Wednesday, March 31, 2021
It's Wednesday, March 31, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Religious Colleges and Universities Targeted by Class Action Suit Brought Against Department of Education
It's one thing after another. That's what happens in a society and the unfolding of events that follow a certain logic and in this case, a certain strategy. We're talking about the fact that on Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed that basically challenges the right of the Department of Education to grant religious exemptions to Christian institutions when it comes to what the government would otherwise declare to be discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, sexual behavior, or marital status. This has been something that has been building for a long time, but make no mistake, this is a direct threat at the very existence of Christian education.
We knew this was going to happen. After all the solicitor general of the United States had said it was going to happen back when the oral arguments were held in the Supreme Court case that eventually decided the issue of same-sex marriage. That was the Obergefell decision of 2015, but months earlier when the oral arguments in the case were heard, Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. both addressed questions to the then solicitor general in the Obama administration, asking him if, for example, religious colleges that offered marital housing would be required to include same-sex married couples within their married housing, therefore violating their religious convictions.
Donald Verrilli said, "It will be an issue." Well, when was the "will?" The will is now. And actually, the date stamp on this lawsuit was Monday. The suit is actually a class action complaint that demands declaratory and injunctive relief, and also demands a jury trial. In this case, keep in mind the fact that the Christian institutions are not specifically the defendants in this case, the Department of Education is. But the targets are the Christian colleges and universities and seminaries that are named in this suit.
They are the ultimate target, but those who are bringing this case are suing the Department of Education of the United States government in order to prevent the Department of Education from recognizing the religious exemption of these Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries. And so, the effect would be to disqualify these organizations, these Christian colleges, schools, and seminaries, from receiving any kind of Title IV funding. That is funding through federal student aid programs, loans, grants, and all the rest.
Now, just keep in mind the fact that you have the very same issues that are involved in the equality act now pending in the United States Senate. If passed, that act would actually offer those bringing the suit just about everything they're asking for because, going back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it would then add gender expression, sexual orientation, sexual behavior, marital status, all those moral issues, it would add them as issues on which these Christian schools would have to compromise if they are going to continue to receive federal funding.
By the way, federal funding is larger than just the Title IV funding that comes in the form of student financial aid. You also have research grants, you have many other things. Let me also put in a statement right now. The reason why The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College are not on this list, and they are not party to the suit, the reason we are not identified in this suit is because we do not participate in any Title IV funding. Along with just a handful of other schools on the basis of conviction, we do not have any entanglement with federal money or with state money or with any kind of government funding. We pay a price for that, but it's important because we maintain our liberty.
But what we see here is not just an issue of federal funding. It's not just the Title IV funding issue. It's not just Title IX exemptions. What you see here is a deliberate effort by a major means of coercion to bring an end to institutions of Christian conviction, that operate as colleges and universities and seminaries. The names that are involved in this suit will be familiar to most Christians. One seminary that participates in Title IV funding is mentioned in this with two former students as parties to the suit, but you also have colleges such as Union University, Liberty University. You see institutions such as even Westmont College and Baylor University. You see universities that include those of Evangelical Christian conviction. You also have a Seventh-day Adventist University, and you have two Mormon universities, two different campuses of Brigham Young University.
The class action suit also brings a particular complaint against the Department of Education operating under regulations that were changed in the administration of former president Donald Trump. Under the Trump administration the way that these religious exemptions were granted was made broader in terms of the grounds of those exemptions. It's important to recognize something else. When you look at this suit and you look at the legislation, even at the exemption language itself, what becomes crucial? Well, let's say two things.
Number one, the institution must prove that it is under the direction or the control of a religious denomination, and number two, it must make very clear that it's moral judgments concerning gender, sexuality, homosexuality, you go down the entire LGBTQ array, are based in religious teaching. Now, that's a very important issue. It's important for every single Christian, every single Christian institution, every single congregation and denomination. It is vitally, it is urgently important, that you state emphatically, publicly, a clear case for the fact that your moral judgments, your moral teachings on these issues are based in historic religious tradition. In the case of Christian institutions, explicit scriptural teaching.
Explicit scriptural teaching that has been backed up by the consistent teaching of the Christian Church through nearly two millennia. Understand that this lawsuit is against the Department of Education, the targets are by the way not just the institutions that are mentioned here, but all Christian or religious institutions that do not allow the full array LGBTQ+, do not celebrate them, and take actions in hiring and in admissions and in student conduct and student residential life consistent with their own religious convictions. The target is every single Christian institution, period.
But you have to take the logic even further than that, because the target is not just Christian institutions, organizations, and ministries, but the churches and denominations behind them. Why? Because, if your church or your denomination cannot establish institution serving your purpose on your own convictional basis, then you are being denied the right to operate as a church, as you ought to have the right as the constitution respects that right. But as we now see, it is a right under direct frontal attack.
The patterns behind this particular class action are made clear in Paragraph 485. We read, "Indeed, most of the institutions seeking exemptions are Evangelical Christian institutions." Well, in other words, there's not an accident there. Even though there are a couple of Mormon institutions, one Seventh-day Adventist institution, most of the institutions explicitly targeted here are identified as Evangelical.
Now, one other interesting question is where Roman Catholic institutions, colleges, seminaries, and universities are likely to show up in this kind of targeting and the fact is, the Catholic institutions are not all the same, even though the Roman Catholic Church in its current catechism teaches that even homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered. You have Catholic institutions that have their own private charter. You have institutions that are under the direction of religious orders, such as the Jesuits, and by the way, many of them are rebelling in their teaching and in their practices on many of these issues. You also have one institution, the Catholic University of America that is under the actual control of the Vatican.
You're going to see the same thing in just about every religious group. You're going to see that the liberal schools, they're going to adopt the LGBTQ agenda and move on. You're going to have the conservative schools that actually hold to the deposit of faith and to a claim of revelation and to an ongoing doctrinal commitment, they're not going to be able to do the same. But we're also going to see everywhere you look, a sorting. A great sort that is just about to happen. A sorting where we're going to find out where every institution stands, and it's not going to come with the filing of this lawsuit. It's going to come when the moment that the federal government says one way or another, "You can have the federally supported student aid support. You can have your research grants, you can have the federal money. You can have the state tax money, or you can have your convictions. Choose ye this day."
The LGBTQ Revolutionaries Demand Complete Compliance in Order to Silence the Christian Argument in the Public Square
I read through the student testimonies that are in this class action lawsuit, and here's the most amazing thing. Many of the students act as if they had no idea that the institution to which they were applying actually had religious convictions concerning sexual behavior, gender identity, again, go down the list, LGBTQ. But many of them actually acknowledged that they knew, but they enrolled anyway. You see the rejection of those teachings and you see the explicit claim that these schools ought not to be able to operate on the basis of their religious convictions. Who do they think they are anyway? Religious schools? Well, actually they are religious schools. That's the whole point. And nobody was compelled by any kind of government force to apply to or to accept admission in any of these schools.
These young people applied to these schools, and you have to understand, as you look at the testimonies that are indicated here, that most of them actually did know. But you also see something else. You see people who do admit in these pleadings that they knew the convictions of the school to which they applied, but they are actually demanding that the school not be able to operate on the basis of its convictions.
You see something else here. You see the claim of identity, of sexual identity, posited in such a way that it must include behavior, not just something that might be described as a sexual interest or a sexual orientation or a sexual attraction profile. So explicitly in this argument presented by this organization representing the students, at Paragraph 502, speaking of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX, it says this, "The law does not recognize an identity conduct distinction."
Now, maybe you saw that coming, maybe you didn't, but here's what's coming. What is coming, and it's right here in this lawsuit, is the argument that when you say that sexual conduct is limited by the convictions of your institution or your church, the claim is being made that because of the sexual identity claim, you have no right to restrict the conduct. At several points in this pleading you have students say that they reject as discriminatory and intolerable the argument about hating the sin but loving the sinner. They are saying those two claims are incompatible, but you'll notice those two claims are actually central, although not always elegantly phrased, to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to biblical Christianity. We are to hate sin. We are to love sinners. We are not to love sin.
At Paragraph 504 you the logic, "Policies and laws targeting 'homosexual conduct' or 'transgender conduct' in fact target LGBTQ+ identity." So here you see a problem that's looming and we've seen it for some time, but here it is right in the text of this lawsuit. We've had the federal government and other key institutions in our society, but the federal government is front and center in this case, accept the idea, the claims of sexual identity for so-called sexual minorities, and you can see right where this is leading.
Once the government accepts this construct of sexual identity, well, once you have done that, then the government is then told you can't then limit conduct. If you accept the identity, you have to accept the conduct. If you do not forbid the denial of the identity, then you cannot forbid the conduct.
Now immediately, you will note something, and that is the fact that this then is a frontal assault, not only on academic institutions, but upon the logic of Christianity. But another issue here that we simply have to articulate as clearly as I know how, when you're talking about sexual identity in this case, this is what biblically minded Christians cannot accept. We cannot accept that we actually have a stamped identity based upon any kind of sexual claim of identity that is contrary to scripture. We have no right. And as Christians, we don't even have a right to believe in the existence of such an identity claim. And as Christians, we don't even have the right to accept the legitimacy of this kind of claim of sexual identity.
As you would expect, the press coverage concerning this lawsuit will be interesting in itself. For example, the Washington Post gives us a report by Michelle Boorstein, and she talks about 3 of the 33 students who are behind this lawsuit, this class action lawsuit, describing them as current and past students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities. "The suit says the religious exemption the schools are given that allow them to have discriminatory policies is unconstitutional because they receive government funding. The class action suit filed by the nonprofit Religious Exemption Accountability Project references 25 schools across the country. The suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Oregon says "The plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression fueled by government funding and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul."
Notice again here, you have this statement of sexual and gender minority students. You buy into the idea of sexual minorities. This is the logic that will be virtually impossible to fight.
A few days ago, I downloaded and read a document that purports to be research behind the organization and produced by the organization that is bringing this lawsuit. Again, the organization is known as the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, they released a report entitled, "The LGBTQ+ Student Divide," the subtitle, "The State of Sexual and Gender Minority Students at Taxpayer-Funded Christian colleges".
The executive summary of that report begins with words we all need to hear. "One-third of the more than 2000 four-year undergraduate institutions in America are religiously affiliated. Of those, more than 200 Christian colleges and universities, with a combined student population nearing 1,000,000, explicitly discriminate against their LGBTQ+ students. This discrimination," says the report, "directly affects hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ students at these Christian colleges and universities. Data from a new survey reveals that 12% of students identify as LGBTQ+, and nearly one third of students at these Christian colleges and universities describe experiencing some amount of non-heterosexual attraction or experience."
Why do I read that? Do I believe this research is credible? No, I do not believe that this research is credible. The point is that this group thinks there will be an emotional punch to this kind of claim, but this report packaged in a rather sophisticated manner, presents the background to the lawsuit that was filed on Monday. And, there will be other lawsuits to follow. This one was filed in Oregon in the Federal Court, but it will not be limited to Oregon or the Northwest or even the West Coast in terms of its impact.
But, bringing this particular issue to a conclusion for today, I want to say that what we really need to note is not just the urgency of these lawsuits that are now coming against us. It's not just the urgency of the equality act now looming before us that would basically accomplish everything this suit is demanding and far, far more, but we need to recognize the inexplicit language, and this is something new. New, at least in this concentrated strategic form.
What we are seeing is an argument that the Christian argument should be excluded from the public square. What we're seeing here is that institutions that would hold to Christian conviction in particular, the vast majority here, are Evangelical Christian institutions. The claim is that Evangelical Christian institutions should be shamed or marginalized or starved into a forced compliance. Or, if they will not bend the knee, should simply be removed from the company of respected educational institutions.
And again, make no mistake. This is targeted at institutions that are particularly vulnerable because of their dependence upon federal student aid funding. But those who are bringing the suit won't stop with the issue of federal student aid or even federal funding. What is behind this is the effort to silence Christian institutions, and to silence Christian churches and denominations, and to enforce compliance, to bring coercion in order to force everyone and every institution, every college university and school, every ministry and organization, and eventually every denomination, to join the revolution or to be ruled out of bounds. And, by those bringing this kind of lawsuit, out of time.
The Question Remains — Will Christian Institutions Be Allowed to Operate According to Christian Convictions?
But next, a similar development that has to do not with a class action lawsuit, but about a controversy about one Christian college campus, also tells us a great deal about where we stand as Christians right now and it's a theological assessment that's most important. Understanding that what's being demanded is not just a recalibration of student codes and religious college campuses. It's not just a recalibration of Christian morality. It's actually a recalibration of the Christian gospel, which means a denial of that gospel.
What am I talking about here? I'm talking about a fairly small Christian university located in Cleveland, Tennessee, known as Lee University. It's under the auspices of the Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination. The controversy in this case occurred because the college had invited a chapel speaker who spoke to some of the LGBTQ+ issues and left the issue unresolved in the view of the church and the University President, speaking in a way that confused the gospel and was not consistent with biblical teachings. So, what's then the responsibility of a Christian university? The responsibility is to make correction, to clarify the Christian convictions that are at stake, to base the argument in scripture and make the argument both compelling and obligatory upon the university. That's what a Christian institution is. We are obligated to obey the scripture.
In this case, the response came to the controversy from the Church of God General Overseer, saying that the President of the University, Dr. Mark Walker would be addressing this issue and clarifying the issue for faculty and students and the entirely university community. The President did that. Mark Walker was for many years, a pastor. He is now the President at Lee University, and we are told that he stepped up to the stage of the chapel of his own university to make very clear, to clarify, where there had been a lack of clarity in the chapel speaker.
It's extremely interesting to note that the President of the University in this case did not only clarify the issue, make very clear that the university was standing on its biblical convictions, concerning marriage, human sexuality, sexual orientation, all the rest, but he also went on to raise the issue of repentance. It turns out that an absence of reference to repentance from sin is what had caused the original concern with the chapel speakers message. The President of the University came back to speak about necessary repentance.
He said this. "Without repentance, there is no salvation or forgiveness of sins in the Christian faith. We wanted to make sure there wasn't any ambiguity there." Now, that's just classic Christianity. That's a very important Christian doctrine. The gospel is about faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and repentance of sin. But what you have here is the fact that repentance of sin is now being targeted as a form of sexual abuse or even personal attack. But it's very important for us to recognize that within hours of the president issuing that clarification, you had some alumni of the institution who are identified with trying to make the institution more LGBTQ friendly, who accused the president of targeting LGBTQ+ students by calling for repentance.
In a report on the controversy that appeared in the Chattanooga Times and Free Press, we read this. "The idea Walker outlined in his talk, that Christians need to call others to repentance, worried some alumni who said it could provide cover for students to harass or bully people in the LGBTQ community. Since some could justify the harassment as calling people to repent, Walker said using repentance as cover is wrong and the university wants to know about any form of harassment so it can be addressed."
But notice, this is not a concrete claim about some specific incident that is claimed to be abuse or bullying. This is actually the argument that calling sinners to repentance is in itself, a form of bullying. That's the kind of argument you can expect to hear. You can expect to hear it in a legal context. You can expect to see it in a public controversy context as is now centered around Lee University.
But what we also see as we bring all this to a conclusion for today is that, the claim that these schools ought not to be allowed to operate on the basis of Christian conviction when it comes to student housing, student admission, student conduct, faculty, hiring faculty promotion, and all the rest, is actually a claim that Christians ought not to be allowed to put Christian beliefs into any kind of tangible form in an institution that would teach, an organization that would minister, or you go down the list. This is an explicit effort now to use even the category of repentance, absolutely essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ as if it is in itself, just a tool of bullying and abuse.
One of the most important teachings of the New Testament comes from the Apostle Paul. You can find it for example, in Romans 7, where the Apostle Paul says that he is thankful for the law because without the law, he would not have known that he was a law breaker, a sinner needing a savior. That same New Testament logic is extended to metanoia, which means repentance. The word repentance is a central New Testament theme. Repentance is central to the gospel. Without repentance, there is no faith that saves because the faith that saves produces repentance. And without repentance, we remain in our sins, and that's the real issue here, because we really are looking at that final divide between belief and unbelief, and the divide is always not just the gospel, but Jesus Christ.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce college, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.