A top-ranked Christian university said it will not accept an anticipated annual $3 million funding allocation from the Alabama Baptist State Convention starting next year, following a disagreement over an LGBT student group.
Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, said in a press release that the decision was made by its board of trustees after “ongoing dialogue” with the convention. The premier nationally ranked private university was founded by Alabama Baptists in 1841.
“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,” Samford University’s president Andrew Westmoreland said in a statement. “Our longstanding educational and ministry relationships with Alabama Baptists have always been more significant than money, and these relationships will continue and flourish.”
Westmoreland acknowledged that the decision to decline the funding from the convention was also due to “recent tensions” between the two organizations over an April 27 vote by Stamford University’s faculty to recommend the approval of a proposed student group called “Samford Together,” which aimed to provide a forum for students to discuss topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The student group had received provisional recognition from Samford University in 2016.
Alabama Baptist State Convention warned Samford University that if its trustees did not vote against the student group, then it would lose all funding allocation.
“When the proposed student organization sought official university recognition, convention leadership informed Samford that ‘if the [Samford] trustees decide not to deny permanent recognition and revoke its provisional status, we will not recommend any allocation for Samford University in the 2018 budget,'” the university stated in the press release Friday.
John Thweatt, president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, issued a joint statement in May expressing disappointment that Samford University faculty had voted to recognized the pro-LGBT student group.
“Reports are that the faculty of Samford University voted to affirm the recognition of a student group that identifies with values contrary to biblical teachings on sexuality. We are saddened by this decision, which provides recognition for an agenda that we believe to be contrary to Scripture,” Threat and Lance said in the joint statement. “We strongly believe that the Old Testament and New Testament each speak unequivocally against homosexuality. When addressing same-gender sexual relationships, the Bible without exception never affirms such behavior as an approved lifestyle.”
Westmoreland told university staff on Thursday that the intent and purposes of the prosed student organization were “widely misunderstood” and that he did not intend to seek formal recognition from the trustees, even prior to receiving the warning from convention leaders. But in his message to employees, Westmoreland said he still aimed to address topics related to human sexuality and “other important issues at the intersection of Christian understanding and cultural reality.”
“I will involve these students and others across campus in taking essential steps to create new and ongoing opportunities for robustly engaging these and other important issues,” he said. “Our actions at Samford, irrespective of financial considerations, must demonstrate fidelity to God’s truth, abiding compassion and respect for all people, and solidarity with the timeless ideals of a strong university.”
Westmoreland noted that the university’s financial strength depends heavily on generous contributions and that Samford’s board of trustees and administrative leadership will be working with convention leaders “to provide for thoughtful and harmonious agreement upon principles and practices that will ensure effective cooperation throughout the years ahead.”
“We acknowledge that reducing reliance on financial support from the Alabama Baptist State Convention will require careful stewardship of the university’s resources, but I am confident of Samford’s ability to maintain financial integrity,” he said.
(H/T The Christian Post)