Christian Colleges on the Brink
As they are with every other institution in the country, LGBTQ advocates are seeking to change how Christian colleges and universities address issues of human sexuality.
A recent article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” features the story of Angela Whitlock, a student at Baptist Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. As someone who identifies as lesbian, Whitlock is leading a group called OUTLaw, a band of LGBTQ students who want recognition as a student organization.
Whitlock says that “the connection to Samford and the (Alabama) Baptist convention was peripheral.” This is astonishing: She chose to attend a law school affiliated since its beginning with a denomination that believes “the Old Testament and New Testament each speak unequivocally against homosexuality.” Now, she is demanding that the school officially recognize OUTLaw. Until it does, she and her fellow OUTLaw students claim, “the dignity of Cumberland’s LGBTQ students is only diminished.”
No: persons have dignity based on their image-bearing of God. What the foregoing statement really means is that unless you affirm that my sexual desires define me and concurrently affirm the moral validity of those desires, you are ignorant at best and bigoted — even hateful — at worst.
This is a false narrative. Seattle Pacific University (SPU), sponsored by the evangelical Free Methodist Church, has made clear in its doctrinal statement that “it is in the context of the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman that the full expression of sexuality is to be experienced and celebrated and that such a commitment is part of God’s plan for human flourishing [and] that sexual experience is intended between a man and a woman.”
Yet Washington State’s attorney general has launched an investigation into the school’s hiring practices regarding LGBTQ persons. SPU has not really helped its own case; on its admissions page, the school says it is “committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for our undergraduate and graduate students, welcoming and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students in all academic pursuits, faith practices, and life together in community.” All Christian schools should welcome and support their students but not affirm behaviors and identities at odds with the orthodox Christian teaching (this goes for cohabiting heterosexuals, as well).
SPU’s approach is incoherent: Affirming biblical teaching while affirming those who advocate and practice unbiblical teaching is to divide one’s own house; such a division cannot stand. Sadly, SPU’s “please don’t hate us because we believe the Bible” attitude likely has set the stage for theological compromise.
Oregon’s George Fox University has made a strong statement about human sexuality, saying that “God has intended sexual relations to be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. We recognize that this belief may be in conflict with the practice or vision of the larger culture, as Christian beliefs have been in other times and places. Yet we hold to the historic Christian position on this topic while being respectful of those who disagree with us.”
Good! Yet on the same webpage, the school says it “welcomes and cares deeply for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students. Our LGBTQ students and alumni have made positive contributions to our community and are loved.” Of course, again, every student should be welcomed and deeply cared for, but affirming “sexual identities” at odds with the written word of God is incompatible with affirming the teachings of that word.
Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical institution located in southern California, continues to affirm that “the full behavioral expression of sexuality is to take place within the context of a marriage covenant between a man and a woman and that individuals remain celibate outside of the bond of marriage.” But in 2019, APU “lifted its ban on LGBTQ relationships on campus.”
According to University Provost Mark Stanton, “APU is an open-enrollment institution, which does not require students to be Christian to attend, and the handbook conveys our commitment to treating everyone with Christ-like care and civility. Our values are unchanged and the APU community remains unequivocally biblical in our Christian evangelical identity.” In other words, our theology is merely a pro-forma acknowledgement of truth; in practice, we won’t apply it.
Scripture condemns “double-mindedness” (James 1:7-8), and Jesus taught that no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). No college or university, no church or ministry, can simultaneously uphold orthodox theology while supporting practices at odds with it. Light and darkness cannot coexist.
It is also troubling that many youth attend Christian colleges and universities that remain orthodox in both teaching and practice and then insist that they abandon their beliefs for the sake of misdirected “sexual identities.” In an era in which countless American institutions of higher education not only tolerate but celebrate LGBTQ-identifying persons, why attend a school where biblical truth remains central?
Some Christian colleges and universities are standing strong (including the one where I teach, Virginia’s Regent University) in both their theological affirmations and the application of those affirmations to student life. Those that are not are on a slide toward not just heterodoxy but irrelevance. Christianity is intrinsically counter-cultural, and by trying desperately to appease the voracious and relentless demands of LGBTQ activists, Christians who do so compromise the good news itself. Why follow a faith whose tenets are so malleable that they can be squeezed into whatever the current culture insists upon?
New life in Christ is transformative. It does not embrace sin but calls for repentance of it, for the glory of God and the good of those who pursue it. This applies to all of us, in all areas of our lives, including sexuality. To lose this understanding of our faith is to lose our faith itself.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.