Last year, two male volleyball players at Erskine College in Due West, S.C. went public with their homosexuality. The young men's admission was welcomed by their peers and teammates, who provided an encouraging atmosphere that felt like “family.”
Now, the Christian school has released a statement opposing homosexuality. According to the school’s website, the Student Services and Athletic Committee submitted the statement, which was approved by the full board. The administration will determine how to integrate the new statement into campus culture and procedures and will add it to official manuals.
The statement comes as an effort to re-align the university’s mission with the teachings of the Bible, and guide the school in developing policies regarding the school’s stance on homosexuality.
How this decision will affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students who are currently part of the student body remains to be seen.
The announcement has already drawn attention to the small Christian liberal arts school, which has a student body of 575. Understanding the complexity and controversy of homosexuality from a religious standpoint, the school’s statement addresses concerns while still announcing its stance on homosexual behavior.
“Erskine recognizes the complexity of current issues regarding sexual morality, marriage, and other expressions of human sexuality such as same-sex attraction, gender identity, and sex outside the covenant of marriage. Therefore, the Erskine community is advised to practice humility and prayerfulness when engaging in any conversations or other actions related to these topics. Erskine’s conduct policies and procedures seek to uphold biblical standards, promote repentance and grace, and point people to Jesus Christ . . . We believe the Bible teaches that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful and therefore ultimately destructive to the parties involved. As a Christian academic community, and in light of our institutional mission, members of the Erskine community are expected to follow the teachings of scripture concerning matters of human sexuality and institutional decisions will be made in light of this position.”
Students Drew Davis and Juan Varona publicly came out as gay last year in a profile featured on Outsports.com. The two individuals – who play Division II volleyball for the school – reported that while they were worried about how their orientation would be received, they were surprised at the outpouring of support from their friends and teammates.
"I was so happy for [Drew]," Michael Shneck, a volleyball team member, told Outsports. "Just finally being himself, being who he wants to be. It was cool to hear that he's so comfortable with himself that he could tell the rest of us who he really was."
Davis said his admission helped him gain confidence and feel more comfortable with himself.
"I've never had a team so close," Davis said. "They're like brothers to me. They are so accepting, and that has really made me more confident in myself."
Davis said that at the time, the only negative reaction he received was when his roommate moved out in fear that others would think he too was gay.
The volleyball coach also questioned the negative effect it would have on the team if Varona and Davis started dating and it ended on bad terms. Both players assured the coach there was no risk of such an interaction, so the team continued to move forward.
Last year, the volleyball team won its conference and was one of six teams to advance to the NCAA tournament, according to Sports Illustrated.
Erskine College is affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which may have been pressuring the school to take a firmer stance on homosexuality on campus. Chuck Wilson, the editor of ARPTalk, accused the school of avoiding controversial topics such as sexual orientation and adultery, and questioned if the school's approach was to “look the other way.”
“The problem at Erskine is this: not only do most of the folks on the administration, staff, and faculty not know how to deal with the sins of homosexuality; they do not know how to Biblically address the other sexual sins on the Biblical sin-list,” Mr. Wilson wrote on ARPTalk.org. “Other than hypocrisy, what is accomplished by a college calling itself ‘Christian’ and not teaching and expecting Christian behavior? And therein lies the problem at Erskine. The folks at Erskine talk about Erskine being a ‘gospel enterprise’; however, talk is all they do.”
With the college’s new stance on homosexuality, Varona said he is concerned about the implications it will have on others who may be struggling with their sexual identities.
"The release of this statement makes me disappointed because I have never received anything but kind treatment from everyone at this school, and my sexual orientation is no secret. So it took me by surprise, Varona told Outsports.com. “The school took several steps back instead of progressing towards a future where everyone can be treated as an equal, which is a future most of the country is moving towards.”
Varona continued to say that he understands the complexity of addressing homosexuality from a religious angle, but said this decision may not be the best way to go about it.
"I understand the religious stand on adultery, which is part of the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and that would apply to heterosexual and homosexual people,” Varona said. “[I]t just made me sad and worried for other gay people who might be struggling with confidence to come out."