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Reviled by the world

Nathan A. Finn | Christian sexual ethics at Christian universities shouldn’t be a scandal


Seattle Pacific University Associated Press/Photo by Chris Grygiel

Reviled by the world
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Christian universities face ongoing cultural pressure to abandon orthodoxy in matters related to gender, sexuality, and marriage. A growing number of historically Christian schools have softened or even rejected traditional views, convinced that accommodation is the surest path to institutional survival. Schools that continue to affirm biblical sexual ethics frequently endure the ire of progressive critics, sometimes from within their institutions and almost always from the wider culture.

In just the past week, two evangelical universities have made the news for refusing to capitulate to the spirit of the age. They are on opposite sides of the country and are affiliated with different denominational traditions. Yet both are now caught up in the culture war, firmly in the crosshairs of left-wing crusaders. Much like the medieval crusades, the message is clear: convert or die.

On the West Coast, Seattle Pacific University in Washington is embroiled in a lawsuit alleging that a majority of the trustees have abandoned their fiduciary responsibilities to the university. The reason for this alleged abdication of responsibility? The board refuses to hire faculty members who are involved in homosexual relationships. The sixteen faculty members, students, and alumni who filed the lawsuit claim Seattle Pacific is “imploding” and that continued affirmation of a biblical sexual ethic represents an existential threat to the institution.

In the South, Samford University in Alabama is facing a backlash in the press for refusing to allow campus ministries affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) to participate in a ministry fair. The reason for the exclusion? These two mainline denominations have embraced revisionist sexualities that normalize LGBTQ+ identities and affirm homosexual marriage. In a letter to the university community, Samford’s Vice President of Student Affairs stated,

Throughout its history, the university has consistently subscribed to and practiced biblically orthodox beliefs. While we embrace many forms of diversity on campus and genuinely love each student, the university has a responsibility to formally partner with ministry organizations that share our beliefs.

Neither Seattle Pacific nor Samford are fundamentalist institutions. On the spectrum of evangelical universities, each would more accurately be described as centrist in their theological ethos. Indeed, both have faced criticism from conservative constituents for not being as clear as they could be in these matters.

The real scandal is that anyone would assume that Christian institutions would do anything except unequivocally embrace Christian ethics.

Yet, their refusal to fully embrace homosexuality as normative for believers is considered scandalous by those who believe that history is on the side of LGBTQ+ activists. The real scandal is that anyone would assume that Christian institutions would do anything except unequivocally embrace Christian ethics.

In the coming days, both Seattle Pacific and Samford will likely experience a threat to their institutional reputations because of their respective stands. They may experience a drop in enrollment, face faculty and staff resignations, and endure the loss of donations. This is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t be surprising. The Bible repeatedly warns us that faithfulness to Christ often sets us at odds with the fallen world. But Jesus also said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11, ESV).

Make no mistake about it, these universities are being reviled and, in the case of Seattle Pacific, overtly threatened because of their obedience to Christ. And it certainly will not end with these two schools. Every institution that is committed to orthodox faith and practice faces the potential threat of public criticism, negative press, vicious lawsuits, and potential losses in enrollment and donations. The question before every Christian school is whether it will remain faithful, even when it comes at a high cost.

I admire the moral courage the leadership teams of Seattle Pacific and Samford are demonstrating. I pray that the Lord will grant their respective administrators and boards the courage to remain committed to the faith once for all delivered to the saints rather than bow to the idols of the age. I pray for faithful faculty, students, parents, and alumni to rally around faithful leaders. And I pray that these two historic universities—and every other institution founded by Christians—stays the course, choosing obedience to King Jesus over the affirmation of his cultured despisers.


Nathan A. Finn

Nathan A. Finn serves as provost and dean of the university faculty at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. He is a research fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and writes widely on Baptist history and thought and Christian higher education.

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