In a secularizing culture, can Christian colleges and universities thrive? Can they even survive?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #30 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
During April 2007, just before my time as president at Cornerstone University concluded, the campus was visited by an uninvited group of gay and lesbian students, along with other supporters, who called themselves Soulforce.
Big money backers had recruited them and organized a national bus tour of Christian colleges and universities. Their intent, they said, was to protest and bring awareness to what was then called the Gay Rights movement. They lined the campus boundaries for a time, then spread out across campus walking into classrooms demanding access and dialogue. Clearly, the Soulforce students had been trained, and tried to force their way onto private property in the hopes of getting arrested and creating photo ops.
The next morning the group first disrupted, then basically tried to take over chapel. While I spoke with several Soulforce individuals, I had told their leaders the day before, “No thank you,” regarding their demand to enter our classrooms, and I got quoted that way in the local press. At the chapel, I walked to the front and dismissed everyone.
Other Christian colleges and universities at the time responded differently.
Some invited the group for discussions, some treated them to refreshments, others like us said, No thank you. In my role as president, I never criticized or demeaned the students, though I thought their moral views and their methods were wrong, and I also thought they were being used by sophisticated national gay politicos and donors.
In the aftermath, I received about 150 cards and letters, the most I’d ever received referencing any controversy. Some 98% supported our respectful “No thank you” approach. Of the about 2% who criticized my approach, I found it amazing that, almost invariably, somewhere in the missive they mentioned a family member who had come out and who they loved, hence their point of view.
LGBTQ+ is an issue—almost like no other—that seems to lead people to develop or even change their moral understanding or even their theology, not because they believe they hold a new insight to biblical interpretation, but because they love a family member or friend.
Looking back, this all seems rather tame, because Christian schools are now in serious trouble, or at least they are under considerable and mounting pressure.
Harvard University was the original Christian institution of higher learning in the new world, founded in 1636, but it long ago left its Christian moorings.
The same can be said for most of the colleges and universities east and many west of the Mississippi River, most of which were launched by religious organizations.
Now, among nearly 4,000 post-secondary institutions of higher learning functioning in the U.S., only about 140 present themselves as avowedly Christian and maintain membership in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, along with perhaps 9 others that have chosen to withdraw from the CCCU.
These are the colleges and universities now facing genuine threats to their survival. Why?
- National drop in college age students, some estimates at 15%, due to abortion, changing attitudes toward higher education, higher costs, and more.
With the college age student pool declining year by year, competition becomes fiercer, costs of recruitment increases, and students place greater premiums upon perceived institutional prestige. None of this helps generally smaller, private Christian colleges and universities.
- Decline in families with a Christian worldview who want a Christian education for their youth.
In 2020, Christian researcher George Barna found just 6% of American adults possess biblical worldview. And only 43% of them believe in absolute moral truth.
Among 18- to 29-year-olds, a mere 2% possess a biblical worldview. If you look at several other demographic subgroups, the percentage of individuals who deny the existence of absolute moral truth is much higher: LGBTQ adults (73%), political liberals (67%), Hispanics (65%), Blacks (63%), Democrats (63%), people under age 50 (62%).
If that is not enough, there’s more to this perfect storm.
- American culture—especially education—has embraced ideologies promoting moral relativism, critical race theory and woke philosophies, and the sexual revolution, including same-sex marriage, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
While race politics, emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, have created controversies for Christian colleges and universities, LGBTQ+ politics is the real point of the spear.
LGBTQ+ students, alumni, and associated activist organizations now have Christian colleges and universities in their crosshairs. They claim that Christian institution’s faith statements discriminate against them when such statements maintain biblical views considering homosexual behavior a sin and define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
LGBTQ+ students at Christian colleges and universities are increasing in number, forming campus organizations, becoming more open about their sexuality,
and pressuring the boards and administrations of Christian institutions to change their doctrinal statements, student lifestyle policies, and personnel employment policies, in their vocabulary, “accepting and affirming,” LGBTQ+ individuals.
In the CCCU, “Two member schools went on record to permit same-sex "marriage" couples on faculty and staff – Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University,” which caused other schools in the CCCU to resign from the association.”
"Azusa Pacific University specifically removed language that barred LGBTQ relationships as part of a standing ban on pre-marital sex" from its student handbook, according to media reports.”
Protesting students at Seattle Pacific University recently handed a rainbow flag to the President as they marched across the platform to receive their diploma. This took place as students staged a sit-in in university facilities demanding the Board reverse its decision to maintain a commitment to biblical views of human sexuality.
The Christian Reformed Church recently affirmed its understanding of the Scripture and its creeds and doctrinal statements to mean a prohibition of homosexual activity and other sexual behavior outside the bonds of monogamous heterosexual marriage. Students at Calvin College and some personnel reacted with disappointment, suggesting the CRC’s and the school’s policies are homophobic and discriminatory.
In 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Bostock v Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This means conservative religious institutions may be subject to legal challenge if they cannot show that they are entitled to a ministerial exception under the law.
“Thirty-three LGBTQ students are suing the Department of Education in a class-action lawsuit. The students allege that they faced discrimination at 25 federally funded Christian colleges and universities in 18 states,” including Liberty University. “The ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to strike down Title IX’s religious exemption.”
In 2021, Fresno Pacific University administration denied LGBTQ+ students the ability to form their own Pride club on campus. Students filed a formal Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation complaint against the school and called for a formal investigation to take place.
Regional and state accrediting agencies, without whose accreditation schools cannot offer recognized degrees, are putting increasing pressure upon Christian institutions to align their policies with LGBTQ orthodoxy, what is now considered the only acceptable narrative, embracing all expressions of sexual orientation.
“The Human Rights Campaign, America's largest and most powerful LGBT lobby organization, is pushing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to target Christian educational institutions, demanding that the Biden Administration strip colleges that adhere to rules and positions opposing homosexuality of their accreditation.” This activist group is pressuring President Biden to advance a proposal to eliminate nondiscrimination exemptions for religious colleges if the institutions support biblical definitions of marriage or fail to offer "scientific curriculum requirements."
In other words, LGBTQ+ demands, increasing cast by activists and the courts as civil rights issues, are now going head-to-head with First Amendment religious freedom guarantees.
And it’s not just Christian institutions.
A NY County Supreme Court judge recently handed down a ruling saying Yeshiva University, despite its Jewish religious convictions, must recognize an LGBTQ Pride club on campus.
So, it appears some Christian colleges or universities are changing, some would say capitulating, their moral views in an effort to survive, fearing possible loss of accreditation, tax-exempt status, and access to federal funds. Others are thus far standing firm.
No one knows where this is going. But it is certain the next five years are going to make or break some Christian colleges and universities.
What we are watching here is the frontlines of the now intensifying “Second American civil war,” a worldview war pitting an ascendant non-biblical worldview vs the Judeo-Christian values upon which this country was founded. It’s a battle for America’s soul and its future.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022
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