Wednesday, April 7, 2021
It's Wednesday, April 7, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Shape of Things to Come: Christian Colleges and Schools That Hold to Christian Moral Commitments Are Accused of Discrimination
Are you a discriminating person? If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? As you look at the history of the English language, it has meant both, and in different contexts. It can be something very positive as in a discriminating sense of taste when it comes to literature or art. A cultivated taste, a trained taste to discriminate between matters on the basis of aesthetic judgment or beauty. But it also has taken on that negative connotation in which when we say that someone is discriminating, we mean it as doing something that is wrong, choosing negatively in such a way that it means eliminating those who ought not to be eliminated, a negative form of discrimination as when we speak of racial or ethnic discrimination.
But as you're looking at the word, the change in the usage really does tell us something. It tells us that the current most urgent moral concern is about avoiding wrongful discrimination. We're really not talking at this point about aesthetics when you walk into an art museum or choosing a book when you go into a library. We're talking about laws, policies that may or may not actually discriminate in wrongful ways. There is a history of wrongful, even sinful discrimination. That's one of the reasons why we have so many of the anti-discrimination laws that are on the books today. But we're also looking at the fact that in our contemporary context, we have lost all moral sanity about what is rightful discrimination and wrongful discrimination.
I was on a national television debate some years ago when I was facing off with a liberal theologian who said, "It is always wrong to discriminate when it comes to human beings on any basis whatsoever. Discrimination means that you are exercising a judgment. And we ought to be non-judgmental." I pointed out that his statement is morally insane. If you are going to say that all discrimination, all choices between people would be wrong especially if you're making a moral judgment, then I certainly hope you are not hiring a babysitter. Because when it comes to hiring a babysitter, I think we definitely know there are some persons we would not, should not hire, and there are others that we would rightfully trust.
What we're looking at here is the fact that if you're looking for a heart surgeon, you actually do want to be discriminating. If you're looking for a babysitter, you bet you'd better be discriminating. But if you're talking about a real estate transaction and you're talking about discrimination, for example, on the basis of race or skin color or ethnicity, well, we would understand that that would be wrong, categorically wrong. And we would understand that the law would rightfully forbid that wrongful discrimination.
But in our contemporary moment, we have to recognize that the moral revolution is riding on the logic of anti-discrimination policies. And thus, it is counting on the fact that when people in society hear the claim that LGBTQ individuals are discriminated against, well, they're supposed to respond to that with a sense of moral abhorrence and judgment. It would be wrong to discriminate on this basis. But of course, this is where historic biblical Christianity runs into an absolute conflict with the direction of our modern culture.
And one very key indication of that is a recent headline at Religion News Service. The article's by Yonat Shimron and the headline is this, "Are LGBTQ students at Christian schools discriminated against?" The subhead, "A lawsuit scholarly studies say yes." Now, just look at the headline. It raises the question. "Are LGBTQ students," that's a definable category implied in the headline, "discriminated against at Christian schools?" And then the subhead says this is a very important issue because there's a lawsuit that says it is and scholarly studies who say it is.
Now, I discussed the lawsuit and I discussed the so-called scholarly studies here in a previous edition of The Briefing just a few days ago. I pointed out that when you are talking about what are claimed here to be scholarly studies, they are coming from an interest group, in which case you need to seriously question just how scholarly they are. When it comes to the lawsuit, well, let's just remind ourselves of a basic fact of American law. A lawsuit presents one side in a case, and this is the side as we saw coming from LGBTQ activists suing the United States Department of Education to try to force the Department of Education to cancel a special policy for Christian colleges, religious colleges, and universities to operate on the basis of religious conviction even when that means that those institutions will make moral judgments based upon their religious teachings. That's the whole point by the way of being a religious college.
So before even looking at the article, the headline that is given to us by Religion News Service, this is not appearing in some third party newspaper, the News Service has chosen this headline itself. It implies that these colleges should be on the defensive because they're being charged with discrimination. Yonat Shimron begins this way, "Two weeks before she graduated from Moody Bible Institute last year, two top administrators called Megan Steffen, a student at the school and grilled her about her sexuality. 'Did she plan on dating women?' They asked during a Zoom meeting. 'Does she plan on being sexually active with women? Was she in a romantic relationship now'?"
We're then told, "Steffen, a Chicago resident who came out as a lesbian during her junior year was told professors had expressed concern about whether she should be allowed to get her diploma." Steffen, age 23 said, "It was very clear. If I didn't agree with their standards, they wouldn't give me my degree." The article then explains, "Threatened with the prospect of losing four years of her studies, not to mention thousands of dollars in tuition, Steffen told the two administrators including the Dean of student life, that though she was attracted to women, she would not pursue romantic or sexual relations with them. Two weeks later, she was allowed to graduate with a Baccalaureate Degree in Human Services."
So what are we looking at here? Attention in the article begins directed at this young woman who has recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. And we are told that she came out as a lesbian during her junior year and then faced questions that came from professors in the classroom and others about the extent of her sexual and romantic involvements, which let me just point out, is what a Christian college does.
A Christian college established on Christian convictions operates with an expectation, generally made very clear in a code of conduct and an official moral teachings of the institution concerning the ordering of human sexuality, the meaning of gender, that is the creator, making us male and female appropriate boundaries for romantic and sexual activities and relationships where students, you could go down the list, and of course it's not just students. It would apply in an even more pressing way to faculty.
The issue I want us to face here is that the clear implication of the headline and the opening of this article is that Moody Bible Institute pulled a fast one. But actually of course, Moody Bible Institute has been very clear all along about its commitment to biblical standards of sexuality and marriage and gender. Those are not hidden. It's a part of what it means for Moody Bible Institute, even, let's just state the obvious to have the word Bible in the middle of its official name.
There should be no one who is surprised that the Moody Bible Institute teaches the Bible. There should be no surprise that as a Christian college representing hundreds of other Christian colleges, it represents a commitment to biblical Christianity. As a matter of fact, Christians looking at this should be more concerned that Christian colleges are not adequately Christian, that they are not adequately anchored to biblical truth. They're not adequately consistent and convictional in their operations. What's being implied in this article is the opposite, that Moody Bible Institute basically pulled a fast one. When this woman came out as a lesbian in her junior year, she had to account for that. Now, you'll notice something here. This was not an investigation in which there was some kind of disclosure tablet or some kind of X-ray machine that revealed what kind of sexual orientation or affectational profile a student might have. She came out. That indicates she herself made the issue public.
But the article makes the point clear when the hinge comes with this paragraph, "But Steffen and 32 other LGBTQ students or former students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities have now filed a class action lawsuit against the US Department of Education. In it," says the report, "they claim the department's religious exemption allows schools such as Moody Bible Institute that receive federal dollars to unconstitutionally discriminate against LGBTQ students."
Now, we have to look at so much right there in that paragraph. For one thing, what is the statement that comes so early in the Bill of Rights about a fundamental freedom? Well, it is among other freedoms, the freedom of religious expression. It is the religious liberty clause that is central to American constitutional identity. But here, we are told that the students and the organizations behind them filing this lawsuit against the Department of Education are declaring that the department's exception policy to non-discrimination law when it comes to issues of sex and gender, gender identity, et cetera, is unconstitutional.
Now, here's what we've seen over and over again. The argument is now so far along in our culture that a right to be, let's just say, LGBTQ, a right to sexual expression, even a right to same-sex marriage, which just to state the obvious, is not in the constitution is far more important than America's first liberty, which is so explicit and primary in the actual text of America's constitution and Bill of Rights.
Join the Revolution or Else: The Current Challenge to Christian Higher Education Is (Intentionally) an Existential Threat
I'm looking at this particular report because it was published at Religion News Service. I'm looking at this report because the setup of the story tells us how the emotional and intuitional shift has taken place in American culture. It also tells us that there is a very clear agenda behind this shift. This article is not written in such a way that it invites a careful consideration of the issues. It is stacked from the very beginning as if Christian institutions must be on the defensive and exercising religious liberty. That becomes very clear in the language the reporter uses in the next paragraph. "The suit filed last week by the nonprofit religious exemption accountability project draws a dire portrait of LGBTQ discrimination at 25 Christian colleges and universities, including Protestant, Latter-day Saint and Seventh-day Adventist schools." What is this dire portrait? It is a dire portrait in the main of Christian schools exercising a Christian responsibility.
We're told that one of the problems documented here was harassment from fellow students and administrators. But as you look at the lawsuit, as you look at the report from this organization, as you listen to the conversation, a lot of this harassment comes down to the fact that for example, in the case of Moody Bible Institute, administrators ask questions of this student. And in many cases, that is now defined as harassment. One student telling another student that homosexual behavior is sinful is clearly categorized in almost all these studies as a form of harassment. If there is any legitimate charge of what would be rightly called harassment, these schools should deal with it. But that has to come in a form that genuinely represents harassment, not just a confrontation on moral grounds.
The article also tells us, "LGBTQ students alleged they were forced to attend conversion therapy." Now we've talked about that before. But when you look at it in this context, it can be any kind of counseling that denies the legitimacy of LGBTQ identities and behaviors "prohibited from dating people of the same sex." Well, again, that is the very purpose of having student honor codes and conduct codes at a Christian institution. If a Christian institution were to allow same-sex couples to date, it would imply the approval of same-sex relationships and same-sex sexual behaviors.
One of the issues we have to face by the way is that there is a long Christian logic to this. And maybe these days, we actually need to articulate that logic. One ought not to accept a romantic arrangement which cannot be made legitimate in marriage according to Scripture. Now, if I have to state that again, maybe it's important. One ought not to give any approval or sanction to any romantic relationship that cannot be made legitimate in biblical marriage, that is the union of a man and a woman.
Now, that clarifies matters tremendously. That's a very important issue of Christian truth of congregational disciplines. It's a very important issue of Christian morality and policymaking for any Christian institution. It's important for Christian families, even Christian individuals to recognize this. This is one of the reasons why we ought not to ever go to a same-sex wedding ceremony or a commitment ceremony, because we are implying that this can be, or is a legitimate ordering of romantic relationships or an ordering of marriage. It also means that if you are looking at a church and the fact that you have a believer who is developing a romantic or a dating relationship with an unbeliever, that is clearly in violation of Scripture. The church cannot affirm the romantic relationship because that relationship cannot be consummated and made legitimate in biblical marriage.
The same kind of logic, obviously to Christians has to be applied to what's defined here as same sex or same gender dating. It cannot be made legitimate in Christian marriage, in the union of a man and a woman. Therefore, the relationship itself cannot be approved of. Well, we actually should say it more strongly. If we are responsible for a Christian college or a university or a Christian Church or a Christian ministry, we have to actually hold out the public expectation and apply consistently the moral rule that we cannot approve of romantic relationships that are incompatible with Scripture.
I'll back up once again. This is the very purpose of a Christian college being Christian. But you'll also notice there are more complaints being made here that some students are disciplined for social media posts. Actually, that's becoming more and more common. Why? It's because we have some students in various institutions who have basically outed themselves because they have posted on social media about their involvement in relationships or activities that are incompatible with the institution's Christian moral commitments.
There are those who are "denied on-campus housing." Well, again, if you're looking at behavior that the Christian church on the basis of Holy Scripture declares to be immoral, irreconcilable with Christianity, yes, of course we would understand why there would be a denial of on-campus housing. We're also told of complaints that in one case, the institution "blocked access to affirming LGBTQ websites and resources on the campus internet." Well, I would actually hope that the institution would block access to its official computer system with any number of other sites on the internet that I will not further comment upon.
The next paragraph sites one of the directors of this religious exemption accountability project is estimating there are 100,000 LGBTQ students at American Christian colleges and universities. He went on to say, "Most of them are closeted because of the fear and shame in campus cultures that cultivate that." Again, what are we talking about here? We're talking about Christian institutions accused of operating on Christian conviction. You could turn the table and ask the question otherwise. How would these schools that are here being morally criticized be morally applauded? Well, the only way they would be morally applauded in this context would be to abdicate Christian biblical convictions and just entirely enthusiastically embrace the LGBTQ+ revolution. Now, let's face it. That has already happened throughout most of American higher education, which means that increasingly, religious colleges and universities, Christian colleges and universities that cannot surrender to this revolution are treated as outliers and outlaws.
Later in the article, we're told that about 62% of nonprofit US colleges and universities, that means not necessarily religiously oriented or with any Christian commitment, allow LGBTQ students to form alliance groups on campus, but only 47% of Christian colleges and universities allow such groups. And that's dated to 2019. Now, I'm going to state again. If a supposedly Christian college or university accepts the formation of this kind of group and offers it institutional recognition, it has already surrendered at least in part to this moral revolution, and total surrender will be required. If you're going to allow students to claim their identity as LGBTQ, and of course there are other permutations that have come along and will come along, if you allow students to come an identity that is LGBTQ and you recognize that identity, you have already given away much of the theological commitment and conviction that would be rightly required of a Christian institution. According to Scripture, those cannot be our identity. If we are indeed united with Christ, if we are obedient to Christ, these cannot be our identity. And an institution must not recognize claims of that identity.
We'll be looking more at that identity as you in just a moment. But before leaving this article, we're told that there is of course the reality of the equality act that has now been passed twice by the democratically controlled House of Representatives. As we have pointed out with grave concern, there are absolutely no recognitions of religious liberty in that act. There are absolutely no protections for religious institutions, churches, congregations, religious Christian schools, and universities. And the students who were included in this lawsuit of course are very happy about that. They are demanding that Christian colleges be forced to choose between two options, at least two options for now. And that would be continuing to participate in federal student loan and federal student aid programs without discriminating, that's their word, on the basis of sexual orientation and identity, gender identity, et cetera, or continuing to operate on the basis of Christian conviction but without the D.O.E. recognition and without the federal funding.
Now, again, I have to put in this footnote. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College does not participate in any tax funding at the federal or the state level. We participate in none of them. Many Christian colleges and universities do. And you can see exactly where this line of attack is now directed. It is at financially starving so many of these institutions that are dependent upon federal funding. As I said, I think that's a mistake, but nonetheless, it's a reality for many of these schools. The reality is that this is an existential threat to most Christian colleges and universities in the United States. And anyone involved in this knows it.
But as we're thinking about this, it's really clear that this is just another very important example of the case being made that the society could no longer afford to respect Christian colleges as Christian, religious institutions as religious, the moral revolutionaries are pressing onward and it is simply a matter of necessary political surrender.
Politically, at this point, I simply have to assert. Let's remind ourselves that President Joe Biden, as candidate, made very clear his support of this moral revolution. His extreme support so much so that you had LGBTQ organizations applauding the fact that he was the most committed political candidate ever to receive a party nomination on their issues. He supported the Equality Act when he was a candidate. There can be no surprise that he is supporting the Equality Act as it is currently written even without the slightest respect or provision for religious liberty. He told us that when he was a candidate. There can be no one who is honestly surprised now.
Caught at the Collision of Sexual Revolution and Identity Politics — The Shape of Our Christian Challenge
Next, another issue. One of the arguments we hear that we need to confront is that when we are as Christians defending Christian truth, we're explaining biblical teachings concerning sexuality and gender and marriage, when we are denying the reality of so-called sexual minorities as being morally recognized, when we deny these sexual identities as compatible with biblical Christianity, we're being told, and this is the language you need to watch, that we are denying the existence of such persons.
You hear people saying, "That institution denied my existence." I saw this very recently in the media about a young woman who was claiming to be a transgender young man. That was the claim. She said that her church in rejecting her new identity was denying her existence. You see this in the charge, it gets many Christian colleges and universities. The charges, that by denying authorization or recognition to an official student group that represents LGBTQ+ identity, the schools are denying the existence of those students. Denying personal existence. Where does that come from? What does it mean? Well, it comes from two places. First of all, it comes from a very powerful and very successful rhetorical strategy. That rhetorical strategy comes down to this. By using the word existence, as in deny my existence, it implies that anyone standing for and believing in a biblical understanding of sexuality, marriage, gender, and gender identity is denying the very existence of people because their existence is defined as who they are as LGBTQ+ identity or non-binary or whatever may be the current designation.
But here's where we have to understand something. The Christian biblical worldview identifies the great fault line in humanity as being belief in Christ. Those amongst fallen humanity who have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb and United to Christ and all others. That is the basic dividing line. When it comes to humanity, all human beings are defined as sinners. We have a dual identity, all humanity. Before we get to the gospel, we have a dual identity which is made very clear in scripture and it is absolutely universal. It's true of every single human being who has ever lived. Regardless of any other identification, any other designation, those two issues are these. Number one, we are all made in the image of God. And number two, we are all identified as sinners, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We are not looking at humanity biblically defined as divided amongst kinds of sinners. We can't accommodate the language which comes down to people claiming that we are denying existence. We have to say, "No, we're not denying your existence." I'm not denying your existence in two fundamental ways. I'm affirming your existence as a human being made in God's image, bearing full dignity and full moral responsibility. Secondly, I am identifying you by affirming the fact that you are a sinner. You're not unique in that, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But that is actually after your human dignity, by the fact that God made you in his image, that is the most important thing about you.
But that then takes us to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only in the gospel is there the possibility of a different identity other than a sinner facing the condemnation of God for our sin, eternally separated from our creator. There is only one possibility of a different identity, and that is the new man and the new woman in Christ. It is only in Christ that we actually have a new identity.
But as we conclude, it simply brings us to the point of the gospel again. If we're a gospel people, then we're committed to the gospel. Our colleges and universities must be equally committed to the gospel. Our churches and denominations must be stamped by an indelible commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And whether we're talking about the identity claims of others or the identity claims we might make ourselves, everything has to be submitted to the truth of the gospel.
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.