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Christian colleges and LGBTQ+ coercion

The pressure to forfeit conviction is coming on strong


Christian colleges and LGBTQ+ coercion
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In 2021, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) filed a lawsuit against 25 religious colleges on behalf of almost three dozen LGBTQ+ individuals. The plaintiffs were all current or former students at the schools named in the lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, the schools were in violation of Title IX because they had been granted religious exemptions that allowed discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals.

On Jan. 12, a U.S. District Judge in Oregon dismissed the lawsuit. The decision is being celebrated by religious schools that adhere to traditional views of gender and sexuality, as well as by religious freedom advocacy groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom. Constitutionally, it was the right decision. Under the First Amendment, religious institutions have the right to implement policies that reflect their faith traditions.

Others are far more qualified to reflect on the legal implications of the decision. In this column, I want to offer some reflections as an educator who has spent my entire career working in evangelical academic institutions that affirm, without apology, a traditional Christian understanding of gender, sexuality, and marriage.

For my university—and many others like it—our Christian commitment is not merely a matter of our heritage or some historical connection with a denominational tradition. Rather, we are a pervasively Christian institution. Of course, this does not mean we are perfect or that we always live up to our ideals. However, it does mean that every aspect of our university’s life is tethered intentionally to the biblical worldview, the Christian intellectual tradition, and our denominational identity.

We were started by the churches in our neighborhood. Over 130 years later, we remain a “ministry partner” of a regional denominational body that has always adhered to a biblical understanding of gender, sexuality, and marriage. That these convictions are currently considered countercultural is immaterial. Culture sensitivities may have changed considerably in recent years, but the churches with whom we partner care more about honoring the Lord and obeying his commands than redefining their convictions to conform to the spirit of the age. The same is true of our university.

This lawsuit will almost certainly not be the last legal challenge faced by Christian institutions.

Our board of trustees, senior administrators, and faculty that teach courses in biblical and theological studies sign our denomination’s confession of faith annually. Every faculty member, regardless of his or her academic discipline, must be an evangelical believer who affirms an institutional statement that champions the sanctity of human life, a biblical understanding of gender, sexuality, and marriage, and religious liberty for all. Our faculty are expected to be maturing Christians who approach their vocation as academic disciple-makers. By joining our community, they are committing themselves to a vision of Christian education that is deeply transformational rather than merely transactional.

While not all of our students profess faith in Christ, a large majority of them are believers who were raised in homes and churches that are thoroughly orthodox in their theology and ethics. They enroll in our university in large part because we share their beliefs and values. They know that we will offer them a thoroughly Christ-centered education that is reinforced by a robustly Christian co-curricular experience. This includes our rejection of homosexuality, transgenderism, and “gay marriage” as inconsistent with God’s design and authentic human flourishing.

My university may seem like an anomaly when one considers the landscape of American higher education, but we are by no means unique. Dozens of institutions have similar identities and priorities, each framed within their particular histories and traditions. None of these schools can be faithful to their understandings of the Scriptures if they are coerced into conforming to ethical positions that they sincerely believe are rebellious against God’s commands and ultimately harmful to those who embrace them.

The Bible is filled with stories about faithful men and women who chose to obey God rather than men, sometimes at great personal cost. We should look to these examples frequently during this season of relentless attacks from progressive culture warriors. This lawsuit will almost certainly not be the last legal challenge faced by Christian institutions. The LGBTQ+ movement is well-funded, championed by our cultural elites, and backed by widespread grassroots support in some parts of our nation.

We must stay the course, even if it may cost us. When it comes to capitulation to the LGBTQ+ agenda, Christian schools must keep one key question ever before us: what would it profit us to gain the approval of a decadent society, but lose our institutional souls?

Nathan A. Finn

Nathan A. Finn is professor of faith and culture and directs the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. He is a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and is senior editor for Integration: A Journal of Faith and Learning. He also serves as teaching pastor at the First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.

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