California Senate bill, SB 1146, that seeks to regulate the way LGBT students are treated at faith-based colleges, recently passed after months of amendments and ongoing conversations between faith-based universities and the legislators in the state of California. The bill will go into effect at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
The regulations first stated in the bill were presumed to be a threat to Christian colleges’ freedom of religion. According to a Biola University news update, “If passed as is, this bill would strip California’s faith-based colleges and universities of their religious liberty to educate students according to their faith convictions.”
After a group of presidents of California’s faith-based institutions met with Senator Ricardo Lara, the bill’s proponent, to propose that amendments were made to the current bill, the tone of the conversation changed.
Chip Pollard, President of John Brown University and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, said that the conversations cleared up some misconceptions about how Christian colleges operate.
“I think the main thing is that they [presidents] just educated the legislators about the nature of Christian colleges and the public value that the Christian colleges were giving to the state,” Pollard said.
Pollard mentioned some ways he thinks the legislators were surprised. Legislators thought that faith-based institutions expel LGBT students because of their sexual orientation, when in fact, many schools are willing to work with them and love on them.
Whereas SB 1146 will not directly affect the JBU community or the way it currently operates, leaders at the University said they believe it was an educational experience. Chief Communications Officer Lucas Roebuck talked about the importance of establishing good relationships with the legislators.
Roebuck said that no one had a relationship with Senator Lara, who was actively working on a bill that would have restricted access to resources to Christian colleges. “We need to make sure we have good relationships, open communication so we have the opportunity to tell people what our real story is,” Roebuck said.
One of Roebuck’s biggest takeaways was learning to find common ground in the midst of conflict; “If we can work together in our diversity in the body of Christ, then we can find common ground with people that are outside of the body of Christ to avoid conflict, to help us keep doing our mission – which is important at JBU and other Christian schools.”
University Chaplain Rod Reed said he knows the JBU community will always have conversations about sexual identity. Reed explained that he leads a group of LGBT student that meets every other week to talk about their faith and struggles. “It’s a place where we want to communicate that they are loved, that they are important at JBU, that God loves them, that they were made in the image of God,” Reed said.
Matt, a JBU student who is a part of the LGBT community, regularly assists to the group Reed leads. He said he would like the student body to know that LGBT students exist. “I think a lot of students don’t even think that that’s a part of the campus,” Matt said.
He said it is hard being a minority on campus, but at the same time, he has seen how President Pollard and Reed are trying to come up with solutions.
“It means a lot that somebody cares,” Matt said.
As far as how SB 1146 informs future decisions concerning diversity and the LGBT community at JBU, Pollard said it is important to communicate truth and love. He said that a lot of Christians speak with a lot of truth and not love or vice versa, but neither of these alternatives are helpful.
“The person you are talking to is a child of God, created in God’s image,” Pollard said. “Start there, with respect for that person. And then listen. Listen to both their struggles and also their convictions.”