Standing in Seattle: A Christian University Is Not Bending to a Radical Agenda
Years ago, one of my cousins went on a youth campout. He and his friends had been told to bring their own food, and Bob did. He brought marshmallows.
That was all — marshmallows. Needless to say, a steady diet of soft white candy was insufficient for a weekend full of hiking and other outdoor activities. It’s sufficient to say that Bob’s lack of preparation made what could have been a fondly memorable event unforgettable — and not happily.
Sadly, many Christians are equally unprepared for the social turmoil circling around them. We seem to think that unless an issue affects us personally and immediately, it must not be that big of a deal. Until, of course, it is.
Case in point: Seattle Pacific University is affiliated with the evangelical Free Methodist denomination and is located, of course, in Seattle. I thought seriously of attending there since, having grown up in a Seattle suburb, attending the local Christian college seemed to make sense. I chose another school but over the years have known many friends and acquaintances who have gone to SPU.
Starting in May, hundreds of SPU students and their allies in the Seattle LGBTQ community conducted a “sit in” at the school demanding that SPU’s board of trustees change the institution’s “homophobic” policies. This follows an April 2021 faculty “vote of no confidence” in the trustees because they would not alter their allegiance to the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality. The vote was endorsed by 72% of the SPU’s faculty.
It is worth noting that the school’s stated policy is clear and also consistent with scriptural norms: “Employees are expected to refrain from sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University’s understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity.”
Now, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) has “announced a civil rights investigation into Seattle Pacific University for refusing to hire LGBTQ+ faculty and staff.” Ferguson justifies his actions by claiming that “numerous Seattle Pacific University students, faculty, and others reached out to my office to file complaints or otherwise express deep concern that the University administration’s policies illegally violate Washingtonians’ civil rights.”
Ferguson also claims that his “office respects the religious views of all Washingtonians and the constitutional rights afforded to religious institutions. As a person of faith, I share that view.”
Sorry, Mr. Ferguson: You can’t have it both ways. Either you allow religious institutions to practice their faith, or you don’t. This is not an issue a politician can finesse. Either you support religious liberty, or you don’t. Bullying is inconsistent with Christian virtue, and surrendering truth is a recipe for spiritual ruin.
So, SPU decided to sue Mr. Ferguson in federal court with help of The Becket Fund, a Christian religious freedom organization. As Becket notes, “Seattle Pacific University is asking a federal court to stop Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson from interfering in the religious decisions of a Christian university seeking to remain true to its faith and mission. Mr. Ferguson recently singled out Seattle Pacific because of its Christian beliefs, demanding information about the school’s religious hiring practices and employees. … Our laws protect religious universities from unlawful demands by governmental officials.”
This is something the AG did not anticipate. With exasperation, he said, “The lawsuit demonstrates that the University believes it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that it is shielded from answering basic questions from my office regarding the University’s compliance with state law.”
This outburst is kind of funny — you can almost see Mr. Ferguson squirming and fuming in his overstuffed chair. SPU is not claiming to be “above the law” to any degree. It’s simply holding the attorney general’s feet to the fire he started. The strange scorching sensation he is feeling is no doubt uncomfortable but, with all due respect, he invited it.
SPU is to be commended for its loyalty to the Bible. Scripture remains at the heart of its mission as a university. However, what remains to be seen is how SPU will address its faculty — the substantial majority of whom do not accept what the Bible teaches about human sexuality — and its many students who fail to grasp the final authority of clear biblical teaching.
When nearly three-quarters of a Christian school’s faculty and a substantial number of its students support abandoning scriptural truth, the tragedy of moral compromise is self-apparent. This state of affairs did not happen overnight. Erosion always starts small, and unless it is stemmed early, it becomes a cascade of destruction. That this has happened at SPU should give all Christian institutions pause.
Back to my cousin Bob and the American church. There are two dominant worldviews at play in our culture, one in which radical self-redefinition and complete sexual autonomy wants to silence all opposition. The other is one in which people of faith can live according to the dictates of their deepest convictions.
Whether or not followers of Jesus are prepared to stand firm, regardless of lawsuits, name-calling, and increasing hatred from LGBTQ extremists and their allies is a question that plagues the believing church. How we answer it will determine our usefulness to the God of grace and truth in coming years.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.