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Homosexual advocate’s address clouds BSU work in controversy

PORTALES, N.M. (BP)–A speaking engagement by evangelical-turned- homosexual Mel White at Eastern New Mexico University has sparked controversy among area Baptists.
White, who was invited to Eastern New Mexico University by several campus organizations, including a gay-lesbian group, for an evening address April 17, served for more than 30 years in the evangelical community as a pastor, seminary professor, best-selling author, prize-winning filmmaker and ghostwriter to such well-known leaders as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, W.A. Criswell and Oliver North — until 1993 when he publicly professed his homosexuality and was installed as dean of Cathedral of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas, described as the nation’s largest homosexual church.
White’s visit has proven controversial for Glenn McCoy, chairman of ENMU’s department of religion, and the BSU campus ministry he directs.
McCoy, a professor at the university since 1971, said he was asked by a faculty member to allow White to speak in McCoy’s New Testament class, which usually is held at the BSU.
“This was not a function of the BSU nor was it held in the Baptist Student Center nor did we contribute any money to bring him to the campus,” McCoy said in an interview with the Baptist New Mexican newsjournal April 20. White also spoke to an English class the same afternoon before his main evening speaking engagement.
When White’s schedule was listed in newspapers, pastor Tom Rush of First Baptist Church in Clovis called McCoy to ask if in fact White was speaking at the BSU and why. Rush told the Baptist New Mexican in a telephone interview April 28 he also asked McCoy if he could attend the class. McCoy told Rush the class was open to anyone and assured him an opportunity discussing the issue.
Rush said he then called Dean Turvaville, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church near Portales. Turvaville is Eastern Baptist Association’s moderator and Rush is the vice moderator.
Turvaville told the Baptist New Mexican April 28 in a telephone interview he also called McCoy to ask about the class and then called the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s executive director, Claude Cone.
The convention pays McCoy’s salary as BSU director and religion professor at the university. McCoy also receives stipends from ENMU to teach two philosophy classes.
Turvaville said he told Cone, “I don’t feel we ought to have this at the BSU building. It implies we’re endorsing it.”
Cone agreed, calling BCNM Director of Student Ministries W.A. Bradshaw, who called McCoy that evening, the day before the class. McCoy immediately began making arrangements to move the class off BSU property to the university library nearby.
McCoy also called several Baptist pastors, inviting them to attend. The next day, class attendance, which normally runs 20, doubled. Turvaville said at least a dozen were Baptist pastors.
McCoy said he had envisioned a question-and-answer period but White wasn’t interested in fielding queries from the visiting pastors. Rush said McCoy had to “break in” White’s “lecture” to give the students and guests an opportunity for questions. White refused to answer any of the pastors’ questions about the biblical perspective of homosexuality, Rush said.
McCoy said he sees one of his roles as helping students, in a controlled environment, to deal with issues they face “in the classrooms and in dorms” every day.
In an article published by the Amarillo Daily News the day after the class, McCoy said, “This took place in an academic setting, a classroom, which is a setting where students are taught to hear and evaluate things for themselves. … That’s the nature of education. … The purpose of this was for understanding, not for persuasion.”
McCoy told the Baptist New Mexican that in a class prior to White’s presentation, McCoy told his students about White and the viewpoint he would be presenting, that they were not required to attend and that the purpose of the presentation was not to persuade them to adopt White’s views.
In a prepared statement April 30, McCoy said, “In 34 years of campus ministry and Bible teaching, I have attempted to prepare Christian young people for life in the real world. The real world is not ideal. We have to face some things that we would rather were not there. But to close our eyes to the presence of these things will not make them go away. … I have felt that it was better to permit students to face controversial topics in an atmosphere of support and guidance than it would be to face the same issues in an atmosphere of confrontation and helplessness.”
McCoy continued: “I believe God’s intention for human sexuality has always been, is now and ever shall be, one man and one woman living together in a marital relationship, or singles living a celibate lifestyle. … Is it appropriate for homosexuals who claim to be Christians to maintain a homosexual lifestyle? No, it is not.”
McCoy noted Rush had asked for the opportunity to present the biblical perspective on homosexuality to the class, which Rush did April 29. The next day McCoy told the Baptist New Mexican, “It went very well. Tom did a good presentation, and the students were quite receptive to it.” McCoy said he discussed the two presentations in class May 1.
But continuing front-page newspaper coverage in area newspapers after White’s presentation had already fanned concern among area Baptists.
Turvaville and other Baptist pastors met with a religion editor for Freedom Newspapers, owner of the Clovis and Portales papers, for an article that appeared in The Portales News-Tribune April 27.
Billy Capps, pastor of Ranchvale Baptist Church, Clovis, told the newspaper, “I had some church members ask, ‘Does this mean Southern Baptists are condoning this by having him speak at the BSU?’ … If it hadn’t been associated with the BSU, we wouldn’t have been so involved, but we would have been concerned.”
Bob Brown, pastor of Texico’s First Baptist Church and the association’s BSU representative, said, “The newspaper account left the impression we were uninvited guests. He (White) implied we were off-base by being there. We were not out to interrupt the meeting or put Dr. White down for his beliefs. We have an admonition from the Lord to contend for the faith. To have not done anything when given the opportunity would not be right. We don’t want to be hateful or ugly.”
The article also quoted Brown as saying, “It would be our stance that Dr. White’s position was heresy. … It would be our stance that we didn’t want our students exposed to it.”
Rush told the Baptist New Mexican that despite the fact the class was moved to the library, “Because it was Dr. McCoy’s class, it still appears we are condoning Dr. White.”
McCoy said not all of the pastors who visited the class April 17 had been critical of allowing White to speak.
Turvaville told the Baptist New Mexican the timing of the controversy is unfortunate. The Monday before the announcement of White’s address to the BSU class, Eastern Baptist Association leaders had met to consider cuts to the current budget.
According to Bradshaw, contributions from local associations help fund BSU programs, while money from the state convention is used for salaries, facilities and some programs.
Turvaville explained the budget proposal to messengers at last fall’s annual meeting included a reduction in BSU funding from $600 per month to $200. When the association rejected the cut, Turvaville said, the churches were told they were going to have to increase their gifts in order to support the larger budget.
That increase of giving has not materialized, Turvaville continued, and Eastern’s BSU is one of several line items that could be reduced.
“I’m wholeheartedly for that ministry. … But there has to be the money there,” Turvaville said.
Because of the controversy, Turvaville said several pastors are questioning continued funding of the BSU.
Turvaville also said he believes McCoy should have declined to give White a platform to promote his beliefs.
Bradshaw met with Eastern Baptist Association leaders April 29 concerning the controversy. After the meeting, he and McCoy issued a statement to the Baptist New Mexican: “We regret that Dr. White’s appearance at Eastern New Mexico University and his address to the New Testament class was a divisive issue. We apologize to all who were offended in the process. However, issues of morality will continue to arise. Our desire will always be to defend our position on moral issues in open dialogue.”

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  • John Loudat