CARBONDALE - The sin is not the same thing as the sinner, says Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Walter Wendler, when it comes to gay and lesbian relationships.
But Wendler, a self-proclaimed Evangelical Christian, says he has both personal and professional problems with the university's discussion of offering same-sex medical benefits to employees. He said he is concerned extending benefits to gay and lesbian workers on campus will blur the lines of what constitutes a legal partnership for SIUC's policy, and, on a personal level, Wendler said the change would condone something he finds sinful.
"The challenge with this for me is personally I don't think it's a good idea," Wendler said. "Same-sex relationships have a lot of negative consequences associated with them.
"My challenge is what somebody does on their own time is obviously their business, but a university sets direction and policies that either encourage certain behaviors or discourage them.
"The bottom line is I see it encouraging sinful behavior."
The chancellor said he makes no apologies for his own views on the gay marriage issue. He has made it no secret but is quick to add that he only condemns the activity, not the people at the university who take part in it.
"I never condemn the sinner … it's the sin that's no good," he added.
Wendler's views, he said, are driven by his own faith. He said he can't separate himself from his deep-rooted beliefs. So, while they don't consume his decision-making process as chancellor, Wendler said his beliefs do guide him in leading SIUC.
"I just have a personal values system that suggests to me same-sex relationships might not be good; that doesn't mean the people who engage in it aren't good," he said.
However, Wendler said financial responsibility plays a larger role in his aversion to same-sex benefits than personal beliefs.
"This is not about same-sex marriage," he said. "This is about benefits to same-sex couples."
Wendler said since gay marriages aren't recognized by the state of Illinois, it is difficult for him to qualify that kind of partnership for medical benefits, without qualifying other kinds of non-marriage lifestyle situations.
"It creates opportunities in the future to further question what kind of relationships are family relationships," he said. For the sake of stability, Wendler said there need to be definitive guidelines, and right now there are.
He said the intentions of the employees striving for same-sex benefits are good all around. "They are standing up for what they believe is right and just in society," he said.
Wendler added he is doing the same thing in his own personal struggle.
"One of the main issues in the contemporary world is to reconcile our personal belief systems with what is required through the institutions in which we work and serve," Wendler said. "People are completely dishonest if they say they don't struggle with that all the time.
"I'd be a hypocrite if I said I approved (same-sex benefits) and tried to mask it, wouldn't I?" he said. "It'd be like if someone were a racist and said they were a fan of affirmative action.
"There is a lot of winking and nodding about this stuff. There are people that tolerate it, but they're very uncomfortable with it and don't want to say anything about it."
The final decision on same-sex benefits for SIUC won't fall to Wendler but to the university's board of trustees. The chancellor said he will follow whatever policy the board sets on the matter.
Board chairman Glenn Poshard said the subject is probably going to be hotly debated by many on campus before a proposal lands in front of trustees.
"This issue has been a part of campus discussion for a long, long time," Poshard said. "It is really a question of whether the university is going to be fair to everyone."
While Poshard declined to reveal his personal opinion on the matter just yet, he said his view - along with many other views - will be known before it is all said and done.
"I don't have a problem with people standing wherever they stand," Poshard said. "I respect people's opinions on these issues. I'm not going to stand in judgment of somebody's view."
Wendler said, while he might sound preachy on the subject, he doesn't consider himself morally above those who are homosexuals.
"We're all sinners," he said.
Leading a university rife with diversity, Wendler said his opinion on gay and lesbian relationships is merely a piece of that puzzle. "I guess I'm one aspect of diversity with my perspective," he said.
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