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TN Baptist exec affirms Belmont decision

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention is expressing support for Belmont University following the departure of a lesbian coach whose exit has sparked a nationwide debate.

Randy Davis, in his first year as TBC executive director, made the comments even though the state convention and Belmont reached a settlement in 2007 severing ties following a 50-plus-year relationship. While Belmont is no longer Baptist, its mission statement describes it as a “Christian community.” It is a private university in Nashville.

“Our relationship is broader than merely a denominational relationship,” Davis told Baptist Press. “I would be applauding them if they were affiliated with another denomination because of the stand they’ve taken.”

Neither Belmont nor former women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe have disclosed the specific reason she is no longer with the program, although she left soon after she told her players that her lesbian partner was pregnant. In a Dec. 6 statement, though, Howe seemed to imply that her sexuality was an issue, saying that her dedication to the program and school did not change “when I acknowledged that I am a lesbian and that my partner and I are expecting a baby.”

Belmont’s non-discrimination policy does not mention “sexual orientation,” a term that includes homosexuality.

“Belmont, Dr. [Bob] Fisher [the university president] and the administration have shown great courage in acting from the perspective of a biblical worldview,” Davis said. “Their detractors have been reacting from a very unbiblical worldview. Belmont has respected their Christian mission as well as their heritage.”

But Belmont has had few other public supporters. Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr asserted in a column that Belmont cannot have an emphasis on diversity and “turn around and fire people for being gay.” SportsIllustrated.com columnist Jeff Pearlman said Belmont had made the “U.S. News and World Report annual BEST AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES TO ATTEND IF YOU HAVE NO TOLERANCE OF ANYONE list.”

Meanwhile, Mike Curb, who is the president of a record company and who gave $10 million toward the construction of Belmont’s arena, told The Tennessean that the university should change its policy on homosexuality and rehire Howe. Curb, a trustee emeritus, called Howe’s departure an “injustice.”

“I will do everything I can to try to get the Board of Trustees to reconsider their position based on the fact that this is a basic civil rights issue,” Curb wrote in an online statement.

Curb told The Tennessean, “Belmont has to decide whether they want to be a national recognized university — particularly with their school of music business — or they want to be a church.”

The Belmont faculty senate also has gotten involved, passing a resolution saying, according to the Belmont Vision newspaper, that the “sexual identity of individuals should not impact that person’s standing on campus.”

Marty Dickens, the chairman of Belmont’s board of trustees, told The Tennessean, “We do adhere to our values as Christ-centered, and we don’t want to make apologies for that.

“We expect people to commit themselves to high moral and ethical standards within a Christian context,” Dickens said. “That includes members of the board, faculty and administration.”

In the past, Belmont has denied official recognition to a homosexual student group called the Bridge Builders.

Davis, the Tennessee Baptist exec, said the outside pressure on Belmont could just as easily be on another Christian school in a similar situation.

“Sure it could,” he said. “This is a private institution. They should be able to set their own direction.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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