A central issue in the current conversation at Baylor University regarding the rights of students to organize official LGBTQ student groups on campus is whether Baylor will live by fear or by hope.
Baylor’s strategic plan is called “Illuminate.” Numerous billboards promoting the plan throughout Waco mention light.
This leads one to believe that the university intends to approach complex situations with faith, research and an awareness of the breadth of God’s creation.
However, this messaging is not consistent with Baylor’s current approach toward LGBTQ students.
A recent petition – signed by over 3,000 Baylor students, faculty, staff and alumni – asks the university to change its position on allowing official LGBTQ student groups.
Students are asking to be allowed to process their experiences in a supportive environment and to form community in on-campus settings – opportunities that are afforded to more than 350 other groups of students.
Students who identify as LGBTQ often feel excluded or find it necessary to hide their sexual orientation, gender identity or both while at Baylor. They lack places where they can be honest about their experiences, fears, hopes and faith.
A counter petition cites multiple reasons why the university should not charter LGBTQ student organizations, and the majority of these reasons are based in fear of loss.
The authors express concern that the university would risk losing affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, lose many of the university’s donors and lose its status as a traditional Christian institution.
The authors encourage the university decision-makers and others who might sign the petition to consider what might be lost if LGBTQ students are allowed to form community on campus.
Additionally, they encourage all students who do not agree with their position simply to leave the university.
Using fear as a motivator is a useful strategy, and history demonstrates that people do make decisions based on fear.
Though fear may be an effective motivator, Baylor administrators must consider that fear-based decision-making is not compatible with their strategic plan or their faith.
Within the biblical narrative, many people similarly find themselves in defining moments, faced with difficult decisions.
When I think of fear-based action in the biblical witness, I think of the Israelites turning away from the Promised Land, a servant burying money in the sand, Peter denying Christ, and the disciples huddled in a room after Jesus’s death.
As a counter narrative, the texts also provide us with stories where people experienced fear but base their decisions on hope.
When Mary, Joseph and the shepherds encountered angels, they were afraid, but they made their decisions based on hope of a better future.
The message in the biblical narrative is to reject fear because the Kingdom of God is here.
The modern world requires complex decision-making but leaning into fear will not help Baylor reach its mission and will not be a way to proclaim the good news to all.
The courageous students who annually attempt to create an LGBTQ student organization are lighting the path ahead with their request to offer community to those who have been excluded.
Baylor needs to reject fear-based decision-making and follow the leadership of the students who are practicing the values of leadership, service and community that Baylor espouses.
Carole Meriwether has lived in Waco since she began attending Truett Seminary in 2009. She graduated with an MDiv from Truett in 2013 with an emphasis in theology. She worked for Baylor Spiritual Life from 2010 to 2017 and is a member of Calvary Baptist Church, where she was ordained as a minister in 2013.