Baylor’s doors close, Emory’s open
for theology student

A seminary student who lost his financial aid funding at Baylor University when he acknowledged that he is gay has been accepted to Emory’s Candler School of Theology.

Last spring, Matt Bass, a licensed Baptist minister and candidate for a Master’s of Divinity at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, decided he was ready to be honest with himself and those close to him about his sexual orientation.

“Basically, I just made a decision that after lying to myself for so many years, I would never lie to anybody again,” he says.

Bass confided to a close friend, who told another friend, and the news eventually reached a minister at a local Baptist church who had written a recommendation for Bass’ admission to Truett. The minister called Bass to ask him about the rumor. Bass did not deny it.

“I assumed it was a pastoral conversation,” meaning their talk was confidential, Bass says. “We agreed to disagree, I thought.”

But the minister called Bass a month later and told him he could no longer support his studying at Baylor, and he had contacted the university administration to tell them about Bass’ sexual orientation. Soon afterward, the dean of the seminary assembled a meeting in which he informed Bass that he would be stripped of his scholarships, which covered 85 percent of his tuition. Although he had broken no formal rules, Bass eventually received a letter saying

that by living a “homosexual lifestyle” and supporting gay marriage, he “interferes with Baylor’s pursuit of its objective . . . ” and fails to uphold “historic Baptist commitments.”

When David Key, director of Emory’s Baptist studies program, learned of Bass’ situation, he contacted him and encouraged Bass to apply to Candler. Bass was accepted and began his studies at Emory this fall, although he receives only about half the financial aid that he had at Truett.

“The good news for me, and what I’m most excited about, is knowing I will go to school somewhere where I will be challenged and have the freedom to think for myself without being punished for it,” Bass says. “I look forward to being able to trust the university is more interested in education than politics.”

Key says he contacted Bass because he understood him to be an outstanding student and believed he would be an asset to Emory, which has a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation.

Bass says he knows he will be challenged academically at Candler, but that being open about himself will allow him to stop worrying and focus on his studies.

“I thought Matt exhibited a lot of the leadership qualities of the type we’re looking for at Emory,” Key says. “He has different experiences and is from an area of the country that will lend a nice diversity to Candler as we try to reach out nationally and internationally. And I knew we would be able to offer him the kind of academic freedom that he was looking for.”

Reconciling Candler’s Baptist studies program, which operates within an ecumenical M.Div. program to prepare students for ministry in Baptist congregations and other settings, is a challenge, Key says, similar to that which Emory faces in maintaining a healthy relationship with the Methodist church.

“But Candler is producing graduates of such excellence that we have an image of excellence within Baptist circles as we continue to be able to engage with the Baptists academically,” Key says.

Candler attracts conservative students as well as more progressive ones, Key adds.

“I have told Matt he will have to engage with smart minds from across the Baptist spectrum, which is what we want,” Key says. “If he’s going to make a difference when he leaves here, that’s something he will have to be working toward while he’s a student.”

Bass says he knows he will be challenged academically at Candler, but that being open about himself will allow him to stop worrying and focus on his studies.

“There is something to be said for being ‘out’,” he says. “It’s not about flaunting your sexuality or anything, that’s not the point, but the point is to find freedom from shame. It’s a relief. I know I will have to get my academics together, but I think I will because I won’t be hating myself and my environment every minute.” –P.P.P.



© 2004 Emory University