published Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Georgia’s Shorter University to make staff sign 'statement of faith' pledge

Protesters gather in front of Shorter University to protest its policies. The university's new president is requiring faculty and staff to sign a pledge stating they are not gay and don't drink alcohol outside their homes.
Photo by Daniel Varnado, Rome News Tribune
Protesters gather in front of Shorter University to protest its policies. The university's new president is requiring faculty and staff to sign a pledge stating they are not gay and don't drink alcohol outside their homes. Photo by Daniel Varnado, Rome News Tribune
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• Established: 1873

• Size: About 1,500 students and 200 employees. Many students come from Northwest Georgia, Southeast Tennessee and Northeast Alabama.

• Location: Rome, Ga., about 50 miles south of Dalton and 70 miles northwest of Atlanta.

• Motto: “At the crossroads of faith and learning.”

Do you approve of Shorter University's required faculty pledge?

ROME, Ga. — For decades, Shorter University has given students like Nick DiPillo, faculty member Ben Harris and former professor and alumna Betty Zane Morris a place to grow spiritually and academically.

But the new university president’s requirement of a “statement of faith” — in essence a pledge requiring faculty members to promise they are not gay and will refrain from drinking alcohol except in their own homes — has alarmed many on campus, who say it infringes on personal freedoms and attempts to legislate morality.

“I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality,” reads the statement.

It’s just one sentence in a 270-word document that also requires faculty to be active members of a Christian church and to refrain from drinking in public — even having wine in a restaurant. But it is placing the small, respected liberal arts college in headlines across the country and squarely at the crossroads of faith and learning, as its motto says.

“This institution has been a Christian school for 138 years, and we never were asked to sign anything to make that happen,” said Morris, whose husband and children also are Shorter alumni.

“Jesus couldn’t be a teacher here now. He drank wine in public. He was a Jew, and he associated with disreputable people,” said Morris, who taught communications at the school for 46 years.

University President Donald Dowless said Shorter’s administration and board — most appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Georgia Baptist Convention — knew there would be some opposition.

“We recognize there may be people who do not agree with this and, in good conscience, cannot sign it. We wish them well. We hope they will be receptive to it,” Dowless said.

Those who cannot or will not sign the statement will not have their contracts renewed.

As a private school, Shorter is within its rights to require the pledge from its employees; a number of Christian colleges and universities in the Chattanooga region have similar statements of faith.

What’s different is that Shorter never had such a requirement before, and it comes as homosexual relationships and gay rights have gained increasing visibility and traction in the media and in statehouses from New Hampshire to Hawaii.

To a number of students and parents, a Christian college suggests a moral code or set of values they prize. A number of Shorter students, alumnae and parents approve of the new statement of faith.

The Christian environment is why Gordon Lee High School senior and softball player Kendall Johnson, of Chickamauga, Ga., chose the school.

“I thought it would be a good, safe Christian environment. I want to focus on my studies, and I love the coach there,” she said, “The [controversy] doesn’t really matter to me.”

But last week about 100 students and faculty members protested in front of the school, and a Facebook page about the subject has gathered 5,000 posts against the change.

Around the country, Shorter’s statement is being touted as one more example of discrimination against gays and lesbians. It has made headlines from New York to California to Florida.

A CNN opinion article posted Wednesday used Shorter’s pledge in a discussion about gay legislation. The piece said the statement of faith “underscored a staggering injustice: In 29 U.S. states, people can still be fired for being gay.”

DiPillo, a piano major and sophomore from Summerville, Ga., fears that 75 to 80 percent of his friends in the performing arts and science departments and many members of the faculty will leave the university.

“The language [the administration has] used is so divisive,” said DiPillo, who has been taking piano lessons at the college since he was 8 years old.

“This is who I am,” he said, gesturing toward the “Hill,” as the campus is sometimes called. “And in two or three weeks what I love is just gone. I can’t focus on studies. It’s hard to get an education with this going on around us.”


Shorter isn’t the only campus rocked in recent years by a clash of faith and academics.

Last December, Belmont University in Nashville was caught in a firestorm after women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe was given a choice of resigning or being fired because she told her team she was gay and that she and her partner were expecting a child.

Belmont had been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention until 2007, and continued touting itself as a “Christian community.”

The controversy forced the school to re-examine its identity. In March, school officials recognized a pro-gay student group.

Some regional Christian schools already have lifestyle statements not unlike the one just adopted for Shorter.

Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., has a similar statement, said Bradford Sample, the school’s vice president of academics.

But Sample said there is a difference between Shorter and Bryan, named for William Jennings Bryan, who prosecuted John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925.

“We haven’t changed anything. Our Christian life standards have been there a long time. Since 1930,” Sample said.

He said the change could be difficult for Shorter.

“Sometimes transitions don’t work well,” he said. “Coming in knowing [a standard] seems fair. If you are trying to change the culture, that could be very disruptive and for some employees even hurtful.”

But Sample said the university doesn’t shy from the topic of homosexuality, and it has been a subject at Bryan’s Triangle forums.

“We try to be a campus that will talk about anything. We believe that homosexual sex is a sin. Simply being attracted to a same-sex person is not, in and of itself, a sin.”

In Collegedale, Southern Adventist University’s student manual forbids sex outside marriage and homosexual relations for students.

Dennis Plaisted, professor of philosophy and applied ethics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said many private and Christian schools have similar policies, either for faculty or students or both.

“It is within the bounds of the law,” he said. “I think controversy arose [for Shorter] because it is a change.”

But Plaisted said school officials and faculty have to think about their mission as a liberal arts college, as well.

“I have had classes where I taught about sexual ethics, and I feel there are obligations, especially at a public university, to examine issues — pros and cons,” he said. “I try to lay a lot of considerations in front of students, and they make their own decisions.”


To Harris, DiPillo and others, the gay portion of the statement is the headline maker, but not the crux of a culture change they fear will diminish the school that has produced two Metropolitan Opera winners and an 85 percent student acceptance rate to medical schools.

“For me, my conduct should show my faith. Now I have to come up with a phony document to insert Baptist doctrine into opera training and singing. We’re here to educate, not to have prayer at the beginning of each class,” Harris said.

Harris is an instructor of collaborative piano and a vocal coach in Shorter’s School of Fine and Performing Arts. He assumes that because he has spoken out, he won’t get the option of signing the statement of faith when faculty contracts are extended in the spring.

Harris said if his contract isn’t renewed, he and his wife and two small children will move to Texas to work on his father’s ranch.

Some longtime administrators already have left the school since the new administration arrived. Though their departures didn’t have anything to do with the new statement of faith, some worry it could hinder Shorter’s ability to attract new personnel.

Stewart Orr, a business major and junior, said students and faculty had worked to schedule a question-and-answer information session.

“But the administration turned it into an ice cream social,” he said. “It’s not just what the statement says. It’s the bullying way they’re doing it, too.”

The pledge hasn’t yet been extended to students, but they say the attitude has.

“The message is if you don’t think like what we do, you just need to go on and get out,” DiPillo said.

Dowless said he welcomes discussion, but the university will not back down.

“It’s really unreasonable not to expect a Christian university to promote Christian values,” he said. “What unites us is our love for Jesus Christ. ... There is constant dialogue.”

Carrie Fitzsimmons, a graduate and former employee of Shorter and a spokeswoman for the Chattanooga Creative Discovery Museum, said she can see both sides of the issue, but she supports the school administration’s decision to add the statement of faith.

“It hurts my heart to see my alma mater get bad attention,” she said. “I know this has come across as being very bigoted, but the faculty and staff there are anything but that way. I will still support them.”

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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nucanuck said...

Not a problem. Just sign the paper, live the life you choose and repent as often as necessary. That's how we do business and religion in the Christian community.

Works almost every time.

November 20, 2011 at 12:49 a.m.
memphisexile said...

Modern christianity at work. Instead of focusing on charity, helping others and one's own personal faith, the focus should be on hating gay people and stopping grown adults from drinking. Never mind that everyone in the bible drank wine, and one of Jesus's miracles was turning water into wine. It was probably just a euphemism for non-alcoholic grape juice. Remember, we take the part of the bible about men laying with men literally, but when the bible says wine, it means grape juice, not wine. That's how hypocrisy works, right?

Maybe the new president himself is gay and this is his way of sniffing out potential dates....

November 20, 2011 at 1 a.m.
01centare said...

LOL! nucanuck. I think you hit it stone cold right!! Sign the pledge, pretend to be a true "christian" and proceed to party and sex it up like it's 1999!! LMAO!!

November 20, 2011 at 1:04 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Hold on, let me go check my calendar. Yep, it says 2011. After reading this article I thought I had accidentally slipped back in 411 or something. Those no-nonsense puritanical Christians...what would we do without their biblical guidance, straight from the Dark Ages,to keep us on the straight (no pun intended) and narrow in these wicked modern times. God bless their deluded, morally bankrupt, holier-than-thou souls. If they're going to heaven, I welcome hell....just so's I can be as far away from them as possible.

November 20, 2011 at 1:53 a.m.
Les_Treading said...

The school has a right to run its affairs the way they see fit. The public has a right to either attend (or support) the school or not. I don't see what the big deal is.

Is it close-mindedness that's causing the controversy? Why can't people just let other people be?

November 20, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.
acerigger said...

“It’s really unreasonable not to expect a Christian university to promote Christian values,” he(University President Donald Dowless) said. “What unites us is our love for Jesus Christ. ... There is constant dialogue.”

They should follow the teachings of Jesus,who said,concerning homosexuality,,, oh wait, what DID He say?

November 20, 2011 at 6:23 a.m.
EastTNYankee said...

It's not a Christian Institution to begin with, it's just a ploy to make money off of "christians" like other "christian" schools and religious institutions. Jesus only instituted His church and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it. He has always made sure of that and always will continue to do so until He calls His elect home.

November 20, 2011 at 8:54 a.m.
librul said...

Burn it, burn it now!

November 20, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.
DarkSky said...

I don't have a problem with their "faith pledge", as long as they don't recieve taxpayer money.

It seems to me though, that they are opening a huge crack in which to get sued in the future over EOE rules.

It's probally just an attention getter seeing how I've never heard of this school. The extremist thought police strike again...

November 20, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

He said "One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law"--so whatever Leviticus said, He says. He said, He that made them from the beginning made them male and female...a man...shall cleave to his wife...what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 5, Mt 19).

Homosexual activity is more than one person doing things together. If that be OK, then let non-homosexual people also get together. If they say they wear genes, they gotta admit we do too, right? (A gay gene wouldn't breed.) No discrimination, right?

Fornication is sin, and since it's so popular--always has been, but remarkably so these days--taking a special stand against all sex outside holy marriage may be a good idea. Does anyone think the worse of the 'Confessing Church' taking a stand against Nazism when Nazism was popular but somewhat discussable?

November 20, 2011 at 11:28 a.m.
Techtrash said...

The antithesis of what Christ-like behavior should be. Hate gays... drink at home because what you do in private can't be seen by those who judge. What about Peace, Love, Tolerance, helping fellow man without judgement? Coexisting with all belief systems. Someone said they are not using tax money to fund this but I disagree. They are probably tax exempt due to their religious affiliation. Makes my stomach turn.

November 20, 2011 at 11:29 a.m.
westie79 said...

Why would any right minded person want to attend such a whacky school?

November 20, 2011 at noon
tipper said...

If the cruxt of your educational philosophy is to ferret out and purge gay and lesbian faculty and proclaim your intolerance nationwide, you can't be much of a valued educational institution. Apparently faculty quality, post-graduate success, and the university's reputation as a pillar of higher learning takes a back seat to ultra-conservative Christian dogma. Yes, Shorter is a private school based on Southern Baptist principles. And apparantly, Shorter's legal team has decided it is entitled to ignore U.S. Constitutional rights, but what they can't control is how these kinds of edicts will add to and fire up the pushback that is occurring now in America. What is even more disturbing is that recently the armed forces allowed gays and lesbians to openly serve their country. It is ironic that they fight and die to protect the rights of such Christian zealots as Dowless to practice his bigotry. This whole issue is a total embarrassment to higher education and real Americans.

November 20, 2011 at 12:38 p.m.
petuniadewitt said...

If Donald Dowless can overcome his homosexual demons and live a godly life, it's not unreasonable for him to expect others to find the strength, too! Day after day, he stares at nubile ephebes, imagining doing the most vile, unspeakble acts with them, his body aflame with sinful desire-- BUT, he manages to control himself, probably by thinking of his lovely wife Teresa, a sure way to tame tempatation!

November 20, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.
Legend said...

acerigger said... “It’s really unreasonable not to expect a Christian university to promote Christian values,” he(University President Donald Dowless) said. “What unites us is our love for Jesus Christ. ... There is constant dialogue.” They should follow the teachings of Jesus,who said,concerning homosexuality,,, oh wait, what DID He say?

The problem is there rarely anything "Christ-like" going on behind the scenes at those puritanical universities and schools. Drugs, sex and everything else going on within the general population are taking place behind the scenes there.

__God on the surface, the devil behind closed doors__ is more like the truth. >

November 20, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

You are correct, AndrewLohr. A lot of so-called new-age Christians today think that JC came to dispense with the laws of the OT and usher in a new way of righteous living. But they are wrong. He said that he did not come to abolish the Old Testament but to fulfill it. Further, he said, "It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid." (Luke 16:17).

Deuteronomy 13:6-10 - “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is of thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die..."

Leviticus 24:16 - “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death."

Exodus 31:15 - “Whosoever shall work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death”. Numbers 15:32 - “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day…And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.”

I could go on and on and on with God's straightforward and unambiguous edicts. The OT is a veritable cornucopia of killing and stoning and smiting. Have you been a good and dutiful Christian, Mr. Lohr, and carried out any of God's Old Testament commands lately?

November 20, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.
eastridge8 said...

Techtrash, westie79 and tipper...I totally agree with your comments.

The water-to-wine was just that...WATER TO WINE..NOT water to grape stupid can one get? By signing this contract Shorter will ALLOW you to drink at home?! But they don't believe Jesus turned water into wine and NEVER drank wine himself? Isn't that contradictory? LOL!!

I,too, believe that homosexuality is a sin...BUT their lifestyle is none of my business...I DON'T have to answer for it...THEY do....I will say that some of the sweetest, kindest people I've known were Gay...I say LIVE AND LET LIVE and the chips fall where they may.

November 20, 2011 at 2:33 p.m.
OhB1Knewbie said...

@ Rickaroo, You forgot my favorite - the sin of Sodom....

Ezekiel 16:49-50

New International Version-

49 " 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

New American Standard Bible-

49"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. 50"Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me Therefore I removed them when I saw it.

November 20, 2011 at 5:26 p.m.
7Seventeen said...

Religious extremists are scary.

November 20, 2011 at 6:19 p.m.
Jackson10 said...

For those protesting..THIS IS A PRIVATE UNIVERSITY!! I have no idea why it is hateful to take a stand against homosexuality. Why is it wrong and offensive to disagree with this lifestyle choice. The bible clearly states that marriage and the family unit is meant to be between a man and a woman and that homosexuality is a sin. I am completely offended and outraged every time I turn on the television at the assault on the family.
For those who have posted on alcohol. The Bible does not say that drinking is a sin. It states that we are not to be a stumbling block to others. As we all know, alcoholism is a huge problem in the United States today. That is why it is asking students to refrain from public drinking (so as not to temp others).
Once again, it is the school right to ask the students to comply. If you do not agree, please go somewhere else.

November 20, 2011 at 9:01 p.m.
Haiku said...

Jackson10 said... For those protesting..THIS IS A PRIVATE UNIVERSITY!!

Yeah! A private university that doesn't mind receiving taxpayer money, even from homosexuals. Yep! homosexuals pay taxes, go to war, have fought and died for this wacko university freedoms too.

November 20, 2011 at 9:08 p.m.
DarkSky said...

Jackson10, did you even read the story? It's not the students required to sign, it's the faculty.

The students that attend there probally have to sign something similar.

Jackson10, why do care what consenting adults do to each other? Because some 2000 year old book told you to stone them to death? Why do you fear homosexual people?

November 20, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.
Jackson10 said...

It was my understanding the this was something the students will have to sign as well. I am so completely appalled by the criticism that this university is receiving. How incredibly ignorant is it for the protesters to hold signs comparing this issue to the nazis who killed and tortured thousands of innocent people . Lets talk about intolerance and ignorance. Why is ok for the homesexual movement to be shoved down my throat but it is not ok for a private university to state that they do not agree with homosexulity. THIS IS AMERICA! There are many universities to chose from, if this does not meet with your beliefs, so somewhere else.

November 20, 2011 at 10 p.m.
onetinsoldier said...

How many christians can a lion eat in one day?

Answer; Not nearly enough.

November 20, 2011 at 10:10 p.m.
DarkSky said...

Jackson10, have not the Christians killed many peoples? Does it not say in your bible to kill entire cities for whatever transgression your god doesn't like? Does it not say to kill all the men and keep the women and children as slaves if they do not obey the rules of your god? Do you think the Crusades and the religious wars in Europe for hundreds of years was a holiday parade?

I do think that extremist religious groups and nazis are very similar in their way of treating outsiders and non-believers/joiners.

If you feel like "the homesexual movement to be shoved down my throat" , then turn off your TV and internet service.

It wasn't random protesters, it was students and falculty.

November 20, 2011 at 10:37 p.m.
conpool said...

While they are at it they should also add the clause that women will be paid less and treated with less respect since they did cause original sin. Also, all female employees will be required to wash the male employees feet with their hair.

November 21, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
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