Perspectives

Christian in name only? The quiet crisis at our colleges and universities

Ideas have consequences. Perhaps there is no place where ideas have more consequence than at Christian Colleges and Universities. Such schools promise the integration of faith and learning to train and prepare the next generation of Christian leaders. But, under growing cultural pressure, the learning inculcated is rapidly becoming less faithfully Christian and more distinctly pagan. What are the signs and symptoms of this problem? Simply put, it’s a tale of two colleges; one might label it spiritual hypocrisy or spiritual schizophrenia.

On one side, there is the projected, positive image of the pristine biblically faithful institution depicted on posters, brochures, and websites to pastors, parents, and prospective students. The image is that of an authentically Christ-centered organization promising to deepen students’ faith and educate with excellence. The institution’s statement of faith may even appear orthodox on its face.

On the other side, matriculating students may soon discover another more concealed reality. Yes, the campus is beautiful and everyone seems “nice.” But biblically discerning students may begin to see red flags. Perhaps some of the religious studies and philosophy professors are not quite biblically orthodox. Maybe some of the chapel speakers sound more like self-help guru’s in the vein of Oprah rather than fully faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Sadly, this problem, perhaps best described as idolatry—worshipping culture (and self) rather than worshipping the creator (See Romans 1:25) —isn’t new on Christian campuses. Although I received a first-rate liberal arts education at Westmont College in the 80’s and had several strong Christian professors, I personally endured this very scenario at my “unapologetically evangelical” alma mater. In fact, it contributed to my own painful personal “dark night of the soul.”

Certainly, the culture wasn’t strongly supporting the Judeo-Christian worldview back then, and now it has only become much worse. Christian institutions have had to face growing social pressure and antipathy in recent decades, especially in the areas of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and now transgenderism. Administrators and board members may fear the loss of federal dollars if “sex” in Title IX is deemed to include sexual orientation and gender identity—an interpretation imposed by the Obama Administration but reversed by President Donald Trump. They also may play out hypothetical worst case scenarios where a federal court revokes their non-profit status for LGBT discrimination, as occurred with race-discrimination at Bob Jones University. We may wish it weren’t so, but we must stoically evaluate each threat and face difficult realities if we are to navigate these morally confusing times in which we live—but always remembering that truth is objective, timeless, and doesn’t change.

Theologically, these issues are not minor “debatable matters” but are weighty indeed. These pressures, which I as a constitutional attorney collectively call “radical sexual liberty,” strike at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian biblical worldview. Specifically, they challenge our foundational belief that we are created in the image of God as male and female (see Genesis 1:27). Because our male/female image-bearing nature is so fundamental to who we are as human beings, the threat of radical sexual liberty, which seeks to distort, confuse, and redefine sexual orientation and sexual identity into something very different—a relativistic feelings-based ethic—is an existential threat to the objective truths of the very gospel that we proclaim. As such, it is an existential threat to the church.

Perhaps the most accurate gauge of the spiritual health of Christian higher education is how Christian schools are responding, or not responding, to the persistent legislative threats to religious freedom emerging from Sacramento. In 2016, most Christian colleges in California eventually boldly stood up and stopped SB 1146, an LGBT existential legal threat to Christian higher education. However, just two years later in 2018 when AB 2943 (a religious freedom and free speech crushing bill attempting to declare all SOCE as consumer fraud) threatened Christian colleges and universities, the public silence from the leadership of these Christian institutions was deafening. The law was sporadically opposed and miraculously stopped, but not because of the courageous public opposition from Christian colleges, instead seemingly almost in spite of it. Sadly, it appears that the spiritual stomach of our evangelical leaders for defending the faith of our fathers is waning, as the cultural-legal-political pressure grows. Tragically, I have been warned that the consensus amongst most Christian colleges and university leadership is that the next time California’s Christian colleges are legislatively threatened, they may fold.

To put it mildly, most Christian colleges and universities are not handling the cultural pressures of radical sexual liberty very well. In spite of having a generally biblically orthodox statement of faith, two respected board members from Azusa Pacific University (APU) recently resigned in protest of the increasingly pro-LGBT direction of the administration. They opined, among many other legitimate criticisms, that APU President Jon Wallace has been hiring liberal faculty and staff for years—leading to the erosion of biblical fidelity. This has clearly not contributed to the spiritual health of students. Many pastors have complained about the negative spiritual impacts on students. I have personally observed that most of the children of my friends, who have sent their children to Azuza, have lost their faith. And, after taking a biblical stand against LGBT romantic dating policies last fall, the board reversed course this spring, compromising biblical sexual ethics. Last month, APU the trustees hired a new president Paul Ferguson, Ph.D., formerly a Dean at Biola University. I hope and pray that he can turn things around.

Unfortunately, just down the road at Biola University, things aren’t fairing much better. Biola has long been viewed as a bastion of biblically orthodox evangelicalism. But the objective validity of that image may be fading fast. Some insiders have described it as a tale of two Biolas: the public face which tries to appear solidly biblical, and the private face, where, in many cases, cultural compromise and capitulation are emerging. Late last year, for example, a Biola professor submitted a paper to the Evangelical Theological Society “exploring” whether transgenderism can be squared with Genesis 1 and 2.

Perhaps equally concerning is the fact that while holding itself out as a preeminent evangelical institution, Biola’s Rosemead School of Psychology, which claims to be “integrating psychology and the Christian faith,” has, for years, been throwing all sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) under the proverbial bus. According to the Rosemead statement, it was the school’s “position in force for many years,” shared by faculty and counseling center staff, that SOCE efforts are not “effective” and “can be experienced as harmful and damaging….”  While opposing SB 2943, the Coalition for Counseling Choice (CCC), a group of public policy, legal, and psychiatry and Christian counseling experts opposing SB 2943, were concerned when they stumbled upon the Rosemead Statement. After discovering the statement, in the Fall of 2018, CCC members pointed out to Biola’s President, Barry Corey, that Rosemead’s position was unfortunately consistent with that of LGBT activists, including Corey’s friend Evan Low, the LGBT activist, politician, and author of SB 2943. They furthermore were concerned that the Rosemead statement was inconsistent with the power of gospel power to transform lives. To their credit, Biola agreed to review the Rosemead statement.

Rosemead published a revised statement, five months later on April 26, 2019, just after concluding the American Psychiatric Association’s accreditation review, which happens every five years. In answering the question, “Does Rosemead teach conversion therapy?” the new statement declares that Rosemead and the Biola Counseling Center:

“[D]o not teach or practice reparative therapy for same-sex oriented individuals. However, we believe that individuals who seek psychological treatment in order to process any incongruent feelings, beliefs, behavior and attitudes between their sexual orientation and religious convictions should be treated with respect to these differences in a client-centered approach.”

The statement does make a slight improvement, primarily in that it no longer explicitly throws all SOCE efforts under the bus as harmful and ineffective. However, as a whole, the revised Rosemead Statement remains biblically disappointing. For starters, Biola’s use of the pejorative term “conversion therapy” is unfortunate. Conversion therapy is not a specific psychiatric or counseling modality, but has been intentionally coined by LGBT activists to marginalize and demonize all change allowing therapies (i.e. “pray away the gay”). The most disturbing part of the statement is what it fails to say. If Biola does in fact offer biblically-based help or change allowing therapies to individuals struggling with same-sex attraction, it is not clear what forms of help they actually do offer. My hunch, based on the two Rosemead statements and the stated aversion of many Rosemead graduates to SOCE, is that the school may no longer believe that change is possible or necessary for those struggling with same-sex attraction.

Biblically orthodox evangelical Christians cannot affirm that all change-allowing therapies are ineffective and harmful, nor can they endorse a therapeutic ban. This is true for the following reasons: First, it is a denial that we are created in the image of God, as male or female. Second, it is a denial of the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change the human heart. Third, thousands of former homosexuals and former transgendered persons have been genuinely helped by change-allowing therapies—being set free from unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Fourth, capitulation on this point would result in government coerced supression of speech, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the further diminution of religious freedom.

What is lost in Biola’s politically correct Rosemead statements is that there are tens of thousands of former homosexuals and transgender individuals who have been set free from same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. They have been helped and transformed by friendship, encouragement, biblical counseling, therapy, community support, prayer, and, ultimately, the Holy-Sprit power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know many of them personally. Why would Rosemead suppress and impliedly deny the truth? Fear of man is a snare, and, sadly, apparently Rosemead fears the APA and the accreditation they confer more than they do the Lord. My dad, Bob Broyles, who served as a pastor and missionary and who died earlier this year, was the Biola student body president and proudly graduated from Biola University. However, the current seemingly un-Christian direction of the school is frankly embarrassing. I pray for the sake of the future of religious freedom and the gospel of Jesus Christ that is not true. Such wimpy spineless Christianity that wilts when the culture says “boo,” makes me sick and hurts my heart.

Where are the Christian leaders today? AWOL. When facing political, legal, and cultural evils that threaten the proclaimation of the gospel, cultural compromise, capitulation, and assimilation are certainly not the answer, nor do they model true leadership. We must continue to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and oppose and expose evil, especially when it is in our own camp and threatens the gospel in such a fundamental way.

Too many Christian schools today are acting the part of cheap play-doh—easily squeezed into the pagan world’s powerful molds. At Biola’s Rosemead, this includes the APA’s secular anti-gospel mold. Christian institutions who desire to be biblically faithful and authentically Christian in our present pressure cooker culture must evaluate themselves and ensure that they are realigned with the truth—the objective truth of God’s word. If not, they should repent. As we are admonished by Paul in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ is radically countercultural is nothing new—it always has been. We will be opposed. We will be hated. We will be persecuted. But the gospel also is the only thing that contains the dynamic power to bring revival, restore a culturally compromised American church, and transform human souls struggling with sin. Much is at stake. If we lose this message, we lose everything.

Christ or culture? What will we choose? It is time that Christian institutions rediscover the “ancient paths” and stop being so weak and two-faced. Only faithful Christian schools deserve faithful Christian dollars. Either we are authentically biblically Christian or we are not. We must choose a side, but we also must choose wisely.

— 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.

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