ATLANTA (BP)–An organization to promote the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (GLBT) agenda at Mercer University is raising eyebrows among Georgia Baptists who have begun questioning the integrity of the historically Baptist university.
The Mercer Triangle Symposium, billing itself as the university’s “GLBT Rights Student Organization,” sponsored a National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 and publicized the event in The Cluster, the campus newspaper. In addition, it published the names of 29 faculty and staff who supported the organization and its goals.
Among those showing their support were professor of Christianity Margaret Dee Bratcher and assistant professor of Christianity Janell Johnson.
According to the group’s website, the campus’ Gay-Straight Alliance meets at 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of each month in Willingham 203. The meetings occur in the building which houses the former campus chapel.
While the Triangle website was never part of Mercer’s homepage, it did link to the university’s department of women’s and gender studies and to Project Equality, identified as the “Mercer Law School GLBT Rights Organization,” as two of its three “associated organizations.” The other group identified with Triangle was the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, but there was no Internet link.
It was at the women’s and gender studies site where Bratcher, one of the 29 faculty and staff who supported the organization in the Cluster ad, was listed as “Professor of Christianity/Dean of University Commons.”
Forty-eight hours after a meeting involving Mercer President Kirby Godsey and several other administrators at the convention’s Christian Index newsjournal, the university notified the paper that the Triangle Symposium voted on Nov. 3 to close its website. One of the photos from its “National Coming Out Day” webpage stated that the organization was founded on Oct. 7, 2002.
The advertisement in the campus newspaper stated: “Walt Whitman (American poet), Virginia Woolf (British novelist and essayist), Barney Frank (House of Representatives, Mass.), Alan Turing (mathematician and pioneering computer scientist), Rudolf Nureyev (Russian dancer), and Martina Navratilova (tennis champion). These are just a few of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered (GLBT) individuals who have contributed to the arts, sciences, politics, and sports throughout history. We, the undersigned, value equally the GLBT students, faculty, and staff members at Mercer who bring their gifts to our campus and add to the richness and diversity of our intellectual community.”
National Coming Out Day (NCOD) was born out of a 1987 March on Washington when half a million people converged on the nation’s capitol to advocate homosexual activism. The Mercer Triangle Symposium website proclaimed that NCOD is designed “to raise the consciousness that GLBT people are everywhere and to remove the stigma that keeps people in the closet. Its purpose is to help GLBT’s be honest about their sexual orientation with family, friends and coworkers.”
When Mercer’s public relations department was contacted about the organization’s “Coming Out Day” on the Macon campus, there was an immediate response that resulted in Godsey, Executive Vice President Horace Fleming, Senior Vice President for University Advancement Emily Myers and senior assistant to the president Jim Bruner coming to the office of The Christian Index to discuss the situation.
Godsey explained that he regretted that the Mercer Triangle Symposium had used the term “Coming Out Day” and that an effort had been made to discourage its use. He said he understood the meeting was to encourage open dialogue about homosexuality rather than offer a venue for declaring one’s sexual preference.
The Mercer president said there probably were homosexual students at the university, but the percentage was likely no greater than that of the general population.
Godsey and his administrative staff also said they had not seen the Triangle website. He indicated that the administration purposely separates itself from Student Government Association clubs, organizations and symposiums for fear that a suppression of free expression would result in repercussions that would jeopardize the academic integrity of the Christian university.
Godsey noted that the university’s website presented an accurate portrait of the school and stated that the Mercer mission statement is the guiding principle for the institution. In a statement released to The Christian Index, he further explained, “As a Baptist institution, Mercer is guided by its mission to educate students within a climate of belief that arises from the Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. The University values the unique character of each individual and promotes a community of mutual respect. It also encourages open discussions on topics and concerns as part of the educational process.
“The Mercer Triangle Symposium is an organization recognized by the Student Government Association, and though the University does not sponsor this organization, we do respect the right of students to assemble and discuss wide-ranging social and religious issues,” Godsey wrote.
“As president of the University, I am very much aware of the views and deeply-held feelings of all of our Baptist allies, and we have sought to balance a genuine sensitivity to the viewpoints of the many Baptists who support the University while preserving a community of respect for all students and faculty.”
In his closing statement, Godsey asserted, “Holding steadfastly to the rich and noble heritage of our Baptist forbearers and the Christian values that have shaped and sustained Mercer for generations, we affirm our historic values, while including within them an unwavering devotion to the open search for truth, to religious and intellectual freedom, and to respect for the diversity of beliefs among the members of the University community.”
Godsey also mentioned that Georgia Equality, the state’s largest and most influential homosexual activist organization, planned an Oct. 20 meeting at Mercer. He canceled the event because the group was an outside organization that did not meet the criterion for having a meeting on the Mercer Campus.
When contacted about the Mercer Triangle Symposium meeting, GBC Executive Director J. Robert White said he was “deeply concerned to learn of the homosexual coming out day held at Mercer.”
“This kind of event is diametrically opposed to who we are as a convention. This creates a conflict for Georgia Baptists who send their students to Mercer as a Georgia Baptist university believing that they will be nurtured in a Christian environment, then learn that their students are invited to attend meetings of this nature on campus.
“At the very least,” White said, “on-campus meetings give the impression of approval by the administration.
White said he had received numerous e-mails and telephone calls about the event from concerned Georgia Baptists across the state.
“The thing that concerns me most deeply is the disregard for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the students by those who promoted this event and other similar activities that apparently take place with regularity on the campus,” White said. “If there was no spiritual reason whatsoever to discourage homosexuality, certainly the blight of AIDS should be adequate to surmise, ‘This is not a good thing to promote at our university.’
“Add to the physical concerns, the emotional crisis this creates for our families, to say nothing of the spiritual result of choosing to live a life of unrepentant sin, and the results can be devastating.”
White further stated, “If Mercer says, ‘There’s nothing we can do about this kind of event taking place at the university,’ or ‘Students must be free to express themselves without interference from the university,’ we still have a serious compatibility problem.”
White concluded, “I understand that a part of the university experience, whether Baptist or otherwise, is being exposed to a broad variety of thought. At the same time, I believe that Georgia Baptist parents should be able to have the confidence that their young people who attend a Georgia Baptist institution will not receive errant signals but will be taught that learning to live a life that is like Christ –- full of integrity, character and truth -– is the supreme result of higher Christian education.”
Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.christianindex.org.