The great evangelical deconstruction
Calvin University to retain faculty who disagree with doctrinal statement on LGBTQ relationships
Whose side will Christian colleges and universities take when LGBTQ identities and Scripture collide? Given the unprecedented pressure to conform to the sexual and gender revolutions, we are about to see another great divide among schools that have identified as evangelical. On one side will stand the colleges and schools that hold on biblical conviction to the church’s traditional understanding of marriage, sex, and gender. Those schools will be considered apostate by the academic establishment. On the other side will stand the institutions that, sooner than later, join the revolution and gain the acceptance of the dominant academic culture. Very quickly, we will know where every college and university stands … or falls.
Calvin University, founded by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) in 1876, recently announced that the school will allow faculty to remain, even if they disagree with the church’s teaching on LGBTQ relationships. Over the past few decades this issue has been growing into a crescendo of controversy on the Calvin campus. Everyone knew a breakpoint was coming. It came when the university’s trustees met just days ago.
Religion News Service introduced the story this way: “Calvin University’s board of trustees has allowed a group of faculty members to dissent from a clause in the confession of faith that regards sex outside of heterosexual marriage as sinful, thus enabling them to continue to work at the school while also respecting their convictions.”
Calvin’s campus newspaper offered extensive coverage of the controversy, and that coverage reveals that a significant number of faculty at the CRCNA school reject the denomination’s confessional beliefs. In the words of Calvin professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez, “It’s a matter of integrity.” She continued: “It seemed necessary to register my dissent so that I could have clarity in terms of whether it was a space where I could continue to work, or whether I no longer fit within the mission of the community.”
Professor Du Mez has emerged as a major critic of conservative evangelicalism and gender complementarianism. Her statement on LGBTQ issues makes clear that her disagreement extends to the confessional beliefs of the Christian Reformed Church, which owns Calvin University.
The most urgent crisis came after the CRCNA met this summer and raised the church’s stance against homosexual sex to confessional status. A number of prominent Calvin University faculty have taken pro-LGBTQ positions in recent years, and last year an openly gay student who identified as “queer or bisexual,” according to a press report, served as student body president.
Agreement with the Christian Reformed Church’s confessional statements is supposed to be required of Calvin University’s faculty. The board’s recent action allows LGBTQ-affirming faculty to remain even if they offer statements that they are not in agreement with the church’s confessional beliefs on homosexuality. A full process for working this out within university policies is still to come, but an initial cohort of faculty is passing through a process.
In any event, the big story is that a college that has claimed evangelical identity for more than a century, completely owned by a denomination that has raised its affirmation of biblical sexuality to confessional status, is surrendering to the sexual and gender revolution.
What sense does it make to claim that faculty are obligated to affirm the church’s confessional beliefs and then turn around and allow for personal objections to those very beliefs? Samuel Miller, long a stalwart professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, defined the issue very well: “If the system of doctrine taught in the confession be wrong, let it by all means be changed. But as long as we profess to hold certain doctrines, let us really and honestly hold them.” Speaking of a “lax mode of interpreting subscription to creeds,” Miller concluded that allowing for personal exceptions would mean that confessionalism is dead: “With whatever potency or value they may have once been invested, they will soon degenerate into mere unmeaning forms.” If you want to know what that looks like, direct your gaze at Calvin University.
The pressures on Calvin’s board of trustees were massive, coming from LGBTQ-identified students and their advocates on the faculty. The dominant academic culture demands that Christian schools surrender Christianity’s long moral judgment on sex, marriage, and gender. That comprehensive moral judgment is based in Holy Scripture. For the faithful Christian church, it is non-negotiable. A church that departs from biblical teaching on sex and marriage (and gender, too) is abandoning the Christian faith.
It is to Calvin University’s shame that the pressure for surrender came from within the institution itself, from prominent members of its own faculty and students, but the policy was adopted by the institution’s board of trustees, who ultimately bear the blame. This policy announces a departure from biblical truth and an abandonment of the Christian moral tradition on marriage, sex, and gender. Can you imagine trying to explain this to John Calvin?
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.