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The homosexuality debate that has torn apart mainline denominations is fanning faculty and student protests at Calvin College, and highlights a growing issue facing evangelical schools.

The spark was a memo issued by trustees of the Grand Rapids school prohibiting "advocacy of homosexual practice and same-sex marriage" both in and outside the classroom. Sent to faculty and staff before fall classes began, the memo provoked charges that the board was curtailing academic freedom, due process, and Calvin's tradition of vibrant Christian inquiry.

The Faculty Senate has asked the board to rescind the memo, arguing it bypassed normal faculty-review procedures for policy changes.

The board recently (Oct. 24) declined to do so but appointed a committee to revisit the statement in consultation with faculty. The committee also will suggest ways for Calvin to articulate academic freedom at a Reformed Christian college, and recommend whether the whole issue should be referred to the Christian Reformed Church Synod.

The case is being watched with interest by other schools struggling to balance compassion and doctrine in their policies on gays.

"I think it's a symptom of the growing lack of consensus about this issue," said Stanton Jones, provost at Wheaton College and a sexuality scholar. "The debates that once were contained within the mainline denominations are spilling over into the evangelical denominations."

He added that young evangelicals increasingly see homosexuality "not as an issue of sexual morality but as an issue of justice, dignity, or tolerance." But other prospective students and their parents want colleges to hold to traditional positions.

"There are some people for whom this has become the litmus test for whether you are ...

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November 2009

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