Tonight, Gonzaga plays Baylor for the men’s NCAA basketball championship. But as usual, there was a Cinderella or two in the midst. Loyola, for example, with Sister Jean praying up a storm, of course caught everyone’s eye. But by far, it was 15th-ranked Oral Roberts University’s run to the Sweet Sixteen before it ended in a 2-point loss to 3rd-ranked Arkansas that garnered the most attention. They were only the second 15-seed in the history of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
But they weren’t making news simply for their on-court upsets. Some were quite vocal that they wanted ORU out of the tournament before they played the first round.
Oral Roberts University is a distinctly Christian university. As such, it has a distinctly Christian code of ethics for its student body. This code of ethics is willingly accepted and agreed upon by those students who choose to attend the school. Indeed, it is why many of them choose to attend in the first place.
But in an opinion piece for USA Today, Hemal Jhaveri writes that ORU isn’t the feel-good story it appears to be. Why? Because of “the university’s deeply bigoted anti-LGBTQ+ policies.” As evidence, she notes that “Twice in their student handbook, Oral Roberts specifically prohibits homosexuality. In their student conduct section, under the heading of Personal Behavior, the school expressly condemns homosexuality, mentioning it in the same breath as ‘occult practices.’”
Here is the actual ORU statement:
Students are expected to maintain the highest standards of integrity, honesty, modesty and morality. Honesty and honor constitute measures of individual worth. Certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture and therefore should be avoided by members of the University community. They include theft, lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, backbiting, profanity, vulgarity (including crude language), sexual promiscuity (including adultery, any homosexual behavior, premarital sex), drunkenness, immodesty of dress and occult practices. The Scriptures further teach that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; it should be treated at all times with utmost respect and care to avoid personal harm. Students may not frequent or work at places of entertainment or other places the nature or reputation of which might bring discredit to the student or University. Students who disobey these University rules are subject to automatic suspension.
She further points out the school’s honor code that requires students to abide by a pledge saying that they will not engage in “homosexual activity,” and that they will not be united in marriage other “than the marriage between one man and one woman.”
While begrudgingly conceding that as a private Christian university the school is free to impose whatever standards of behavior they see fit, “they are wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency.” As a result, “the focus shouldn’t just be on their very good men’s basketball team, but on their prejudiced teachings and moral regressiveness.”
Result? They should be banned from NCAA competition. “There is no way to separate their men’s basketball team,” she concludes, “from the dangers of their religious dogma.”
Let’s be clear what we actually have in an ORU student, shall we? As Ed Stetzer wrote in a counter-piece in USA Today, at ORU you see
“… thousands of students passionate about their faith, their education and their desire to make a difference in the world. Such religious faith motivates all kinds of good actions our culture wants, from disaster to Eric Talley, the officer who bravely gave his life running into the mass shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado….”
What we actually have in play with the outrage surrounding ORU is the reveal of a wider cultural agenda. In making the case for the acceptance and legality of gay marriage, it was simply that—the acceptance and legality.
It was given.
But the agenda didn’t stop there. Now, it would seem, the agenda is to force affirmation and approval. That is, if you do not affirm or approve, then you should be punished. Your business sued, your church ripped of tax-exempt status, your sports team disqualified. Left unchecked, it is difficult not to agree with those who see the First Amendment and religious liberty under increasing threat.
So, if I may be so bold, if there is any bigotry surrounding ORU and its beliefs, it’s bigotry against historic orthodox Christianity. Not to mention almost every other major world religion that joins together on this and many other issues of morality, including the Muslim world.
Oh, one more thing.
Basketball as a sport was invented in 1891 by a Christian man, James Naismith, working at a Christian college, the YMCA International Training School.
James Emery White
Paul Putz and Jonathan Root, “ORU Basketball Fans Know to ‘Expect a Miracle,’” Christianity Today, March 26, 2021, read online.
Hemal Jhaveri, “Oral Roberts University Isn’t the Feel-Good March Madness Story We Need,” USA Today, March 23, 2021, read online.
Oral Roberts University, “Behavior & Conduct Regulations,” read online.
Michael Gryboski, “ Oral Roberts Should Be Banned from NCAA Competition: USA Today Editor,” The Christian Post, March 24, 2021, read online.
Ed Stetzer, “No, Oral Roberts University Basketball Doesn't Deserve to Be Canceled from NCAA Sweet 16,” USA Today, March 26, 2021, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.