last month or two, if we could, somehow, register love among us like a dip stick in our car’s oil pan, I wonder if we are a quart low. I may be partly responsible for some of this loss of love, inadvertently, yet for this I ask your forgiveness.

Could it be that how we handle this conversation and our relationships with each other is a test or mirror to us as individuals and community of how Christian we really are? My hope is that such a conversation will not only restore the lost quart but, perhaps, we may experience refreshing gallons of God’s love in respectful and loving conversations we have with each other.

Pray for me as your leader…pray for the healing of hurt…pray for Eastern University.

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