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Sowing Confusion on The Christian College Campus: A Troubling Sign from The West Coast

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
March 27, 2019

When an evangelical college campus and the sexual revolution collide, theological conviction and biblical fidelity often crumble. The full force of the LGBTQ movement will stop at nothing until it has secured total capitulation. When Christian institutions and college campuses open the door to what they perceive as a minor concession to the sexual revolution, they soon find out that no moral concession is minor.

Azusa Pacific University (APU) is a modern tale of this clash between evangelical colleges and the push to normalize the moral revolution. A host of headlines describe the collision: the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports, “Azusa Pacific University lifts LGBTQ relationship ban (Again).” Christianity Today ran the headline, “Azusa Pacific drops ban on same sex student relationships again.” Inside Higher Ed covered the evolving story with the succinct headline, “Christian U Flip-Flops on Gay Relationships.”

The use of the word “again” or “flip-flops” in the headline chronicles the topsy-turvy tale of Azusa Pacific’s policy regarding same-sex relationships. Until last fall, APU had on the books a student behavior policy that upheld a biblical understanding of gender and sexuality. Late in September, the school announced a change in its policies. The new policy would, for example, allow for openly-LGBTQ romanticized relationships among students. Then, just days later, the Board of Trustees reversed the change to the governing handbook, explaining that it never had the opportunity to vote on such a monumental change to university policy. Now, in recent weeks, APU has again, lifted the ban against same-sex relationships.

The story revolving around APU serves as a test case for the future of evangelical institutions. The question is simple and unavoidable: Will Christian colleges hold fast to the Bible or will they surrender, slowly or quickly, to the mores of the LGBTQ revolution?

Christopher Yee reported for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune with these words:  “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, campus spokeswoman Rachel White confirmed. The changes specifically removed language that barred LGBTQ relationships as part of a standing ban on pre-marital sex. The update…demonstrates Azusa Pacific’s commitment to ‘uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion,’ according to university Provost Mark Stanton.”

In his public statement, the Provost of APU said, “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.”

Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio warned almost a year ago that “Christian colleges are tangled in their own LGBTQ policies.” As he explained, “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.” He notes that while many evangelical institutions require students and faculty to sign statements of faith that situate marriage and sexuality in traditional, orthodox Christianity, the tidal wave of the sexual revolution has built enormous pressure on college campuses—and these campuses now find it increasingly difficult to enforce compliance with their doctrinal statements.

Yet, in the torrent of this scandal, APU contends that it has not surrendered its evangelical and biblically orthodox identity. APU said in a statement, “Sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.” The policy change, therefore, centered on the perceived issue of equality and the university, rather than altering its doctrinal stance on marriage, lifted its ban on romanticized relationships between same-sex couples.

Erin Green, a recent graduate of APU, spearheaded the conversation, which resulted in the most recent policy change at Azusa. She argued, “We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same sex romantic relationships, while 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.”

According to Green, the issue at APU was not theological fidelity but equality. Same-sex students, she argued, endured unfair treatment by the existing statues in the APU handbook.

The policy change attempted to compartmentalize orthodox doctrine on the one hand, and pragmatic equality on the other hand. The proponents for changing the policy argued that APU can still maintain its evangelical commitment to marriage as a union between one man and one woman while simultaneously allowing for openly romanticized same-sex relationships on its campus as a sign of equal treatment.

In the wake of the developments last fall, two APU trustees resigned, explaining that they believed the university was drifting away from its theological and moral commitments. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that Pastor Raleigh Washington of Chicago and businessman Dave Dias of Sacramento ended their term on the board of trustees, alleging that the university was surrendering its evangelical Christian identity.

Yet, David Poole, chairman of the board, responded to the defectors, arguing that “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.”

The official statement of APU on human sexuality reads, “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.”

Then, in sections four and five of handbook, APU 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.”

At first glance, APU’s official statement sounds biblical and orthodox. As is often the case, however, the devil is in the details.

The university argues that it holds to the “full behavioral expression of sexuality” within the confines of covenantal marriage between a marriage and a woman. The key word here is “full.” Thus, so long as a romantic relationship does not fully express sexual behaviors that should only exist under the covenant of marriage, then the university has no policy or stance. There is freedom to express behaviors in direct contradistinction to biblical morality so long as it does not breach the full expression of sexual behaviors.

The university now holds a position of effective neutrality. They have rendered romanticized relationships as morally unimportant, allowing for same-sex relationships on their supposedly evangelical campus.

APU is not merely drifting. It has made, in the argument of the university, an insignificant and harmless concession, which allows them to promote equality and relevance on their campus while maintaining its core biblical identity.

This is fantasy of the highest order.

The biblical worldview does not allow for same-sex or LGBTQ romantic relationships. APU has adopted an explicit contradiction of the scriptural understanding of marriage, sexuality, gender, and romantic relationships between men and women. You cannot compartmentalize romance. Romantic relationships are themselves deeply moral and they imply the fulfillment of the sexual. Any construct contrary to the Bible’s clear teachings about sex, gender, and romance is by definition unbiblical. No Christian can live in logical consistency with the biblical teachings regarding marriage and simultaneously celebrate same-sex couples and homosexual displays of affection.

The pressure for this policy re-reversal came not only from students and some members of the faculty but from the precarious financial condition of the university. APU relies heavily upon government-funded student aid sources for student aid—financial assistance that comes with a great deal of pressure, especially for a university in the progressive state of California. It is, as the provost explained, an open-enrollment institution that includes many non-Christians in its student body. They have organized student groups and alumni advocating for LGBTQ acceptance. The policies are changing accordingly

Azusa Pacific University is just the beginning. The questions facing APU will quickly descend on every single Christian institution. No college, university, or congregation will remain immune from this temptation. This secular moment will eventually force Christians and Christian institutions to decide. The demands of the moral revolutionaries are exceedingly clear and they are backed up by the culture. This won’t stop with the acceptance of romanticized LGBTQ relationships on a college campus.

It doesn’t take a prophet to see where this is going.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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