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Hey Christians, get out and stay out

An Arizona school district gives the boot to student teachers from a Christian college

Tamillia Valenzuela Washington Elementary School District

Hey Christians, get out and stay out

Our society is growing increasingly secular and increasingly hostile to Christian conviction. Anyone who doubts that mounting hostility should look to Arizona, where one of the state’s largest public school districts has just voted to show student teachers from a Christian college the door.

Now Arizona finds itself ground zero in a religious liberty dispute that could have nationwide implications. With equal urgency, this case reveals the contours of the challenge soon to be faced by every Christian college that dares to be Christian in any convictional sense.

It all started with some routine paperwork, filed for the Washington Elementary School District’s Feb. 28 school board meeting. The board’s routine “consent agenda” included approval of student teachers from Arizona Christian University, which was recommended by the staff. ACU had provided student teachers for the district for 11 years.

But what was expected to be routine turned out to be a revolution. Two LGBTQ members of the board objected to ACU and its students because the school published its commitment to education “with a biblical lens.” Here is the shocking truth the school board discovered: The “core commitments” of the Christian university are clear expressions of ... wait for it ... Christianity. “Before all else,” states the university, it is “committed to Jesus Christ—accomplishing His will and advancing His kingdom on earth as in heaven.” Sound familiar?

One of the board members took direct offense at the language about a “biblical lens.” Another complained about specific language describing the university’s mission as to “influence, engage, and transform the culture with truth by promoting the biblically informed values that are foundational to Western civilization.” A central complaint targeted the Christian school’s commitment to “traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.”

Now imagine a mushroom cloud exploding over the meeting.

Board member Tamillia Valenzuela, who described herself as “a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina,” responded: “At some point we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we are making legal contracts with and the message that that is sending to the community because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district.” Further: “That makes queer kids who are already facing attack from our lawmakers feel that they could not be safe in this community.”

Board member Kyle Clayton agreed. “I just don’t believe that belongs in schools,” he said. “I would never want my son to talk about his two dads and be shamed by a teacher who believed a certain way and is at a school that demands that they teach through their biblical lens.”

This blatantly unconstitutional action reveals where many people are determined the society must go.

Note carefully that the board members made specific complaints about the theological commitments of a Christian university and then refused to approve student teachers from their public school district—all on the pretext of harm that might come to elementary school students through these student teachers. But absolutely no evidence of any violation of school policy by these student teachers was ever cited. The board voted unanimously to reject the contract with the school and refuse its student teachers solely on the claim that the very existence of these Christian student teachers in the schools would harm pupils.

But the reality gets even uglier, and more urgently important. Sensing that their action might (rightly) be construed as a violation of religious liberty, board chairwoman Nikkie Gomez-Whaley stipulated: “For me, this is not a concern about Christianity. There are plenty of Christian denominations who are LGBTQ friendly so I want to make it clear that for me my pause is not they they’re Christians so much as this particular institution’s strong anti-LGBTQ stance and their belief that you believe this to the core and you take it out into the world.”

Get that? This Arizona public school board has now established a policy that institutions associated with liberal Christianity can still play, but schools that stand for historic Christianity must get off the field. This blatantly unconstitutional action reveals where many people are determined the society must go. Biblical Christianity must be cut off from civilized society.

In the event we do not get the point, an official statement from the school district made it clear: “This is not a rejection of any particular faith as we remain open to partnering with faith-based organizations that share our commitment to equity and inclusion.” So, Arizona Christian University, all you have to do is update your theology and join the moral revolution and celebrate Pride Week and apologize for your retrograde convictions and your student teachers might be welcome once again. Maybe.

This single school board in Arizona has managed in just one meeting to commit multiple violations of religious liberty. But the larger lesson is that the moral revolutionaries are coming for your profession, for your Christian school, for your college students. This is the vise that the secular progressives want to tighten. This is the shape of challenges to come.

Thankfully, Arizona Christian University is taking this issue to court, with counsel led by the Alliance Defending Freedom. Every Christian school that dares to be biblical in its commitments has a lot riding on this case. If this can happen in Arizona, it can (and will) happen anywhere.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also the host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.

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