Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Briefing

March 22, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, March 22nd, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Just months after reinstating a ban on romantic LGBT relationships, Azusa Pacific University once again strays from the historic Christian understanding of romance

The intersection of the sexual revolution and the Evangelical College campus is meant for trouble and that has become especially acute as you consider a series of rather bizarre recent headlines all over the last several days. Here’s one from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in California, the headline: Azusa Pacific University lifts LGBTQ relationship ban (again). Christianity Today’s headline, Azusa Pacific drops ban on same sex student relationships again.

ZU News, which is the official student website of Azusa Pacific University. The headline: APU Update Student Handbook Removes Code on same sex relationships again. Inside higher education in a more succinct story, had an even more succinct headline: Christian University flip flops on gay relationships. Now if this looks like a big story, I can assure you it really is a big story. We’re looking here at one are the crucial test case for whether or not Evangelical institutions are going to hold in any way to biblical fidelity, when it comes to the entire complex of moral challenges involved in the LGBTQ revolution.

In the case of Azusa Pacific just in the months since last September until the present, we are looking at an entire pattern of complexity and confusion, which is entirely the responsibility of the university. Christopher Yee reporting for the San Gabriel Valley paper tells us Azusa Pacific University again has lifted a ban on LGBTQ relationships on campus. The university board of trustees directed administrators to update the student handbook for undergraduate students were told and according to the story that was confirmed by campus spokeswoman Rachel White.

Yee then continues, “The changes specifically removed language that barred LGBTQ relationships as part of a standing band on premarital sex” The updated policy, the story tells us demonstrates the Azusa Pacific commitment to quote uniform standards of behavior for all students applied equally and in a non-discriminatory fashion. That according to the provost of the university, Mark Stanton. He went on to say in a statement, APU, meaning Azusa Pacific university 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 instead are unchanged, and the APU community remains unequivocally biblical in our Christian evangelical identity.”

Almost a year ago, Tom Gjelten reporting for National Public Radio warned that Christian colleges are becoming tangled in their own LGBT policies. He wrote, “Conservative Christian colleges once relatively insulated from the culture war are increasingly entangled in the same battles over LGBT rights and related social issues that have divided other institutions in America. Students and faculty at many religious institutions are asked to accept a ‘faith statement’ outlining the school’s views on such matters as evangelical doctrine, scriptural interpretation, and human sexuality. These statements he explained often include a rejection of homosexual activity, and a definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. He went on to say, however, changing attitudes on sexual ethics and civil rights are making it difficult for some schools, even conservative ones to ensure broad compliance with their strict positions.”

That report from Tom Gjelten of National Public radio is a signal that there is increased confusion on the campuses amongst the student bodies, even the faculties of many Evangelical colleges and universities. The article also makes clear that many of these Christian colleges are finding it difficult to maintain fidelity in any consistent sense to what they say are the moral beliefs, the biblical beliefs, the Christian beliefs of the institutions. As the article also makes clear, although it doesn’t put the issue in these words, there is increased pressure on the campuses of many of these universities coming from students sometimes officially recognized student bodies coming from faculty. That indicates that among the enrolled students and among the faculty in many of these institutions, there is no consistent commitment whatsoever to the Christian convictions that the institution supposedly represents.

Mary Hulst identified as senior chaplain at Calvin College, a college that officially holds to a very clear teaching on biblical sexuality. She said, “You’ve got these two values. We love our LGBT people. We love our Church of Jesus Christ. We love Scripture, so those of us who do this work are right in the middle of that space. We’re living in the tension.”

Gjelten then goes on to tell us that Calvin college is affiliated with the Christian Reform Church, which holds that homosexual practice is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture, but we’re then told that Holst the chaplain leads Bible study groups with her LGBT students and discusses with them the passages that refer to same sex relationships. One of the students on the Calvin College campus said, “Those are the clobber passages. They’re used to clobber queer kids back into being straight.” The chaplain also seems to reflect a good deal of ambivalence. She said, “Someone from the LGBT community will say, if you will not honor the choices I make with my life, if I choose a partner and get married, then you’re not actually honoring me. I can understand that.” Hulst said, grimacing according to the report. “I can see how they might come to that conclusion.”

Just months before that, a report appeared by Tom Gjelten at National Public radio an interesting article appeared at ZU Media. Again, that’s the student news site of Azusa Pacific University. The headline was this, “A case of opposing freedoms can LGBTQ rights coexist with Azusa Pacific University’s institutional values.” Now it tells us a lot that an article like this would appear in the newspapers seen in retrospect that appears something of a warning shot. The big changes were afoot at the university. Katrina Williams identified as a staff writer for the site and Cynthia Arroyo identified as the magazine’s editor in chief began the article by saying that diversity “Is a buzzword here at Azusa Pacific. This month, some students are again arguing that there is a side of diversity that the community is overlooked diversity in sexual preference and orientation.”

This article appeared on November the 28th of 2017. The students went on to write, “According to the APU student standards of conduct, students may not engage in a romanticized same sex relationship. Additionally Students, faculty, and staff are not allowed to harass each other due to their sexual identity or orientation. A issue here they wrote as a concern about seemingly opposing freedoms. Proponents of APU standards of conduct say that private universities have a right to create guidelines that align with their beliefs. Those who are advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ plus community argue that the same sex relationship clause in the student handbook is discriminatory.

That article published back in November of 2017 also tells us that there’s an organized student groups seeking to bring about change in the institution’s policy. In late September of last year, 2018 the announcement came that the university had changed the policy, removing the clause that prevented students from romanticized same sex relationships in a way that met the moral standards of the university.

The clause was simply removed. Back on September the 18th of 2018 ZU Media reported effective this Fall 2018 semester Azusa Pacific removed language from it’s students standard of conduct agreement that prohibited Public LGBTQ plus relationships for students on campus. As an evangelical institution. APU said the statement still adheres to the biblical principles of human sexuality. The belief that again, “Sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.” The article went on to say that that statement remains a cornerstone of the university’s foundation, but the change in the policy was clear enough, and it was reported as the result of much dialogue between students and administration.

The most interesting statement in this report came from Erin Green identified his co-executive director of the group known as Brave Commons and a recent graduate of the university. We’re told that she had coordinated many of the conversations. In the statement she said this, “We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same sex romantic relationships, wile it is impossible to enforce or monitor whether other students are remaining abstinent. Queer students she said are just as able to have romanticize relationships that abide by APU’s rules. The code used falsely assumed that same sex romance has always involved sexual behavior. This stigmatization causes harm to our community, especially those serious about their Christian faith.”

So the news came back in September of last year that the university had changed it’s policy and would allow students to be engaged in open romanticized LGBTQ relationships, and the university said that it had made the policy in the name of equity amongst all students and non-discrimination. The university made the statement, they insisted back then that they were not changing the institutions fundamental moral values. They still claim to hold to evangelical conviction. But as the story made clear, as the language was being retained, defining marriage and sexual union, the news report went on to say that the changed policy is the result of this dialogue between students and administration.

And we were told that this official conversation has now led to the recognition of a student group and the change in the policy at the demand of those students. An administrator of the university back then said that one of the purposes, and the change in policy was so that the university would be in his words, “Attentive to equity.” But the story continued to unfold in September and October of 2018 when the board of trustees reversed the policy announced by the administration, which had allowed for openly romantic relationships amongst LGBTQ students or those who were identified as such. The board of trustees instead said that they were going to take responsibility for any change in this policy, and they reversed the decision of the administration effectively answering the critics of the change by saying that they were going to reverse it. That’s what makes the headlines in recent days so interesting.

Part II

Azusa Pacific tries to affirm irreconcilable positions: Why condoning LGBT romantic relationships necessarily implies condoning LGBT sexual relationships

That’s why the headlines use the word again. That Azusa Pacific University in just the last couple of weeks has changed the policy again. That’s why inside higher education refers to these changes in policy as a flip flop. It was off then it was on. Now it’s off again. But then just weeks after the board announced that decision reversing the administration’s policy, putting the ban on romantic relationships back in place, two members of the Azusa Pacific board resigned and as they did so, they said that the university was drifting away from its theological and moral commitments.

As the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported then pastor Raleigh Washington of Chicago and businessman Dave Dias Sacramento resigned from the board both alleging that the university was straying from it’s evangelical Christian mission. The chairman of the board, David Pool, responded by rejecting the argument saying. “We respectfully disagree with their assertion that Azusa Pacific has strayed from its Christian Foundation and focus. We are actively engaged in stewarding our biblical and Orthodox Evangelical Christian identity.”

Well, here’s where we need to look really close at what’s going on here. This is not just a story that will be limited in impact to one Christian University. This is not just one university that is changing its policies in this case, in the most complex and confusing way. This is not the only Christian college or university to face this challenge, but the way Azusa Pacific University has faced the challenge is particularly instructive. It should serve as a warning to all. In the official statement on human sexuality currently accessible on the university’s website. The college says, “As an evangelical community of disciples and scholars who embrace the historic Christian understanding of Scripture, Azusa Pacific University holds that sexuality is a gift from God and basic to human identity as well as a matter of behavioral expression. We hold 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 the individual’s remained celibate outside of the bond of marriage. Therefore, we seek to cultivate a community in which sexuality is embraced as God given and good and where biblical standards of sexual behavior are upheld.”

Later in the statement in what are identified as sections four and five. The college says that Sexual Union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman and that the New Testament teaches that the followers of Christ are to remain celibate outside the bond of marriage. In sexual union, both body and soul, “Are deeply impacted. A person who engages in sexual unions outside the bond of marriage, sins against his or her own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Azusa Pacific, was founded in 1899 first began holding its classes in the year 1900. It has been associated with the Wesleyan holiness tradition within American Protestantism.

It is also a college that is clearly wrestling with how to hold to its historic Christian commitments and at the same time surrender, at least in part to the LGBTQ revolution. It has done so in a way that really does demand our attention. I read from those statements of the official policy on human sexuality to indicate just how orthodox indeed the words appear to be, but then we noticed something interesting on a second look. It refers to the full behavioral expression of sexuality and then it refers to sexual union. Here’s one of the key questions. How do those expressions actually apply to LGBTQ plus students that’s using the designation used by the university. How exactly does that apply? The universities now in the position of saying that it will no longer consider is morally significant romanticized relationships among students of the same sex or gender. That it will no longer consider romanticized relationships and expressions of those relationships short of what’s defined as the full behavioral expression of sexuality or Sexual Union.

Of course the obvious question is how exactly do those criteria apply to LGBTQ relationships. We also need to face something even more fundamental. When you are allowing romanticized relationships. When you are saying that they are no longer of moral significance, that they are no longer in conflict with Scripture. Well, you are creating a situation in which you are explicitly saying that romanticized relationships contrary to Scripture are fine, just no full behavioral expression of sexuality. And that is not only a conundrum, it is an inherent contradiction. This is surrendering to the LGBTQ revolutionaries and doing so in the name of equity and diversity and acceptance. It is setting up the inevitable disaster that will come when students draw the logical conclusion that if the romance is legitimate then the sexual expression must be legitimate. The fact is that there is no way to be obedient to the clear teachings of Scripture and allow or celebrate same sex, romanticized relationships, much less public displays of affection.

Part III

How Azusa Pacific’s policy reversal reminds us that every Christian institution will have to choose whether to face the consequences of not surrendering to the sexual revolution or of abandoning Christian convictions

The very demands made by students are the demands contrary to Scripture, but they are not contrary to the sexual revolutionaries. They are the key arguments made by those who want explicitly to redefine the entire sexual morality of the culture. It is interesting to note that before just the latest headlines on the change policy coming from Azusa Pacific, Religion News Service ran an article in which it was expressed that as is a Pacific, “Was just the latest chapter in a growing tension between trustees at evangelical institutions and students who are embracing progressive values in greater numbers.” But now of course the news has come that the board of trustees itself has taken action to remove the prohibition on open same sex romanticized relationships on the Azusa Pacific campus. But as we’re thinking about this, one of the most revealing statements was made by the provost of the university, Mark Stanton.

Remember these words, “APU is an open enrollment institution, which does not require students to be Christian to attend, and the student handbook conveys our commitment to treating everyone with Christ-like care, and civility. Our values are unchanged, and the APU community remains unequivocally biblical and our Christian evangelical identity.” I will state emphatically that I do not believe the university is acting consistently or in accordance with historic orthodox Biblical teaching on human sexuality. It is very clear in Scripture that you cannot separate romance and sexuality and to allow the romance implies at least the eventual acceptance of sexuality. And the context of this change policy is really important because it is explicitly in the context of pressure coming from liberal so called progressive students on these sexuality issues, and the story comes down to the board surrendering to the demands made by students. But stories that appeared in recent months have also made clear that some of the pressure was coming from more liberal members of the university’s faculty.

Looking at the provost statement, the rationale very clearly is the fact that the university defines itself as an open enrollment institution that does not require Christians to be Christian to attend. It instead says that every student is going to be treated with Christ-like care, but you’ll notice that that becomes the open door for a moral revolution on the campus. For a revolution that’s going to be immediately visible amongst the students and in student behavior in student romanticized relationships among students, especially as reflected in the student media site, you see all kinds of signals about what’s going on. An article that appeared in February of this year includes the argument that Christianity has represented a long withstanding stigma against LGBTQ plus relationships, and it points to the recent changes at Azusa Pacific the reversal on the policy as indicative of that stigmatization.

Let’s just look at that squarely. Once you define Christian biblical convictions as stigma, then you’ve got to do something to remove the stigma. You are going to have to change the morality and that’s exactly what is happening here. Reports in the local and national media also indicated that even as the university is facing a financial crisis and is heavily dependent upon government sources of student aid, the administration, and board of trustees face the fact that students and student groups are filing official grievances against the university. And it is also indicated that some of those grievances were addressed to the accrediting agency they’re on the west coast. No doubt, the Azusa Pacific board of trustees wanted to find a way to avoid having to deal with those grievances and to answer to the accreditors. They wanted to find a way to satisfy students who were demanding moral change on the campus, and they wanted to do so while continuing to claim that the university remained true to its orthodox biblical Christian principles.

I’ve given this story so much attended today because it is so significant. This is going to be the kind of question faced by every single Christian institution, every Christian Church, every Christian college and university. It is going to come in one way or another, but the demand is going to come that we must change our policies. We must forfeit our convictions in order to meet the demands of the sexual revolutionaries, or we are going to have to face the consequences. Institutions that remain true to biblical conviction will indeed face the consequences, but the institutions that compromise or forfeit those convictions will face other consequences, theological and spiritual consequences, consequences of far greater importance than anything that can be threatened by any government or any agency. We will all have to face the consequences of living by our convictions and our policies. The question is which set of consequences are we willing to face?

Part IV

Cyclone Idai: How the reality of natural evil calls for Christians to pray and care for our neighbor, even when that neighbor is across the globe

Finally, as the week comes to an end, our hearts go to the people of Mozambique and Zimbabwe and the aftermath of a massive and deadly cyclone known as cyclone Idai. Even as the storm was approaching the African coast, it was known to be massive and powerful but not necessarily a great deal, more massive or powerful than the hurricanes that hit many locations in North America bringing also vast devastation and sometimes death. The difference is that this is Africa. When you’re looking at the nations of Mozambican and Zimbabwe, you’re looking at nations with huge populations, very vulnerable and you are looking at the fact that even now given the lack of infrastructure in these nations, the death toll is not yet even imaginable.

As we are praying for and hopefully at some point being able to offer assistance to those who are in these affected nations, we also come to understand that when you are looking culture by culture, storm by storm, headline by headline, it’s not just what happens when the storm hits. It matters tremendously what happens when the storm is gone. What kind of infrastructure is or is not present to bring about recovery efforts to help to restore lives, to help to rebuild homes. There’s going to be a massive reconstructive effort necessary on the other side, even on the other side of the immediate issue, which is the continued danger to health and life on the part of those who survived the storm, much less the responsibility to try to gather the dead and to bury them. We’re looking at a story that should break our hearts. That reminds us of the reality of what we call natural evil of occurrences in the natural world that are themselves, the result of the fall.

There is no way to answer the question why this storm? Why these nations, why now? But this is where Christians come to understand that asking the why question is wrong, asking the what now question is right. We need to be praying right now, not just for the people who are suffering, and those who are vulnerable, but for those who are helping and even now gathering energies to assist those who are in trouble in the aftermath of the storm. It’s easy for Americans to look at these headlines or even the horrible photographs and think that’s a long way away, but then we need to remember what Jesus told his followers. Every single human being on the planet is our neighbor. Looking at new stories that way changes everything.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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