We are living in the midst of an unprecedented sexual revolution, one that presents particular challenges to Christians and those committed to religious liberty. Theo Hobson, a British theologian, has observed that there can be no third way for the Christian church on the issue of homosexuality. Churches will either affirm the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and behaviors or they will not. According to Hobson, the sheer speed of this revolution’s success, its ability to paint those who will not join it as morally deficient and intolerant, and its power to completely turn the moral tables, threaten to shake the very foundations of the Christian church.
But the Christian church is not the only institution the sexual revolution has in its crosshairs. Christian higher education is also under tremendous pressure. The religious liberty challenge we now face places every religious educational institution in the arena of conflict where erotic liberty and religious liberty now clash. Marc D. Stern of the American Jewish Congress, for example, has aptly recognized the challenge same-sex marriage would represent in regard to American religious liberty on the campuses of religious colleges. He sees the work of religious institutions as inevitable arenas of legal conflict.
“The religious liberty challenge we now face places every religious educational institution in the arena of conflict where erotic liberty and religious liberty now clash.”
This threat, of course, poses no danger to theological liberals and their churches and educational institutions because those churches have accommodated themselves to the new morality and find themselves quite comfortable within the context of the new moral regime. But faithful Christian colleges and universities will face the immediate threat of being further marginalized in the larger culture. Some will be threatened with the denial of accreditation and labeled outlaws simply because they remain true to historic Christian conviction and biblical orthodoxy.
Many religious institutions, especially colleges and schools, are now regularly confronted by the demand to surrender to the sexual revolution with regards to nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation pertaining to admissions, the hiring of faculty, and student housing. In some jurisdictions, lawmakers are contemplating hate crime legislation that would marginalize and criminalize speech that is in conflict with the new moral consensus.
Furthermore, colleges and schools have been challenged concerning their own internal policies and student disciplines when it comes to the application of convictional moral principles in the lives of students. For that matter, the courts are soon to see an avalanche of cases related to employees in these schools that challenge the rights of Christian and other religious organizations to hire and fire on the basis of religious principles and teachings.
One example along these lines involves a recent court decision with regard to Title IX funding. Title IX is the federal legislation stating colleges and universities receiving federal student aid cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or gender. Recently a federal judge in California ruled that Title IX also extends to sexual orientation in a case against Pepperdine University where two women claimed their basketball coach and other staff forced them to quit the team after finding out they were in a lesbian relationship. If this judge’s decision stands, it would mean any institution receiving Title IX funding would then have to cease discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, not just on the basis of gender and sex.
In fact, just days later, eight U.S. senators requested that the Department of Education make a list of schools that had requested waivers in matters of housing, hiring, and admissions with regard to Title IX’s nondiscrimination policy on LGBT matters. The senators stated, “We are concerned these waivers allow for discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.” That is a remarkable statement. Religious liberty is simply dismissed as a “guise.” Even more remarkably, the Department of Education agreed and in the name of “transparency” indicated they would publish a list of schools who had asked for waivers on religious liberty grounds.
As the sexual revolution completely pervades the society, and as the issues raised by the efforts of gay liberation and the legalization of same-sex marriage come to the fore, Christians now face an array of religious liberty challenges that were inconceivable in previous generations. Nowhere is this more evident than the challenge presented to us by the transgender revolutionaries. Recent controversies at California Baptist University and Azusa Pacific University demonstrate the vexing dimensions to this challenge.
In the case of Azusa Pacific University, a female professor and former chairman of the theology department announced her intention to become a man. She was shocked when the Christian university found her announcement incompatible with its moral code. Just a few days later, California Baptist University in Riverside made national headlines when the school discovered that a male student had appeared in the media claiming a new identity as a young transgender woman. Given California law and the government’s nondiscrimination policies, both institutions needed to play legal defense. Furthermore, both schools are accredited by regional agencies that have their own nondiscrimination policies. The transgender revolution poses a unique set of challenges related to admission, hiring, and housing for schools. Of course, these challenges will only escalate as the transgender revolution escalates.
“Christians now face an array of religious liberty challenges that were inconceivable in previous generations.”
We now face an inevitable conflict of liberties. In this context of acute and radical moral change, the conflict of liberties is excruciating, immense, and eminent. In this case, the conflict of liberties means that the new moral regime, with the backing of the courts and the regulatory state, will prioritize erotic liberty over religious liberty. Erotic liberty has been elevated as a right more fundamental than religious liberty. Erotic liberty now marginalizes, subverts, and neutralizes religious liberty — even on the campuses of America’s Christian colleges and schools.
The new moral revolution is seriously threatening the religious liberty of these schools and their right to be Christian. Religious schools are in the conflict whether they like it or not. If they are going to survive, they are going to have to stand. They are going to have to stand on the same authority that faithful, orthodox Christians have been standing for the last 2,000 years. They are going to have to stand with conviction, courage, and compassion as they speak truth in a world that wants them silenced.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is the ninth president of Southern Seminary and the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Systematic Theology.