In an unusually fair article, the New York Times last week ran a front page story titled, “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy.”
An even-handed story on Christian faith in “the paper of record” is as rare as the waters receding for the children of Israel. But in this instance, the Times got to the heart of the matter pretty well. Here’s the issue: colleges and universities, ranging from elite institutions like Bowdoin and Vanderbilt to major state run university systems, are discontinuing their official sponsorship of any Christian organization that refuses to allow those in disagreement with its theology to join or even serve as leaders.
At Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders.
What are the practical consequences of such moves?
The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.
These things do not constitute the end of Western Civilization (although they contribute to it). They do violate the free speech and free religious practice laws that ground our republic in ordered liberty.
Moreover, these are efforts animated by the commitment of homosexual activists to marginalize traditional Christian faith.
Think not? Then answer a couple of questions: Should universities compel Muslim students to celebrate Passover if joined by Jewish youth? Should Hindu students be required to offer baptism classes if joined by Catholics?
When people of like-mind and heart gather, they do so out of conviction and volition, neither of which is synonymous with prejudice.
So, here’s how the story summarizes the issue from a Christian perspective:
The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.
Christian groups are being targeted because they refuse to compromise on biblical truth concerning human sexuality; however, were it not this issue, it would be because of Christianity’s claims of exclusivism (Jesus is the only way to God), human fallenness (we are all sinners), hell as the destiny for unbelievers (eternal punishment for rejecting Christ), etc.
These and other dogmatic, unpliable convictions set Christianity apart. Christian faith is what has set America apart – we are not a Christian nation in the sense that our national charters explicitly endorse the New Testament, but Christianity informed the worldview, values, and essential convictions of the Founding generation and its leaders. This is beyond dispute (see, for example, frc.org Gettysburg Address lecture and frc.org scripture, rights and religion).
Discrimination against Christians is as old as the catacombs, but in a nation whose “first freedom” is religious liberty, it is unacceptable.
Additionally, it’s important to note that passive support is not the same as active endorsement.
When my wife and I allow the children in my neighborhood to play in our large backyard, we don’t always like the things they say to one another. Meanness, pettiness, selfishness, etc. – these manifestations of sin are not unknown to the pre-teen set.
But we let the kids play there because they need a place to have fun, socialize, play games, etc. We allow them to romp around and have a good time because they benefit from wholesome outlets for their energy, from the friendships they build, and from being outside instead in front of some electronic device. We permit them to play; we do not endorse everything they say to one another.
So, when a secular college or university says that Christian groups cannot use campus facilities unless they open both their membership and leadership to people with fundamentally different beliefs from those held by the groups themselves, they not only are squelching free speech and freedom of religious exercise but are conflating simple permission with approval.
Christians should not be required to allow those disavowing their faith to join or run for leadership of their groups. This is beyond argumentum ad absurdum; it is saying that those who oppose same-sex intimacy are unentitled to uphold this belief in a public forum.
What is happening on some campuses is part of a larger cultural movement by advocates of the “mainstreaming” of homosexuality to castigate those with whom they disagree as Klan-like bigots whose views must be rendered culturally and politically impermissible. They do not want to debate the Bible’s teachings on human sexuality or their implications for public life; they want Christians and all who disagree with them to be silent, to which end they happily will apply a Scarlet Letter of opprobrium to adherents of traditional biblical faith.
Christians must graciously but unflinchingly use the legal tools at our disposal to oppose these measures. Not to do so is to acquiesce to Christophobia, which no Christian nor any American should ever do.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president at the Family Research Council.
Publication date: June 17, 2014