Barry: Orienting for the future

Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 10:05pm
By Bruce Barry

One way to view Belmont’s dismissal of a lesbian soccer coach, and the self-inflicted public relations nightmare that ensued, is through a secular lens of justice, fair treatment and discrimination. Another view peers through a murkier fog of the Christian university’s religious doctrine and practice. These perspectives often coincide — think about civil rights leaders who ground racial justice in religious faith — but for Belmont they lead in very different directions, leaving the university in a navigational quandary as it ponders what kind of institution it really wants to be. 

The justice angle is what fueled much of the public outrage that landed Belmont on front pages, blogs and newscasts, and kept them there for several days (with a feckless assist from the university’s PR arm). Even here in the Bible Belt-esque South, national momentum toward recognition of rights associated with sexual orientation has traction, and popular (and, by extension, legal) acceptance of civil unions and same-sex marriage rights will only expand. Corporate America gets it: Most Fortune 500 companies write sexual orientation into their nondiscrimination policies. Polls on LGBT issues broken down by age make it clear that anti-gay attitudes are succumbing to the mortality of their aging homophobic hosts. 

Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in Nashville (and Tennessee); we aren’t among the roughly 20 states or 175 cities and counties that have enacted laws barring this sort of discrimination in employment or housing. And if you’re thinking those places are all coastal or collegiate, think again. Sure, the list includes New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Ann Arbor and Boulder, but also Kansas City, Charleston, El Paso, Scranton, Louisville and Peoria.

Nashville’s time will come, but a legal ban wouldn’t likely affect Belmont since most such laws have religious exceptions. A proposed federal employment nondiscrimination act, stalled now in Congress after House passage in 2007, would likewise exempt religious organizations. 

But even if the law gives Belmont a pass on religious grounds, it’s clear from the sturm und drang of the past week that many aren’t inclined to extend the same moral exemption. A Christian university can cloak its bigotry and discrimination in a shroud of religious doctrine, but that doesn’t compel its stakeholders to admire the fabric or the fit. From within Belmont the alarm is loud and shrill: students organizing and protesting, faculty meeting and voting, and at least one major benefactor, Mike Curb, publicly calling on the university to take steps to ensure that “this type of injustice will never happen again.”

For some insight, Belmont’s administrators might look to the examples of two prestigious religiously affiliated universities, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Notre Dame splits the baby: sexual orientation stays out of its nondiscrimination policy because it might interfere with decisions “necessary to support Church teaching.” At the same time, Notre Dame welcomes “all people, regardless of … sexual orientation” and professes to “value gay and lesbian members of this community.”

Georgetown goes all the way, electing not to see religious doctrine and equal treatment as irreconcilable. Describing itself as a "university deeply rooted in the Catholic faith," Georgetown nonetheless bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring and educational programs. 

Belmont, a school that has doubled in size over the past decade and fashions itself “the largest ecumenical Christian university in America,” has a decision to make about its future. Having endured this burst of unwanted publicity framing it as a hick religious school in the South, does Belmont now reaffirm its membership in the odd moral orbit of doctrinaire Christian colleges alarmed about creeping secularization? Or does Belmont follow Georgetown’s model, fulfilling its aspiration to be taken seriously as a cosmopolitan university by acknowledging that a religious tradition and a modern sense of justice can coexist? 

Bruce Barry is a professor of management and sociology at Vanderbilt University and a contributing writer for the Nashville Scene 

35 Comments on this post:

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/10 at 7:46

Good morning

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/10 at 7:48

This is an issue that want go away. It has a life of its own, just like any unjust act of life. Some day it want be a topic of interest and will be apart of the natural order, maybe.

By: govskeptic on 12/13/10 at 8:29

You are right Captain, it will not go away. The bible belt and
Nashville is the apparent test case for the ACLU and other
interested organizations in bringing this issue to the "private
colleges/universities" of the nation. Our press, the national
press, and lots of others are being sent many-many letters and
news clips concerning this story to help push it along. Seems
a little strange that KATU-Tv from Portland, Oreg was here 2
days after story broke for story and footage to feed to ABC-News?

By: Kosh III on 12/13/10 at 9:10

The ACLU is designed to protect LIBERTY--a concept foreign to Republicans/TPers and some Christian sects.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 9:30

Kosh III,

The ACLU no longer exists. It has become the ACLDU.

By: BenDover on 12/13/10 at 9:33

Nonsense. The ACLU is not pro liberty; it is anti-God. If it was pro-liberty it would actually try to do something about the US having 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. If it was pro-liberty it would actually do something about 1 in 8 black men in this country between 20 and 35 years old being in jail at this very moment. If it was pro-liberty it would bust up at least one of the tens of thousands of little municipal for-profit fiefdoms that infringe on the day-to-day lives of average Americans. Instead they contort the protections of our religious freedoms from government as government's freedom from religious influence. Instead they represent late term abortion rights and a handful of whacko terrorists that are trying to kill us. The ACLU has no credibility on the real liberty battlelines. It's a front-group for political progressive activism.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 9:40


I think we all see the Belmont issue through our own eyes and think of it with our own brains, each one differently. So be it.

As has been pointed out previously; Belmont has run their domain since they opened their doors. Their policies were intact then. Why should anyone, or group of people demand they change their precept on life as the 'newer' group think they should?

And a major issue here is: why is it wanted for the homosexual orientation of people to become so public? Are they becoming the majority of people of the world?

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/10 at 9:42


Why would that be strange for TV news from Oregon? What took place at Belmont has a social impact that is a concern for all. Not to cover this would be like not covering Rosa Parks or the seat-in in Nashville.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/10 at 9:55

I find the ACLU a fascinating entity. I don’t always agree with them, but I am grateful that they do exist. Many times I have not giving a subject a second thought if it was not for the ACLU. They make us think of another view point. They challenge us to see something that we would have just simply had rather not see.

By: gdiafante on 12/13/10 at 10:42

That's right one in prison deserves to be there...they're all innocent...they were's a mass conspiracy...

Ben, have you met Yogi?

By: govskeptic on 12/13/10 at 10:54

Capt. I'm not implying it's strange that they would covered the story.
My point is that's it more than strange they provided a crew to come
3,000 miles to produce the story they presented. And as to comparing
this to the Rosa Park situtation and it's impact, "Please"

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 11:04


I agree with you on this issue. Homosexuality and racism doesn't belong in the same room together.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 11:09

And speaking of different issues; Lt. Col. Terry Lakin's court marshal begins tomorrow. He is subject to be put in prison for questioning Obama's legal eligibility of holding the CIC office of our nation. If congress allows that to happen for question he raised, none of them deserves to be in that office.

By: BenDover on 12/13/10 at 11:26

Yeah, GD... having 5 times the incarceration rate of the rest of the world makes us a bastion of liberty.

By: BenDover on 12/13/10 at 11:41

We've simply applied American industriousness to the for-profit arrest, prosecution and incarceration machine. For every jail cell we build there will be at least that many of us who are prisoners... and as long as we continue to justify arrests, proscution and incarceration by the money we can extort from our society this non-value-added slice of the economic pie will continue to grow, to the detriment of other more value-added government services like education; until it consumes all of society's valid production. It's called diminishing returns and we've gone far past the point of common sense in this matter... All the while the ACLU and its league stomp around, outraged, about a handful of terrorists we pulled off the battle-field or the top 10 list being posted in a courthouse in Alabama.

By: slacker on 12/13/10 at 12:50

Ben, I'm assuming you mean privately run prisons. Whats your solution for people convicted of a crime?

By: pswindle on 12/13/10 at 1:17

God, BenDover where are you coming from? I run into narow-minded people all the
time and they have as much sense has you think that you have. I bet the church loves you.

By: BenDover on 12/13/10 at 2:07

It's mostly municipal governments slack, though they outsource via contract a lot of services getting the buy-in from local businesses. The solution is to make fewer things criminal. There are huge chunks of the economic pie for most municipalities (counties, states, on up) that go to enforcement, prosecution and incarceration of people who intend absolutely no harm whatsoever to their fellow man. A lot of it is off of the books because fines and court costs often offset before it makes it to the public budget. The result is that an increasingly larger portion of a community's productive value-added economic activity is tied up in fighting crime on the outer edges with direct and indirect costs to the community that have far out-stripped (via diminishing returns) any reasonable amount that we should be spending. It's sold on fear and the democrats and republicans participate alike in this crazy 'tough on crime' mass hysteria that basically ignores real criminals in favor of pot smokers and other non-violent non-offensive behavior.

By: Kosh III on 12/13/10 at 2:31

I'm shocked Ben. You mean there is a pro-private business and profit activity that you don't support? Please don't tell the conservatives and Republcans, they will excommunicate you for heresy.

By: BenDover on 12/13/10 at 2:58

There's a good book called 'The Perpetual Prisoner Machine' that you'd probably really like by Joel Dyre. He blames it all on the for-profit prison industry but he misses the point that most of the money goes to public municipal fiefdoms. The problem is, as I said, it's punishing people on the fringes that really pose no harm to society... thus it adds little value at a great cost in $s and in Liberty. It also destroys the social community because the people who can't afford to pay the fines or get adequate legal defense to push back; get thrown in jail and lose their jobs, their families... and then their out-of-control kids are sitting beside your kid in school, acting up because dad's locked up for a stupid probation violation and mom's working 2nd shift at the food packing plant.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 3:55


In my younger days I took a course in Criminology that stated approximately 2 to 3 percent of the population were criminally inclined. That is why most prisons are being built as our population grows.

You used to be considered innocent until proven guilty. In our society of today you are considered guilty until you prove yourself innocent. No prosecutor wants to loose a case and can deny the defendant to provide information.

A prime case on this is the court marshal of Lt. Col. Terry Lakin. The 'so-called' judge denies him to provide any evidence in his case.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/10 at 4:21

Birthers are a subspecies of homo’nuticus.

By: BenDover on 12/13/10 at 5:57

The ACLU is just a big liberal circle jerk. It doesn't do anything except show trials against religion, culture, tradition and common sense to appease the debauchery of its liberal donors.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 8:39


The ACLU has become the ACLDU (American Liberties Destruction Union).

Originally, they were a good organization but it seems the good people went home.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 8:40

Make that the American Civil Liberties Destruction Union.

By: yogiman on 12/13/10 at 8:43

Captain Nemo,

Can you give us the definition of a 'homo'nuticus'? I can't find it in my encyclopedia. What in the cornbread hell is it?

By: bnakat on 12/14/10 at 12:46

@ BenDover: Your 12.13.10 at 5:57 comment, "The ACLU is just a big liberal circle jerk. It doesn't do anything except show trials against religion, culture, tradition and common sense to appease the debauchery of its liberal donors" is classic. Your succinct definition captures the mission of this pernicious organization. Any socially redemptive value that it might have possessed at its founding has long since perished.

By: girliegirl on 12/14/10 at 8:41

@yogiman...LOL Absolutely.

By: bfra on 12/14/10 at 8:54

yogi & girlie - Just Google!

By: yogiman on 12/14/10 at 9:31


When was Google determined to become an authentic dictionary? By whom?

By: bfra on 12/14/10 at 10:02

Who said it was, but you could find out what you want to know? Try!

By: GUARDIAN on 12/14/10 at 4:25

GUARDIAN-I'm so sick of reading about this. Belmont did the right thing and should tell all the quys supporters to take it and stick it.

By: JeffF on 12/14/10 at 5:35

Where is the ACLU when Belmont is having its 1st Amendment rights threatened by the Deaniacs? Oh that's right, the ACLU only helps those on "the right side" of the 1st amendment right to religion (the no religion side).

By: Cold Floridian on 12/15/10 at 7:40

Perhaps the hick college will want to expand it's student body and become a bigger, more prestigious college in the future.. but it won't happen until you remove the older homophobic men behind the cloak and allow the younger, fresher, more diversified students to bring Belmont to the highest of echelon and no longer be considered a hick college.
We really need to remove this ugliness from Nashville.
It is time to make Nashville a more people friendly town. I personally don't like the name "Haters." not all of us hate..... Just the few that think they run this great city...

Think before you post. You could be displaying your ignorance.....

By: courier37027 on 12/17/10 at 9:00

Why hasn't Obama intervened and offered a beer summit?