Shorter’s new leadership has taken a stance that lips that touch those of the same gender or speak positively of such will never be allowed on The Hill as faculty/staff. This has caused a pro/con uproar within the Shorter alumni community and a mass exodus of faculty from the Georgia Baptist Convention controlled institution.
Berry is similarly a private and locally founded institution of higher learning, also openly Christian in outlook and also with a liberal-arts emphasis. Both have been wondrously successful, are of roughly equal student-body size, and important members of the overall Greater Rome community. While there has long been an intense sports rivalry between them — now rapidly vanishing because of recent choices involving different approaches and emphasis regarding athletics — there never really has been a philosophical chasm between them.
That just changed, although likely not deliberately. After long introspection and years of internal controversy, Berry has officially taken what might be described as a “live and let live” approach to what are known as LGBTQ issues (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer). It has officially recognized LISTEN, Berry’s LGBTQ awareness group, as a student organization and made it plain that the college “will embrace the tension of controversial issues as a means to educate our campus community.”
HOWEVER, for Greater Rome itself where the recent Shorter decision still stings many, while others chant its praises, a very clear line has now been drawn in the sociological and lifestyle sands. Probably in the sciences as well, as Shorter is now of Creationist bent while Berry, with its very strong “green” orientation is plainly likely to be viewed as more Darwinian in outlook. But that is another matter, more based in the classroom than the matters most divisive, which are about human interaction and relationships.
As Berry President Stephen R. Briggs put it:
“As a nation, America is faced with many complex and controversial issues on which we have become increasingly polarized. We must find a way to engage in more constructive dialogue and problem solving on these issues, and that begins with a willingness to examine carefully and honestly our own foundational assumptions and arguments as well as those with whom we disagree. This willingness to reason critically and to understand truly the perspective of another is at the heart of a liberal arts education. Therefore, let us work to make this kind of dialogue a defining element of our campus culture, especially for matters on which we disagree sharply, and let us promote this approach as the way forward for our nation as well.”
It should be considered noteworthy that this approach does not come out in favor of the lifestyle or born-that-way inclinations involved whereas the Shorter shift from earlier comparative silence involved a declaration of total opposition. Berry “embraces,” Shorter shuns. That’s about as plain as it can get.
THIS SHOULD not be seen as some sort of declaration of war but it does involve a marked difference in approach to such topics particularly in light of the recent controversy, as well as Greater Rome’s location in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
It is also noteworthy, that Berry’s official statement of position also included a second initiative strengthening the culture and study of Christianity including plans for a book club to study Christian literature and a pre-seminary society for students interested in Christian vocations.
Also interesting in the context of this same issue recently boiling over on the national scene is that, in the same week, Chick-fil-A, as a company, officially announced that it treats “every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. … We are a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality; our intent is not to engage in political or social debates.”
It further made it plain that “If someone in Chick-fil-A offers a personal viewpoint, they do not presume to speak for everyone.” That’s a clear reference to Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer, having made comments in news interviews siding with traditional marriage activists that resulted in a national hubbub involving both chicken-sandwich purchases in support, boycotts and demonstrations against the chain and, perhaps most telling, some public officials in locations where the chain hopes to expand vowing to deny it business/building permits.
THE COMPANY’S non-profit WinShape Foundation, which numbers among its many objectives the strengthening of marriage, is headquartered on the Berry campus. To what extent, if any, avoiding political/social debates might apply to it remains unclear. Most nonprofits after all — churches for example — involve themselves in social issues. In any case, the Chick-fil-A stance doesn’t mean the owners of the privately held company cannot as individuals support their viewpoints with their salaries/profits in exactly the same manner and amounts.
Berry and Chick-fil-A are wise to thus define and clarify their positions. Both also presume no specific outcome nor require strapping on armor and swinging swords. “Live and let live” and allowing such things to work out in a free society is … well, it is the American way of doing things, messy though it sometimes can become and unique as its appearance originally was as a governing principle. That way depends on no person or group telling others to do or not do something. Your freedom of choice depends on everyone else’s identical freedom of choice about where to go to college, what fast food to eat.
The Shorter stance, sort of “my way or the highway,” rarely has triumphed for very long in history even as its presence continues to pose problems — and military as well as religious conflicts worldwide. It is that attitude and not the university’s new intention of mingling preaching with teaching that is at the core of the adverse reactions it has recently triggered.
AS FOR GAY marriage — this newspaper has long supported it and other personal choices that do no physical harm and should not really concern others. Just don’t tell us that we have to participate. Similarly, the freedom to go to any church depends on a matching freedom not to go to any church at all. And so forth.
Why does that continue to be so difficult for some to understand?