By Landon Dickerson
BRENTWOOD — In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling to legalize homosexual marriage in all 50 states, Baptist Collegiate Ministries around Tennessee are responding.
Because homosexuality is such a large issue on college campuses now, BCMs in Tennessee are seeking out God’s desire for the next step, according to Bill Choate, BCM director for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“This is not a new challenge for those ministering on university campuses. Secular universities have long manifested the tension between university support of the rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) people and university support of the expression of religious liberty on campus,” he said.
“We have been fortunate in Tennessee that, while universities hold clear non-discrimination positions, the institutions generally continue to allow for general expressions of religious liberty, including the recognition of religious student organizations,” Choate added.
In order to reach the LGBT community, Christian students on a couple of Tennessee campuses feel that the best way to minister to them is to go to them.
“We have a small group of students that really wanted to focus their outreach to the LGBT community,” said Rodney Norvell, TBC collegiate ministry specialist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The LGBT community holds meetings every week. “Our students actually attended some of their meetings,” he said.
BCM students use the meetings as an opportunity to establish relationships. “They would say ‘Hey we are from the Baptist Student Ministry and we just want to be friends,’ ” Norvell said.
He also said that UTK’s LGBT community’s “voice is much louder than their size.” In fact, he expressed that only about 10-12 LGBT students attend these meetings regularly.
Norvell said that he wants to change the perception that gay students usually have about the Baptist church. “We wanted to knock off a few of the horns we put on them and, in turn, knock off a few of the horns that they put on us. When we don’t talk to one another, I think a lot of times our silence can breed hatred.”
Norvell was on a panel this past year for what is known as “Sex Week” at UTK. This week on the Knoxville campus is supposed to provide a healthy discussion on sex and different sexual relationships. Norvell, however, was able to serve on this panel and give Christian students a voice.
“I had some students contact me and ask me to participate. They said that they really wanted to have an evangelical perspective from somebody who can be gracious but can also state what we believe. They wanted someone to represent the Christian students’ voice.”
UTK’s BCM does not approach LGBT students telling them to change their lifestyles; rather they try to establish relationships.
“We try to say, ‘Despite what media may tell you, we don’t hate you and we would like to be your friend’ and many have welcomed that and have been thankful for our response,” Norvell said. UTK’s BCM will continue this ministry in the coming semesters.
Thom Thornton, TBC collegiate ministry specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, takes a slightly different approach. He believes that, while this is an important matter, his goal and focus is still the same. “As a BCM director, I meet students all the time that are dealing with difficult issues: same-sex attraction, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, premarital sex, and a myriad of other issues,” he said.
Thornton believes that, as far as spirituality goes, nothing has changed for him. “I am neither concerned nor threatened by the decision of the Supreme Court. My mission, the mission of the BCM, and the mission of the church are exactly the same today as they were before June 26,” he said.
Thornton continued to say that without Jesus first, people would not have any reason to change from their lifestyle. “People will only choose biblical sexual purity within the context of a personal relationship with Christ. I fully expect those who have never received the life-changing forgiveness of Christ to act as the world acts,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to show grace, mercy, and forgiveness and then to point people to the transformational work of the gospel,” he said.
Thornton said that their main outreach is “through mature Christian students meeting and developing friendships with members of the LGBT community.
“We have students that have done joint Bible studies with the LGBT community on campus. We have very open dialogue with them and all of this is because we understand that this is all very relational,” he said.
“We are called to share the Good News of Christ with those who are lost and to disciple believers to maturity in Him. The same God who was in control last week is in control today, tomorrow, and forever,” Thornton said.
Choate observed that “the gospel is so urgent that we can’t wait for a culture that is supportive.
“The challenge is to build bridges to all people who need to know Jesus. That must and can be done in a winsome way, without compromising our integrity.”
TBC Executive Director Randy C. Davis noted that because Tennessee Baptists “are giving through the Cooperative Program, it enables us to have people like Tom and Rodney on the front lines on our campuses, addressing cultural issues with biblical truth.”