Prof. David P. Gushee on How Christian Higher Education Can Win the LGBT Debate

David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.

Evangelical colleges, universities and seminaries have erupted in recent days with LGBTQ-related drama.

At George Fox University in Oregon, student Reid Arthur made national news when he decided to come out as gay during the school’s annual lip sync tourney, electrifying his classmates, who offered their energetic support and applause.

At Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, student Joanna Maxon is suing the school for using tax records to reveal her marriage to a person of the same sex and expel her based on Fuller’s student conduct code.

At Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, a new hire, the well-regarded professor Karen Swallow Prior, was targeted by ultraconservative Southern Baptists for comments she made in 2018 seemingly in favor of a conference called Revoice, which supports same-sex attracted Christians who are “observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”

In my speaking rounds at Christian schools across the country, I find some version of the same problem pretty much everywhere I go. The school may not have reached a crisis point yet, it may not have made national headlines, but teachers and administrators everywhere tremble in the knowledge that an eruption over its LGBTQ policy may be only a day away.

It’s a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

The irresistible force is generational change. LGBTQ Christians who go to Christian colleges and seminaries today are unwilling to accept some straight guy declaring to them that they can’t be both Christian and gay; they won’t tolerate second-class status on campus; and they are not OK with being permanently closeted.

Their position is reinforced by their straight Christian friends who consider themselves allies on these issues. As at George Fox, it isn’t just the gay students who are standing up for one another.

Increasingly, Christian students, gay and straight, have spent time outside of deeply conservative Christian subcultures. They arrive on campus having been exposed to a message of tolerance, inclusion and full acceptance of LGBTQ students by school authorities. When Christian college authorities offer a different message, it is not necessarily heard as the Voice of God. It might just be someone’s old opinion.

That opinion, in addition, is an isolated one. The legalization of gay marriage nationally by the Supreme Court occurred all the way back in 2015. For today’s 20-year-old, that’s ancient history. Gay marriage is now a fact of life for the young people all around us.

LGBTQ equality is also a core value for the entire higher education establishment outside of traditionalist religious schools, which may be reflected in the values of many faculty members who end up in Christian colleges and who chafe semipublicly against rules they don’t necessarily accept.

LGBTQ equality has become part of an unquestioned progressive agenda, along with environmentalism and racial equality. Liberal-minded Christian college students (there are plenty of them) will be pro-LGBTQ as a matter of course, just as they are pro-environment and pro-racial-justice.

For many of today’s Christian students, in short, the traditionalist view does not seem very persuasive.

Yet it is those traditionalist understandings of sexuality, still held strongly in portions of the power structure of many evangelical Christian schools, that are the immovable object.

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Source: Religion News Service