As Christian universities across the nation begin to adhere to cultural norms, NPR reports that conservative Christian colleges are becoming “increasingly entangled” in their LGBTQ policies.
Oklahoma Christian University clearly states in the 2017-2018 student handbook its non-discrimination/equal-opportunity policy in association with a Title IX exemption initiated in 2014. The student handbook also states its stance on marriage within the Oklahoma Christian Covenant.
“We strive to treat our bodies with the honor due to the temple of the Holy Spirit—honoring God’s plan that sexual relations be a part of a marriage between a man and a woman, dressing modestly and avoiding any self-destructive practices (1 Corinthians 6:19-20),” the student handbook said.
Despite the Title IX exemption and policies concerning the LGBTQ community, venues such as the Safe at Home chapel aim to create a safe space for students to discuss gender and sexuality. Chris Rosser, one of 11 chapel coordinators, suggests administering a climate survey to analyze students’ feelings on safety, discrimination and assault on campus.
“I think that for some students, the existence of Safe at Home chapel offers them a space to feel more comfortable,” Rosser said. “I think that it would be very important for us as a university to do something where we know for sure whether our students feel safe. To me, that’s one of the most important first steps.”
Sophomore Brendan McKinley recalls his initial understanding of Oklahoma Christian’s attitude regarding the LGBTQ community.
“When I got here, there was a perception—I don’t know if it was legitimate or not—that being ‘out’ on campus, that the university would take punitive measures against you,” McKinley said. “I think that stems from a lot of the fear that has arisen from Oklahoma Christian and a lot of other Christian universities getting an LGBTQ rights exemption from Title IX that is not very clear about the purpose.”
The Oklahoma Christian mission statement asserts that the “university is a higher learning community that transforms lives for Christian faith, scholarship and service.” According to Rosser, showing love to LGBTQ students aligns with the university’s Christian principles.
“I think that we would do well as a Christian university—as our mission and our purpose—to help and model for students the kind of love that looks to the fringe and positions itself to walk with people where they are,” Rosser said. “We as a university have really got to start paying attention to LGBTQ students. If for now, that is a chapel, it’s better than nothing.”
According to McKinley, the perception of the LGBTQ community has improved due to spaces such as the Safe at Home chapel. Still, McKinley believes additional improvements such as facilitating these difficult topics in “big chapel” or explicitly stating LGBTQ policy could be a step in the right direction.
Pepperdine University, another Church of Christ affiliated school, made a statement by withdrawing its Title IX exemption in 2016.
“I think it would be helpful if the university did not renew the Title IX exemption,” McKinley said. “I don’t see any tangible benefit in having it, especially if the university isn’t trying to discriminate against students who are part of the LGBTQ community.”
According to McKinley, a big part of feeling at home on a campus is the student body, and he believes that students at Oklahoma Christian do not support extreme homophobia.
“I think that if we are going to be the best versions of ourselves, empathy needs to be really close to the forefront of our moral compass,” McKinley said. “I can guarantee you that God will not be angry with you because you loved someone else. If that’s the university’s standard, then we’re going to create a much better environment for LGBTQ students, and we are going to fulfill what we are supposed to be doing as Christians.”