New Mexico’s state department on aging is moving its annual conference away from Baptist-owned LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center rather than accepting restrictions on discussion of gay issues.
The New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department has held an annual three-day conference at the 2,000-acre campus 18 miles northeast of Santa Fe owned and operated by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention every summer since 1978.
One of the few conferences attended by both seniors and professionals in equal numbers, about 1,000 people attend each year. According to The New Mexican, the state paid about $51,000 a year to host the event.
On Jan. 25, the newspaper reported, the Conference on Aging Planning Committee decided to schedule the August 2007 event at another conference center near Albuquerque rather than agreeing to a contract clause prohibiting teaching in conflict with Baptist beliefs.
The state reportedly agreed to the restriction until a couple of years ago, when Glorieta removed it after a lawyer said it could leave the state agency open to violating the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
Last year, marketers for RainbowVision, a new retirement community in Santa Fe that caters to gays, gave a presentation titled “Designing Communities for the Gay and Gray.”
Opened last year with endorsement by tennis legend Billie Jean King, RainbowVision is the nation’s first full-fledged community for aging gays. A second facility is in the works in California.
Before then, planners say, the only option for many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender retirees leaving gay meccas like San Francisco and West Hollywood was isolation in predominantly straight assisted-living facilities.
“The benefits of what RainbowVision has to offer are immediately understood by anyone in our population who has felt what it is like to be an outsider,” Joy Silver, president and CEO of RainbowVision Properties, Inc., said recently in a blog interview. “The reluctance that we have encountered is not about the concept or the reality of what RainbowVision is, but about the challenge of accepting that we are all aging. No one seems ready to age, per se, but all of us are ready to live somewhere where life is made easy.”
The New Mexican quoted Silver as saying no one made an issue of the company’s presentation at Glorieta last year, but Hal Hill, who took over as director of the conference center last August, later called for reinstating the “Preservation of Religious Voice and Rights” contract clause.
“It’s not a public forum, so to speak, in which any group can come and express anything they want to,” Hill said. “We can’t have those things that would undermine our reason for being here.”
According to the article, a spokesman for the state agency said the change left them little choice but to move.
“Because the Department embraces inclusiveness and diversity,” spokesman John Arnold said in a statement, “it decided not to return to Glorieta because it cannot legally or philosophically agree to discriminatory conditions that infringe on the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and discriminate against any particular groups or lifestyles.”
Silver of RainbowVision told the paper she was pleased with the decision. “I think that people need to know that the state stands for all of us,” she said. “And I think that’s laudable.”
Hill reportedly said he was sorry to see the group go, and that losing a large meeting in the height of the conference season would represent at “significant” loss of income.
He said his intent was not to exclude anyone, and that Glorieta welcomes both secular and religious groups.
Rob Phillips, LifeWay’s director of corporate communications, said the company does not believe the ruling will affect other groups that have used Glorieta or LifeWay’s other conference center, Ridgecrest in North Carolina, in the past.
“We welcome any individual who wants to attend an event at Glorieta,” Phillips said. “Our purpose is to minister the truth of God’s Word to all people. At the same time, we cannot give an organization or an individual a platform to promote a doctrine or a lifestyle that we believe is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.”
Phillips said the vast majority of business at LifeWay’s centers is from Southern Baptists, with a high percentage of evangelical and parachurch organizations. Only a small number of secular groups meet there, he said, and in all cases, “We make every effort to ensure that the organizations’ beliefs and activities do not conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture, or with LifeWay’s vision and values.”
Glorieta was established in 1949, when the Baptist Convention of New Mexico gave the property to the Southern Baptist Convention, which turned it over to its publisher, then called the Baptist Sunday School Board to administer. Several Baptist state conventions contributed money to build buildings on the campus.
The center has since attracted more than a million visitors from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, and pumps about $7 million a year into the Santa Fe community.
It was called GlorietaBaptistConferenceCenter until 1999, when “Baptist” was removed from titles of both Glorieta and the convention’s other conference center in North Carolina, reflecting a name change for the parent agency to LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.