Augustana College, a Lutheran college in Rock Island, Illinois, made the news this week after President Steve Bahls announced that same-gender weddings and ceremonies are now allowed on campus. The announcement came after recommendations from campus chaplains and conversations with the local bishop, who advised that the decision was up to President Bahls. The full announcement, emailed to Augustana students, faculty, and staff on Monday, November 26, 2012, can be read below. There is also a radio interview with a campus chaplain available online through Northern Public Radio. Weddings and ceremonies on campus are available for current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and the children of faculty and staff of the institution.
Under President Steve Bahls’s leadership, Augustana previously extended full health insurance coverage to same-gender partners of employees in 2003 and has publicly welcomed gay and lesbian people to become a part of campus ministries, making the institution one of only two “Reconciling in Christ” colleges affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Campus Pride commends President Bahl’s leadership and encourages other religiously-affiliated campuses to make similar efforts to welcome LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff with open arms. To learn more about LGBTQ initiatives on religiously-affiliated campuses, visit the Campus Pride in Faith page under the Religion and Faith Resources area of our website. LGBTQ students and alumni of religiously-affiliated colleges and universities might also be interested in a new project titled “On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground,” created by Paul Southwick, a friend of Campus Pride.
The full text of the announcement can be read below.
Dear students, faculty and staff:
Earlier this fall, Richard Priggie and Kristen Glass Perez, our campus chaplains, recommended that the college consent to same-gender weddings on campus. I agreed to do so, and I would like to provide our students, faculty and staff with my reasons.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to which the college is related, permits same-gender weddings so long as the local congregation consents. Because Augustana is a church-related institution and not a congregation, the Bishop of our Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA determined that it was up to me as President of the College to provide or not provide consent. I decided to consent.
When I came to Augustana 10 years ago, I wanted to give meaning to our existing assurance to students and staff that they would not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. To me, it is about integrity. If we say we do not discriminate, our policies and practices should honestly reflect it.
Nine years ago, the college extended our health insurance plans to cover same-gender couples. At about the same time, we affirmed God’s love for all people by becoming one of two “Reconciling in Christ” ELCA colleges. As such, Augustana publicly welcomes gays and lesbians to full participation and leadership in our campus ministries.
One of the Five Faith Commitments articulated by the Augustana College Board of Trustees in May 2005 is that “Augustana College celebrates God’s regard for the worth of all persons,” and the document extends an explicit welcome to “persons of all sexual orientations.” Several of our most faithful faculty and staff, who serve our students exceptionally well, are gay or lesbian. We thank God for their talents and service to Augustana.
Though same-gender marriages are not recognized by all states, including Illinois, both Augustana College and the ELCA will now allow public rites that recognize, support and hold accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. Because it would be inappropriate for the college to dictate to presiding pastors the exact content of these rites, it will be up to presiding pastors and the couples to determine whether to refer to these rites as “marriages,” “blessings of unions,” or something else.
While I understand that reasonable minds within the ELCA currently differ about same-gender weddings, few would dispute that marriage is a beautiful commitment of two children of God to one another. To make a life-long commitment of love and fidelity is an extraordinary act of faith. We need more of those commitments in this broken world, and I am proud of our campus chaplains for bringing this request forward.
Steve Bahls, President of Augustana College
My position is very, very simple. I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color, not so stand up and fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation. - John Lewis, Member of the United States Congress