Abilene Christian Alumni Fight Back
(This letter from a reader offers an encouraging account of what alumni of one Christian college that has lost its way are doing to hold its leadership to account. By the way, I’ve seen examples of some of the social media abuse this man has taken. It’s extremely vile — but that is what the faithful with backbones are having to endure:)
I’m an alumnus of Abilene Christian University (ACU) and was the third generation in my family to attend. In case you are unfamiliar with it, the university is located in Abilene, TX, has about 4,500 students, distinguishes itself with a daily chapel requirement for all students and has historically been affiliated with churches of Christ since its founding in 1906.
In case you are unfamiliar with churches of Christ, two large churches of Christ are The Hills Church (Fort Worth, TX) pastored by Rick Atchley (ACU alum) and Oak Hills Church (San Antonio, TX) pastored by Max Lucado (ACU alum and internationally known author). These churches both have statements of faith on their websites that adhere to the historic biblical view of marriage and sexuality, among other standard biblical beliefs.
On Friday, January 26, the ACU school newspaper reported the university had hired a husband and wife to co-serve as the first chaplains in the school’s history. The couple was moving from Fort Worth, TX, where they had been affiliated with Galileo Church. I live in Fort Worth, too, and myself and several of my Fort Worth alumni friends were familiar with Galileo because it is known as an activist LGBT church. We were shocked to learn the university hired this couple from this church.
By the following Monday, the university announced the couple had decided to withdraw. Since then, we have learned some additional facts. The couple had already sold their house in Fort Worth to move to Abilene, and the university and couple entered into an agreement that are keeping both parties from talking about the hiring.
A group of alumni decided to write an Open Letter to the ACU Board as we perceived this to be a governance issue. Before we went public with it, we met with the ACU President as an act of good faith and Christian love.
We were disappointed with the result of this meeting and his response towards our two requests of ACU: 1) adopt a statement of faith that reflected the historical biblical position on marriage and sexuality, and 2) adopt a requirement that all employees annually affirm and sign said statement.
In light of the President’s meeting, we published the Open Letter here and started a group called Concerned Alumni for Truth (CATs) (ACU mascot is the Wildcats). The Open Letter provides additional facts about Galileo, but here are a few excerpts:
On its website, Galileo Church identifies as a “progressive Christian community” that identifies “justice for LGBTQ+ people” as its top listed “missional priority.” That same website features several links to statements and sermons that highlight Galileo Church’s LGBTQ+ activism:
“We adopted the Pride flag for use in worship and public appearances…; we walked in Tarrant County’s Pride parade and hosted a booth there; … we gained recognition as an open-and-affirming congregation with the GLAD Alliance of Disciples of Christ; we have a presence on Gay Christian Network and gaychurch.org; we diversified our leadership team and staff to include non-hetero people.” –Galileo Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Missional Priorities, June 2016
“When we practice this wide welcome, inviting LGBTQ+ people into full participation in the church and making safe space for people to be themselves regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, we find ourselves at odds with centuries of religious tradition and the religious people who are invested in keeping that exclusive tradition alive.” –For the Bible Tells Me So (the church, the Bible, and LGBTQ+ Inclusion), Rev. Dr. Katie Hays, Oct. 2015
“For more official ideas about where we come from and who we’re connected to, check out these links: www.disciples.org… www.gladalliance.org… www.gaychurch.org.” –Our Roots Are Showing (2017)
In addition to its “missional” priority on LGBTQ+ activism, the Galileo Church website describes the church aesthetics as “unironic super-gay,” acknowledges that the Lead Evangelist may not be “someone you want to emulate,” and warns that children may hear an “f-bomb in a sermon.” And @Galileo_church on Twitter states, “Looking for a #weddingvenue in #fortworth? Check us out here: galileochurch.org/big-red-barn… #gayweddings #lgbtweddings #wemarryanyone …”
The Open Letter presented a few facts about Galileo Church as well as the existing ACU Board Policy 4.12 which states “We believe Scripture teaches that God intends for sexual relations to be reserved for marriage between a man and woman,” but then states, “We recognize that Christians inside and outside the ACU community have different interpretations of Scripture on same-sex relationships.”
Finally, the Open Letter called on the ACU Board of Trustees to do the following:
1. Adopt a statement of faith that reflects historical Christian orthodoxy and includes, among other things, language substantially similar to the following – “We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female, reflecting the image and nature of God. We believe the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in scripture. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman, and that any form of sexual immorality is sinful and offensive to God.”
2. Adopt a requirement that all ACU Board Trustees, administration, staff, and faculty annually affirm and sign the aforementioned statement of faith.
This all went public a few days ahead of the university’s largest annual event – Sing Song weekend (2/17) which coincides with a lengthy Board meeting. After less than 48 hours, university administration officials asked us to take the site and Facebook page down. We complied in exchange for a commitment that they would communicate to the entire ACU community about the university’s position on our two questions. At the same time that we took down the site and Facebook page, an opposing group called Concerned Alumni for
Truth Tolerance launched their own Facebook page and online petition.
On the Monday afternoon after Sing Song weekend, the Board sent a letter to the editor to the school’s newspaper restating the Board’s LGBT position. We did not feel this communication was sufficient to let the entire alumni base know what was happening. Thus, we republished our letter and Facebook page and issued the following statement:
Late Monday the ACU Board of Trustees issued a statement affirming its existing LGBT policy – the same policy which allowed ACU faculty and administration to hire chaplains who are affiliated with a church that champions homosexuality, transgenderism and same sex marriage. The Board’s statement came in response to the Open Letter to the ACU Board published last week at www.acucats.com. The Board’s policy is flawed in two fundamental ways which the hiring of the chaplains exposed.
First, it states in part, “We recognize that Christians inside…the ACU community have different interpretations of Scripture on same-sex relationships.” Second, the policy also fails to include an enforcement mechanism that would allow administration officials to hold new and existing employees accountable for failure to adhere to the historic Christian view of marriage, sexuality and gender identity.
The policy does not protect truth. It misleads students and parents to expect a Christian education when, in fact, faculty may be teaching something altogether different. Regardless of one’s opinion, every member of the ACU community deserves to know that it appears ACU does not intend to enforce the historic Christian view of marriage, sexuality and gender identity. Until this position is sufficiently communicated to all students, parents and alumni, we feel an obligation to do so.
That week the ACU newspaper wrote more about the alumni groups’ responses to the Board’s letter here. The pastor of Galileo Church also submitted a letter to the editor of the ACU newspaper titled “To the dearly beloved queer people of ACU” that reads in part, “Grace to you, and peace, from God our Mother-Father and our brother-Savior Jesus.” And a student columnist for the newspaper confirmed in an article that Bible professors “quietly affirm the LGBT community in class.”
Our alumni group has received numerous anonymous comments on acucats.com calling us bigots, haters, murderers, the Ku Klux Klan, etc. Some of us have been subjected to people circulating our home addresses and cell phone numbers around on social media and contacting our employers to intimidate, harass and bully us into silence. We are simply trying to inform students, parents and alumni that ACU does not appear to intend to adhere to the biblical view of marriage and sexuality.
The leaders of our alumni group wrestled with should we engage on these matters? And we decided we had a duty to engage because Christian institutions like ACU have a diaspora of alumni, employees and students — a significant portion of which don’t want to see their institution compromise truth for the current cultural heresy. But many of these folks have such a strong sentimental attachment to the institution they love that they fall victim to the Law of Merited Impossibility. We have witnessed it firsthand in the past few weeks. Friends who believe in biblical marriage and sexuality but when presented with the facts at ACU are so shocked and surprised they claim it can’t be so and go on with their lives.
But by engaging on these matters we are awakening some. Maybe a few, maybe more. And whoever is awakened to what is happening is worth it. Maybe we can save a few institutions like ACU. More importantly, maybe we save a few people in or from institutions like ACU. And perhaps that could save a generation.