Friday, April 23, 2021
It's Friday, April 23, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Christian University’s Faculty Is Outraged the Board of Trustees Did Not Surrender to the LGBTQ Revolution: What’s Going On Here?
As we are looking at the inevitable collision between religious liberty and the newly invented sexual liberties, as we're watching some of the hottest issues to confront Christianity on the front lines of that cultural confrontation, we need to understand that sometimes it is Christian institutions that sow the seed for their own destruction, or, at the very least, for their own confusion. The latest evidence of this comes from Seattle, where Seattle Pacific University has been located now for over a century. The school is now 130 years old, celebrating that hallmark, even this year. Seattle Pacific University was established by the Free Methodist Church. That church does not now contribute to it, but the school was established by Christians as a Christian institution for the training of future Christian leaders. And it is at least officially still committed to the Christian gospel and to Christian truth.
But as you might expect, we're talking about it because there's a story here. And indeed, it's a big story. The Seattle Times recently reported with a headline, "Seattle Pacific University faculty votes no-confidence in leadership after board upholds discriminatory hiring policy." The no-confidence in this case was voted by a large majority of the faculty. And it was in protest of the decision by the board of trustees not to rescind the university's policy, not to hire full-time faculty who were in violation of the institution's moral code and definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Now, as you see the story framed in the Seattle Times, the article comes down to this, "Seattle Pacific University faculty members have cast a vote of no-confidence in the leadership of the school's board of trustees, which last week announced that it would retain a hiring policy that discriminates based on sexual orientation."
Before we go any further, let's notice the language here. This is exactly what we should now expect from the secular media. It's going to be framed as a Christian institution discriminating. We just have to get used to the fact that that is going to be the language that is thrown at us. Now, as I often mentioned, the accusation comes with the implication that discrimination is wrong--and, in many cases, discrimination is wrong--but discrimination is what moral beings do all the time. The issue is whether or not you have a discriminating decision that is for this rather than that, that is consistent with Christian values. That is absolutely demanded by Christian truth. That is established upon Christian revelation. That is the revelation of God in Holy Scripture.
In this case, what you're talking about is human sexuality. What you are talking about is a biblical definition of marriage. And what you are talking about is a faculty outraged that the board of trustees of invalidly Christian institution did not abandon Christian truth when it comes to these issues, precisely in the matter of hiring. Now, in the matter of hiring in the matter of housing, in the matter of admissions, in the matter of student conduct, well, this is where we see the front lines of the looming battle before us. In this case it's hiring but this story implicates, it brings up issues that are related to housing and not only hiring, but admissions and student conduct.
So let's look at what's going on here. The story in the Seattle Times explains the controversy this way, "The private Christian school in Queen Anne," that is a neighborhood in Seattle, "has long been accused of not supporting its LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff. Many of whom have repeatedly asked the school to reject a rule that doesn't allow openly queer people to join the school's full-time faculty. While many in the SPU, that's Seattle Pacific University community have voiced concerns about the policy for years. "That according to students, "A turning point in the conversation came in January when adjunct nursing professor Jéaux Rinedahl sued the university saying it did not hire him for a full-time position because he's gay."
Well, just looking at the facts of the case and there are many more facts for us to consider and to confront, what we're really looking at here is that we had a man who applied for a full-time teaching position. He had been an adjunct professor in the nursing program, that means a part-time position. He was applying for a full-time position, which he expressed as his career dream, but he was told that he would not have his application approved precisely because he does not identify as heterosexual. He does not live by the sexual code demanded by the institution for its full-time hiring. And he identifies according to the Seattle Times, in a way that's described in the paper as queer. The facts then turn on the decision by the faculty legislative authority, here the faculty senate, to protest the decision by the board of trustees, not to rescind that policy that prevented this professor's hiring.
And not only that, the hiring of any full-time faculty who identify as LGBTQ. But the article really takes some very interesting turns. And behind this is a far larger context that is even more important than the controversy that the paper is here reporting upon, because let's look at what we're facing. We're looking at the reality that this university that has something like 1600 total students, evidently also has admitted a fairly large number of students who are themselves identified as LGBTQ, and furthermore, there is an official LGBTQ student organization on campus. And this is perhaps even more fundamental, we're also looking at an institution that has evidently just to state the obvious, hired a majority of faculty who do not hold to the conventional doctrinal moral theological distinctives of the university and the university does not hide those truths. No one was hired on this faculty, no one was admitted as a student who did not know exactly what was the moral requirement of either accepting admission as a student or accepting employment as a faculty member, part-time or full-time.
This is not a university that has been hiding its employment policies or hiding its student conduct policies. And the reality is that an institution holding to these commitments is wildly out of step with the community in Seattle, one of the most secular and one of the most liberal the city would call itself progressivist, locations in North America. We're looking at a center of liberal social transformation, and here is a Christian school that at least at this point, to some extent, continues to hold to historic biblical teaching and the pressure coming on the institution now, not only from the outside community, not only from Seattle, but also from its own faculty, a vast majority of its own faculty and from its own students.
Well, this university is out of step. And the question is, how long will it take until it caves? That's clearly the implication. The no confidence vote by the faculty in the board of trustees was overwhelming. The motion was approved by 72% of the faculty who voted. We are told by Yonat Shimron in Religion News Service, that this was "the latest in a series of escalating clashes between faculty students and the school's governing board. Faculty and students also want the school to drop its statement on human sexuality, which declares marriage between a man and a woman as the only permitted expression of human sexuality." In a statement from the board of trustees chair, Cedric Davis, the board said, "The board recognizes that fellow Christians and other community members disagree in good faith on issues related to human sexuality and that these convictions are deeply and sincerely held. We pray that as we live within the tension of this issue, we can be in dialogue with the SPU [that's the Seattle Pacific University] community."
Well, you can see how the social pressure is now being brought on Seattle Pacific University's board of trustees. And that pressure will simply be increased and it will be increased greatly in coming days and weeks. What you can expect is a pileup against this board of trustees, demanding that the board finally come to understand the wisdom of its faculty and student body, that it needs to abdicate Christian conviction on matters of human sexuality, marriage, gender, gender identity and all the rest in order to get with the program.
Christian Institutions, Don’t Sow the Seeds of Your Own Destruction: The Necessity of Only Admitting Students and Hiring Faculty Who Eagerly Affirm Christian Moral and Theological Convictions
But here's where we have to look at the situation and understand that this university's board of trustees, perhaps going all the way back to its founding, something like 130 years ago has at the very least sown the seeds of its own destruction and its current policies are on their face untenable.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about the fact that, for example, the university seeks to make some kind of distinction between hiring part-time employees and faculty and full-time. When it comes to making a moral distinction in consonance with biblical morality and Christian teaching, it really makes no sense to make a distinction between part-time and full-time, you can understand the way a secular person looking at this story in the Seattle Times would see the picture. How is it that this particular faculty member who apparently is openly LGBTQ was perfectly fine as an adjunct professor, but not as a full-time professor. Well, you might say, and you can anticipate this argument that full-time employment is a different employment category than part-time, the institution is making a greater commitment to the employee and the employee is making a greater commitment to the institution.
True. But how in the world do you hold to such an arbitrary judgment? Furthermore, you're looking at an even bigger issue and that is that evidently consistent with its founding vision, Seattle Pacific University has accepted a large number of students who do not accept or identify with the Christian commitments of the school. And they also do not accept the behavioral or moral teachings of the school. And that's not just a conclusion that comes by inference. It is right in the documents on the website of the university itself, strangely enough. On the university's website, under the heading Seattle Pacific University's Behavioral and Community Expectations, there's a statement about scripture, "As a Christian university, SPU affirms the Old and New Testaments as divinely inspired and authoritative Scriptures. SPU draws from the Christian Scriptures in formulating its policies for faculty, staff, and students." I would say it more strongly, but at least that's a fairly good start.
Later, we read this about the school's commitment to the Christian tradition. "SPU affirms the historic Christian faith. The university was founded by the Free Methodist Church and stands within the Wesleyan holiness tradition of evangelical Christianity. We embrace the Wesleyan theology of hope. The God's transforming love is offered to all persons, addresses all areas of life and is ultimately aimed at the redemption of the whole creation." Notice there, the explicit reference to the Wesleyan holiness tradition, but it's the very teachings and expectation of the Wesleyan holiness tradition that is being denied by the majority of the faculty of this institution. And also evidently a sizeable number, if not a majority of its faculty.
But in the most bizarre statement I've seen in a long time from an institution of Christian higher education, we read this, "Seattle Pacific University's purpose and foundation are grounded in its commitment to the Christian faith as it seeks to foster both competence and character in the lives of students. However, the university does not require its students to share its religious beliefs or conform to all the lifestyle that follow from those beliefs. This is reinforced by the fact that the university has never required students to sign a statement of faith as a precondition to acceptance and enrollment. Informed by the Wesleyan theological tradition, the university's mission is microbiological in nature. It seeks to be a community of hospitality and hope. Where all people, those who profess a Christian faith, as well as those who do not can encounter the gospel of Jesus Christ." That statement goes on and I quote, "The fact that the university may not require particular beliefs or practices of its students should not be taken to mean that the university regards such beliefs and practices as untrue or unimportant."
Listen very carefully to these words, "In particular, the university has developed a statement of faith and a statement on human sexuality that express certain fundamental beliefs and values of the university and related practices of faithful discipleship. The university intends for the words and actions of its faculty and staff to model the call of discipleship and present Jesus Christ in a winsome manner that invites students into an encounter with God." Now here's what we need to note, in this statement we are told that the university was established by a Christian denomination in the Wesleyan holiness tradition, that the institution is committed to the authority of Scripture and to the historic Christian teaching, the historic Christian understanding based on scripture of marriage, sexuality, sexual relationships, behaviors, identities, marriage. We are told here that the university though established on those truths does not require and evidently has never required students to agree to those truths or even to those moral practices.
We are told that at least one faculty member left the school over this restrictive policy. When it comes to faculty, this would be psychology Professor Dana Kendall. She resigned. She told the Seattle Times in part, because of the school's exclusion of "the queer community," she said. "Religion is being practiced in a way I don't agree with anymore. This has been a long journey for me. The goal was to do no harm and be humble and be of service and sacrificing. And these kinds of, she mentioned the school's practices, have no place in my worldview anymore." Matt Bellenger we are told, who is an assistant professor of communication at the university, describe the board's decisions says the Times as a "profound moral failure." We are told that philosophy professor Leland Sanders said that the conversations between the board and the faculty "have really fractured the university." He went on to say, "A decision sown out of touch with the convictions and values of the SPU community calls into question, the legitimacy of the board's leadership." That in a statement from professor Bellenger to the Seattle Times.
Notice again, here's the insanity. Here you have a university that has clearly hired, not just a faculty member, not just multiple faculty members, but the majority of its faculty who hold to views that are antithetical to what the university says its views are. It has hired the enemy, it has put the enemy in the classroom and the enemy is now speaking out and fighting back. Another professor identified in the Religion News Service report that Kevin Neuhouser, he's a professor of sociology and we're told he's also the faculty advisor for the LGBTQ student club on campus. He said, "Right now the board is the last remaining group that is not yet come to recognize that LGBTQ individuals can be faithful Christians and as faculty and staff, they would play positive roles on our campus if we can hire them."
The RNS story also cites Leah Duff, a 21 year old senior at the university, according to the article, "She considers herself queer." She said concerning the board's decision, "It's a smack in the face to have this reiterated that you want to take my money, but I can't be gay." Now notice that the school's policy was already there. The student accepted admission on those terms, but the student is turning back and saying, "Well, you accept my tuition money thus, you must accept me for who I identify and declare myself to be." A report by King 5, that's the local NBC affiliate in Seattle tells us that the professor, the part-time professor denied the full-time job in question is a man who is gay and married to a man. He asked the question, "If I am good enough to teach part-time why am I not good enough to teach full time?"
Leah Duff, that student who helped to form the protest at Seattle Pacific University, she said, and this is a repeat in part of what she said earlier, "Is horrifying honestly to hear about it. Like you would take my money and have me graduate from this school, but you wouldn't hire me here as a professor, is that what I'm hearing? Is just disheartening. So a lot of us are really angry and this is a great way to show it." The student concluded, "God is not homophobic. God loves everyone, loves all, loves me, loves you. God loves everybody. And to see the way SPU is not delivering on that message is extremely disappointing." So here's where Christians need to think very carefully, the trustees and all others who have an interest in a Christian institution need to think very carefully.
Anyone who has responsibility for a Christian school at any level all the way from K–12 to graduate studies needs to pay very close attention. If we do not operate in every dimension of our operations in a way that is consistent with our convictions, then eventually we are all going to face this kind of crisis. The only way to prevent this is to admit only students who actually hold to our own faith commitments, to our own doctrine and our own teachings. That's the only way this will work, but even more fundamentally, this only works if you only hire faculty who are in agreement with, totally acknowledged and eagerly affirm the doctoral and behavioral teachings of the institution. If you do not follow those principles, if you base the entire institution on a great inconsistency, then this kind of chaos and controversy will inevitably follow.
Some people, no doubt supporters of Seattle Pacific University who want the university to hold to its current policies, will come back and say, "Look, as that document says, we are a missiological institution. We want to accept students even when they are not Christians in order to seek to present them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But in order to do that, the institution has to itself hold to a very clear understanding of the gospel. The gospel that saves, the gospel that has to be presented in truth telling terms, or it is not the gospel." What you have here is a setup in which you have students saying, and look, this is the argument that's going to come. It is abusive and unfair to take my money and then to tell me I can't live as I intend to live, you are not totally affirming my identity as I demand that it be affirmed.
Now, institution by institution, there may be schools that have tighter policies, better policies than what you see here, but the end result is going to be and I will simply say this as a matter of prediction. I won't say it's prophecy, I'll say it's a matter of prediction. The institutions that continue to operate on Christian terms are going to have to be the institutions that hire only on Christian terms and admit students only on Christian terms and whose accountability to Christian churches is absolutely clear. Christian institutions, especially of higher education, particularly colleges and universities but also even as you're looking at say, Christian high schools, maybe even younger than high school age, you're looking at the pressure to allow the formation of some kind of diversity committee, some kind of inclusivity board, some kind of LGBTQ student support organization. But the issue is this, once you accept the construction of that kind of sexual identity, once you allow official recognition for such a student organization, then eventually you're going to face a clash, just like what you see at Seattle Pacific University.
If it doesn't happen tomorrow, it is going to happen soon. We're going to be following this story closely. It's going to be very, very interesting to see how long a board of trustees can hold out or how firmly and convictionally they hold out for any length of time against the onslaught, not only of the secular culture, but of the majority of the schools, faculty hired by the very institution. And evidently if not a majority, at least a very large percentage of the school's student body.
Where Government Money Goes, the Government’s Hand Goes Too: The Federal Government Flexes Its Coercive Powers Against a Christian University
But next, even as we will continue to follow the unfolding events there in Seattle, we also need to look to the Ozarks where the College of the Ozarks, a four year liberal arts college in Point Lookout, Missouri has now faced the necessity of filing a lawsuit against the federal government for a February order, from the federal department of housing and urban development that "forces any entities that receive federal dollars covered by the fair housing act to place transgender identified biological males into female dormitories and assign them as females roommates."
Now, as we've been saying for months, indeed for years on The Briefing, this collision is inevitable and the confusion's inevitable, but elections also have consequences. And in this case, what we're looking at is the fact that the November 3rd, 2020 national election has brought a change in the White House. And President Joe Biden has made very clear that he wants his administration to be considered the most pro LGBTQ in history. And we are actually assured of the fact that the administration is doing just that. For example, it is handed down a series of executive orders and federal policies that as is indicated in this lawsuit, at least officially require any institution receiving federal dollars and that would include student aid or the fair housing act income to place transgender identified biological males, I'm reading that term just as it is used in the media into female dormitories. And also to assign them to females as roommates.
Now, just again, to state the obvious, that is a direct violation of the Christian understanding of human sexuality, even the Christian understanding based on the scripture of creation itself. But we are looking at the fact that this Christian university has now felt the need to file suit against the federal government for an infringement of its Christian convictions on these very terms. Notice something else, the federal government is increasingly using its coercive power, even to tell Christian schools who must and must not be roommates in a gender or sex specific dormitory. We're down to that. This case has actually been filed in court of necessity. It involves an actual university. In this case, the College of the Ozarks, it involves an actual federal department and policy, this time, the department of housing and urban development.
In this case, the school is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and ADF senior council, Julie Marie Blake said in a statement, "The government cannot and should not force schools to open girls dorms to males based on it's politically motivated and in appropriate redefinition of 'sex'." Attorney Blake went on to say, "Women shouldn't be forced to share private spaces including showers and dorm rooms with males and religious schools shouldn't be punished simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex. Government overreached by the Biden administration continues to victimize girls, women and people of faith by gutting their legal protections and it must be stopped." The president of the College of the Ozarks, Jerry C. Davis said, "Religious freedom is under attack in America and we won't stand on the sidelines and watch. To threaten religious freedom is to threaten America itself. College of the Ozarks will not allow politicians to erode this essential American right, or the ideals that shaped America's founding."
And when it comes to consistency in conviction and policy, in a statement on its own website, the College of the Ozarks says that the college, "Holds to the Christian belief that biological sex is not changeable and it operates its dorms accordingly. The colleges sincerely held religious beliefs, influence their policies, including dormitory policies, which prohibit male students from living in female residence halls and vice versa." Now all of that should be abundantly clear to anyone who understands biblical Christianity. And I'm thankful that the College of the Ozarks is standing by this conviction. And I'm also thankful that the school has filed suit against the federal government. The outcome of this case is also going to be interesting as will be the response of other Christian colleges and universities to this kind of challenge.
Once again, however, I will also point out that the key issue in this case also is the fact that these are schools that in one way or another by one program or another receive monies that come from taxpayers, this is government money. And that's the reason why, that is the prime reason why the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College do not accept a single penny of any kind of money from federal programs or state programs, no government programs, period. Baptists have understood from the very beginning of the Baptist movement, that when you are looking at the independence of the church, that independence comes down to a financial independence as well. Where government money goes, the government's hand then follows.
And sometimes that hand comes in the form of a fist. And we're looking at that squarely in the case of the College of the Ozarks and this department of housing and urban development policy. Stay tuned, this isn't just about the future of the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. It's about the future of all Christian colleges and universities in the United States.
But it's not more than that. It's about the future of religious liberty in this country, for all believers coast to coast.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow 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 on Monday for The Briefing.