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Virginia Baptist groups have voted to end their formal relationship -- which includes providing funds and appointing trustees -- with Averett University. The split follows a series of disputes over gay issues, most recently a student group's gay pride event.

A statement released by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board said that the religious group and the university will "walk separate paths" because of the disagreements. While Averett's board has yet to vote on the declaration, it was released as a "joint statement."

While formal ties would end, the Baptists and the university pledged to work together to support Baptist students at the university.

"We take this action without bitterness or ill will, but with a strong resolve. Our position has long been clear and decisive that homosexuality is a lifestyle that goes against Scripture and is contrary to stated Virginia Baptist core values,” said John Upton, executive director, Baptist General Association of Virginia and Virginia Baptist Mission Board.

Averett officials have noted throughout the dispute that most of the Baptists group's objections have been with the actions of student groups or faculty members, not officials stances of the university.

In a column published today in The Winston-Salem Journal, one of the founders of the Gay/Straight Alliance, the student group that set off the final dispute, defended the group.

Jocelyn Wright, a sophomore, wrote that she is not gay, but that she cares about her gay friends and believes "in the rights of people to be themselves and to love without being persecuted."

A similar dispute may have been averted Thursday at Mars Hill College, in North Carolina. Baptist groups there had threatened to cut funds to the college if it recognized a group to support gay students. On Thursday, the student government voted, 21 to 17, against recognizing the student group, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

The paper quoted Dan Lunsford, the college's president, as saying, "I believe the decision rendered reflects the faith position held by most constituents within the Mars Hill College family." But the paper quoted a student who wanted to recognize the group as well: "This just breaks my heart. To me, this is about civil rights. People are going to be homosexual whether we recognize this club or not. I don’t see why we can’t allow it."

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