Perspectives

Azusa Pacific University trustees struggle with cultural sexual pressures

Azuza Pacific University (APU), a Christian institution birthed from the Wesleyan holiness movement, has been in the news a lot over the past six months. Sadly, not for particularly holy reasons, but because the school has been struggling with how closely aligned they will remain to biblical sexual ethics. APU has been under extreme cultural pressure, both externally and internally, from the radical sexual revolution. Earlier this month, APU trustees unfortunately affirmed the university’s longstanding slide in an unholy direction. How? By reversing course and again, for the second time in less than a year, lifting APU’s explicit ban on LGBTQ+ romantic student relationships.

In the fall of 2018, APU’s administration first sent shockwaves through the evangelical world when, after meeting with a LGBTQ+ student group, it announced it was suspending the school’s ban on LGBTQ+ romantic relationships. LGBTQ+ activists argued that the existing guidelines were purportedly “discriminatory” since the romance ban didn’t apply equally to heterosexual students. Triggering an immediate and fierce firestorm of evangelical criticism, APU trustees quickly reversed the policy, noting that the administration had not cleared the change with the board and confirming the trustees would oversee any such policy considerations in the future. I wrote an Op-ed thanking the APU trustees for standing firm for biblical truth and making the right call. However, in the wake of the controversy, two well-respected conservative evangelical trustees resigned, namely Pastor Raleigh Washington, President of Promise Keepers, and Dave Diaz.

Their resignations were not quiet. Diaz and Washington vocally and publicly announced that APU had been for some time straying from its biblical roots. They were joined by other concerned APU voices, including professors and students. Evidence of APU’s theological and spiritual drift included the fact that President Jon Wallace had been hiring left-leaning professors—many of whom are “hip” to the LGBTQ+ sexual revolution and soft on biblical authority—for many years and in many departments, including philosophy and theology. APU’s unorthodox transformation has not been inconsequential. As a result, the biblically-based historic Christian faith of many matriculating APU students is being undermined and, in many cases, lost.

But just last week, APU trustees again sent shock waves through the Christian world when they again removed the written ban on LGBTQ romantic relationships. They replaced the ban with the following statement, which though appearing biblical on its face, is woefully inadequate and incomplete when contemplating the cultural fog and confusion of the current sexual revolution:

“As an evangelical community of disciples and scholars who embrace the historic Christian understanding of Scripture, Azusa Pacific University holds that sexuality is a gift from God and basic to human identity as well as a matter of behavioral expression. We hold that the full behavioral expression of sexuality is to take place within the context of a marriage covenant between a man and a woman and that individuals remain celibate outside of the bond of marriage. Therefore, we seek to cultivate a community in which sexuality is embraced as God-given and good and where biblical standards of sexual behavior are upheld.”

To start on a positive note, the statement signals that all students, including LGBTQ+ individuals and heterosexual students are to abstain from the sex act (“full behavioral expression”) outside of man-woman only marriage. So far so good, right? Perhaps. But I think that faithful followers of Jesus Christ who maintain a high view of the authority of God’s Word in the midst of this cultural moment should have at least three significant concerns with APU’s statement.

First, what precisely do the APU trustees mean by the assertion that “sexuality is a gift from God and basic to human expression…sexuality is embraced as God-given and good?”   Yes, sex is a good gift from God in the proper context. But, are the trustees referring to the biblical gender binary of maleness and femaleness or are they including in the definition of “sexuality” the modern “gender spectrum,” including sexual orientation and gender identity? Scripture only affirms we are created male or female in the holy image of God (see Genesis 1:27). God declares his creation, including the creation of man and woman, “very good” (see Genesis 1:31). But the Creator never declares non-binary alternative “sexuality” as God-given or good (quite the opposite), and neither should APU, as a Christian institution, even by implication. In an age of sexual confusion and moral anarchy, APU, and all orthodox Christian Churches and organizations, need to be very precise and clear here. Yet the APU statement is vague and confusing about sexuality and gender, and, I believe, perhaps intentionally so.

Second, by affirming vague notions of sexuality and only prohibiting sexual intercourse (“full behavioral expression of sexuality”), the APU statement does not address the myriad of romantic and sexual conduct and behaviors, short of full blown sex. The APU statement now, as written, impliedly permits all students, whether LGBTQ or heterosexual, to hold hands, cross-dress, date, kiss, make out, or perhaps even engage mutual masturbation or oral sex as long as they “don’t go all the way.” In other words, it impliedly allows, if not affirms, LGBTQ romantic relationships, public displays of affection, and even eroticized LGBTQ sexual behaviors, as long as sexual intercourse is not involved. “Equality” has been achieved because APU gives libertine permission to heterosexual students. This is far from a clear biblical call to sexual purity, but appears to be more of a collective moral and behavioral lowering of the bar to accommodate the cultures idol worship of sex—both for LGBTQ and heterosexual students.

Third, APU’s biblically spineless flip-flopping sets a tremendously terrible example for other evangelical Christian institutions. Their compromise, capitulation, and assimilation to admittedly powerful pagan cultural sexual pressures teaches the church a very bad lesson. The lousy lesson is that when we are faced with choosing man’s way or God’s way, that Christians, driven by fear and self-preservation, cleverly disguised as vague and unbiblical notions of “love,” should choose man’s way—while deceptively pretending to be faithful to God. It’s Christ or culture, folks, and APU appears to have chosen culture over Christ. There are certainly a lot of problems with this man-pleasing and God-denying ethic, including a profound lack of honesty and integrity. Authentic followers of Jesus Christ should always remind ourselves that neither Jesus (John 4:1-42) nor Paul (see Ephesians 4:15) ever divorced truth from love, and neither should we.

APU’s problems are not isolated incidences. Many “Christian” colleges and universities in the Golden State and across the fruited plain have abandoned, or are rapidly abandoning, biblically orthodox teachings and beliefs under the extreme cultural pressure of the sexual revolution. Many are “Christian” in name only. If Christian institutions are to spiritually survive and thrive is this hostile climate, we must do a lot of Scripture and soul searching here, and conduct a top-to-bottom biblical realignment of our beliefs and institutions. Faithless Christian schools do not deserve faithful Christian dollars. Authentic Christian families should not send their children to schools that undermine and destroy the historical orthodox biblical Christian faith of their children. I have a great idea, church—let’s focus our energy and efforts into funding and populating faithful Christian schools, not spiritually dead or dying institutions that are Christian in name only.

 

— by Dean R. Broyles, Esq.

Broyles is a constitutional attorney serving as the President of The National Center For Law & Policy (NCLP), an organization fighting to promote and defend religious freedom. Copyright© The National Center For Law & Policy. Reprinted with permission.

 

Editor’s Note:  You can read Dean’s prior Op-ed, thanking the APU Trustees for upholding biblical standards, here

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