Lee University is a Christian university affiliated with the Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination based in Cleveland, Tennessee. (Lee is also located in Cleveland, Tennessee). I’ve been to the campus twice. In 2015 I interviewed Lamar Vest, the president of the Church of God’s Pentecostal Theological Seminary, for my book on the American Bible Society (ABS). Vest served as president of the ABS and was influential in moving the organization in a more evangelical direction. I also visited Lee in October 2019 as a keynote speaker at a symposium on Christianity and politics.
It is a beautiful campus and I found everyone I met there to be warm and friendly Christian people.
It now appears that Lee is in the midst of a controversy surrounding its policy on marriage and homosexuality.
Here is Wyatt Massey of the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Mark Walker stepped onto the stage to clear up what he felt was confusion among his students at Lee University. After flipping open his binder and saying good morning, the university’s president told the crowd in front of him and those watching online that this was a special chapel service.
“The families that truly care about each other, that love one another, they have what are called family meetings to work out differences,” Walker said. “So, this is a family meeting because we at Lee love one another and care about one another that much.”
The clarification Walker offered earlier this month set off a series of protests at the Cleveland, Tennessee, campus and online. Some current and former students say the university is creating a dangerous environment for its LGBTQ students, while the university and its supporters say it is upholding the doctrine of the Church of God denomination that all students agree to follow.
“Dr. Walker put a target on the back of every gay student on campus with his message,” said Evelyn Mostrom, a 2016 graduate. “It’s definitely one of those, if you give homophobes an inch, they’ll take a mile. It makes me sad and afraid for those students.”
The renewed debate about identity and inclusion at Lee began weeks ago when Preston Sprinkle, president of the Idaho-based Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, gave a chapel talk to students about showing compassion and love to people experiencing gender dysphoria, the feeling of distress when a person’s gender identity differs from their sex at birth.
Sprinkle told a story of a friend who was born a woman but identified as man. Sprinkle said his friend left the church but returned years later because of the love shown by a pastor.
Walker said he got feedback from students, parents and community members that Sprinkle’s message was ambiguous since it did not address whether people need to repent their sin. The Church of God does not support same-sex marriage or same-sex relations, just as it does not support premarital or extramarital sexual relations. According to its doctrine, the church believes those who practice homosexuality or are in a same-sex marriage have been misled by Satan and, if they do not repent and become celibate, they “forfeit their salvation and relinquish their eternal inheritance.”
The Church of God, which helps fund the university and provides the school’s theological framework, put out a statement describing Sprinkle’s message as “contrary to scripture.” Lee University put out a statement as well. Sprinkle’s talk was removed from Lee’s social media pages. Then, on March 11, Walker gave his special address to the Lee community.
Read the rest here.
Lee’s position on marriage and homosexuality is not surprising. Most evangelical colleges have similar positions, as do millions and millions of traditional Christians around the world. I am sure every Lee student and alum knows this.