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N.C. college’s faith statement defended

MONTREAT, N.C. (BP) — A North Carolina college long associated with evangelist Billy Graham has sparked controversy by instituting a requirement that faculty affirm a pro-life ethic and a traditional definition of marriage.

In January, Montreat (N.C.) College’s trustees adopted a faculty handbook, including a “community life covenant” that requires faculty, among other obligations, to:

— “Uphold the God-given worth of every human being, from conception to death, as unique image-bearers of God;” and

— “Affirm chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.”

Montreat, which has a 70-year relationship with Graham, planned to announce the new handbook publicly when it took effect July 1, college spokesman Adam Caress told Baptist Press.

Faculty and staff — who until now have not been required to affirm a covenant or statement of faith — were informed of the new requirement during a two-and-a-half-year deliberative process, and someone leaked a copy of the document to media outlets, Caress said.

Since early April, about a dozen news and op-ed articles have noted objections to the requirement of affirming the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.

Montreat resident Ina Jones Hughs wrote in an April 23 op-ed for the Ashville Citizen-Times, “What Montreat College has just done is alarming and disgusting: demanding its faculty and administration sign a pledge which, among other things, treats LGBT Christians as outside the fold and their relationships as spiritually unworthy; stands opposed to women’s reproduction choices; and declares theirs a literal interpretation of the Bible.”

An April 29 Charlotte Observer news article quoted a Montreat English professor who stated she and eight other faculty members were leaving the school because of the covenant.

Caress told BP “just two faculty members — one of our 39 full-time faculty and one of our 142 adjunct faculty — have informed the college that the core documents included in the faculty handbook are a primary factor in their decision not to return to the college next year.”

The Observer also noted allegations the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) attempted to influence Montreat’s actions with a $100,000 gift to the college’s scholarship fund. Both the college and the BGEA denied the association had any role in writing the covenant or pressing for a requirement that faculty sign it. A BGEA spokesman said “many gifts” have been received by Montreat from the Graham family and the BGEA over the years.

In the past, the Montreat trustee board has included Billy Graham’s late wife Ruth and his grandson Will Graham, according to The Observer. Billy and Ruth Graham were married in the college’s chapel in 1943.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin told BP the Wake Forest, N.C., seminary, like Montreat, is “proudly confessional, affirming no less than four confessions of faith” as well as “a covenant of conduct affirmed by all who teach here and who are students here.”

“We want our constituency and the world to know where we stand and what we believe,” Akin said in written comments. “For those who do not agree with our confession we affirm that they have every right to their beliefs and we will gladly defend their right to hold them. However, they will need to find a place to teach elsewhere. Academic freedom and free speech are not compromised by this conviction or position. No one has to agree with us. No one is compelled to teach at or attend our school either.”

The other five Southern Baptist Convention seminaries likewise require professors to sign statements of faith, including the Baptist Faith and Message.

Among other requirement of Montreat’s “community life covenant,” faculty and staff must “embrace ethnic and racial diversity as part of God’s design for humanity” and “give faithful witness to the Gospel.”

Montreat College was founded in 1916 and operated for 60 years by an association affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), according to The Observer. More than a decade ago, the college became non-denominational.