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In the name of love?

Education | Christian university lifts ban on same-sex romantic relationships in a bid to better disciple homosexual students
by Leigh Jones
Posted 9/26/18, 04:39 pm

Azusa Pacific University made a small but significant change to its student handbook this year that could have a big ripple effect throughout Christian higher education: Students at the Southern California college are no longer prohibited from having romantic same-sex relationships—as long as they remain abstinent.

University chaplain Kevin Mannoia said the change is intended to free students from the need to hide their behavior and beliefs about sexuality so that staff and student leaders can openly address those issues from a Biblical perspective.

“We know that with a changing culture, there are students who come to us and who do self-identify as LGBTQ,” he said. “We want to make sure that our people are as best prepared and able to come alongside those students—and all students—equally in discipling them toward a Biblical position on marriage. And we do that in highly relational ways.”

Mannoia insisted the university has not abandoned its Biblical foundation or belief in God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman. It also hasn’t changed its understanding and teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin.

“The best way I can describe the paradigm that we’re working with is that we are anchored to that authority and lordship of Christ, and at the same time as we are being anchored in our historic Christian orthodox faith, we are also committed to the mission of God in the fallen world,” he said. “As culture changes around us, how we go about fulfilling that mission also has to change.”

Azusa Pacific sits just 26 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and like other Christian institutions in California, it has faced pressure from LGBT lobby groups to abandon its Biblical position on human sexuality. California lawmakers in 2016 considered blocking state scholarship funds to Christian universities that refused to abandon faith-based community covenants addressing issues of sexuality. And this year, lawmakers considered a bill that would have limited the way mental health professionals could counsel anyone struggling with same-sex attraction.

But Mannoia said the university’s decision to change its approach to same-sex relationships had nothing to do with political, legal, or social pressure. He described the university as being caught in the “messy middle,” between being anchored in God’s Word and engaging the culture. Students at Azusa Pacific are not required to be Christian, and Mannoia said trying to enforce rules for behavior only makes sharing the gospel more difficult: “The minute you impose a punitive restriction, it closes the door to the possibilities of discipleship.”

From a practical standpoint, students in same-sex relationships will be allowed to hold hands and display other signs of affection publicly without fear of reproach. But Mannoia said administrators now have the opportunity to talk openly to those students about where that relationship is headed and why it can never match up to God’s design for marriage and sexuality. The school has also established a program within its Student Life department where LGBTQ students meet regularly with administrators who can “guide them in safe conversations that will allow them to explore their sexuality within the context of a Christian framework,” Mannoia said. According to the student newspaper, nearly 50 students attended the group’s second meeting.

Mannoia repeatedly stressed what hasn’t changed at Azusa Pacific: it’s interpretation of the Bible and God’s design for sexuality and marriage. But others see the new acceptance of same-sex relationships as the first step in a movement away from Christian orthodoxy.

“When it comes to relationships, God’s design is for men and women to be in heterosexual relationships,” said John Jackson, president of William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif. “It is wrong and hurtful to say to people that a same-sex romantic relationship is equal to a heterosexual relationship.”

Jackson praised Azusa Pacific leaders for maintaining an orthodox view of sexuality and said he knew they genuinely wanted to honor God in a challenging world. But he insisted that accepting same-sex romantic relationships contradicted God’s plan for human flourishing. And he warned that different approaches to same-sex relationships could threaten unity among the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Several years ago, disagreements over faith-based requirements for faculty nearly split the organization. While Azusa Pacific is the first Christian college to articulate a same-sex relationship acceptance policy, Jackson suspects others have already taken the same approach in practice, if not in writing.

Jackson lamented the growing division over sexuality among Christian universities and said he and his fellow college presidents would much rather deal with other things: “It’s our culture bringing these issues to our door. Not one of us wants this to be the big issue. But it’s coming to our doorstep. Christian schools are going to have to address it.”

Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Chiu Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Chiu An Alameda High School student wearing ripped jeans

Sexist dress codes?

Girls in a San Francisco–area school district complained the dress code was “sexist” because it seemed to apply more to them than to the boys. But instead of opting for modesty and sensible clothing choices for all students, Alameda High School scrapped almost all wardrobe restrictions. Bare midriffs? No problem. Micro-mini skirts and short shorts? Why not? The only thing students can’t wear: anything containing violent images, hate speech, profanity, or pornography. Well, that’s a relief. And as long as whatever they are wearing includes a bottom, top, shoes, and covers private parts, it’s “dress code legal.” Districts in Portland, Ore., and Evanston, Ill., have similar policies.

Girls might have had a point that they were singled out by policies targeting short and shirt length and spaghetti straps, but couldn’t these districts have come up with a more common-sense approach? Let’s be honest: No one wants to see boys in spaghetti straps and short shorts, or short skirts for that matter. Seems like it would have made more sense to require all students to have their shoulders, upper legs, and everything in between fully covered. Who could argue with the neutrality of that? —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Michael Dwyer Associated Press/Photo by Michael Dwyer Harvard University’s commencement in May

Rolling in it

Harvard University will remain open for the foreseeable future, thanks to a successful fundraising campaign. The effort netted $9.6 billion. It’s the largest donation draw in the history of higher education. And it is enough to cover full tuition for the school’s 6,700 undergraduates for about the next 18 years.

Harvard already has deep pockets: Its $37.1 billion endowment is the largest in the nation. The Ivy League school is so flush with cash (so to speak) the Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate wants a share for the state. Jay Gonzalez has proposed a 1.6 percent tax on endowments belonging to the wealthiest schools in his state: Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, Boston College, Amherst College, Wellesley College, Smith College, Tufts University, and Boston University. He said the new tax would raise $1 billion that could be used for child care, schools, and transportation infrastructure. The schools already face a 1.4 percent federal tax adopted in the Republican tax overhaul package. They didn’t like that proposal, so it seems unlikely they’ll support this one, either. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  • AlanE
    Posted: Wed, 09/26/2018 10:23 pm

    How about Christian schools address the issue by standing their ground instead of finding every accommodation they can possibly generate, short of adding a few verses to the Gospel of John documenting that Jesus commanded us to embrace same-sex relationships? What other ongoing sin would Christian colleges address in this manner? And, how, pray tell, do they propose to define and enforce "abstinent"? My head hurts just thinking about that.

    Currying the world's favor is a brutal slavemaster.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Thu, 09/27/2018 02:42 am

    Yes it is a wicked act of compromise and betrayal of God’s commandments! It is sad to see but not surprising. Most Christians have a superficial understanding of the Bible and how to use it!

  • Janet S
    Posted: Thu, 09/27/2018 11:17 am

    "Students at the Southern California college are no longer prohibited from having romantic same-sex relationships—as long as they remain abstinent.   Mannoia insisted the university has not abandoned its Biblical foundation or belief in God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman. It also hasn’t changed its understanding and teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin." 

    How do you say in one breath we condone your homosexual lifestyle and in the next tell them their homosexual lifestyle is sin?  You either believe that homosexuality is sin and that God's design for marriage is one man and one woman from creation or you don't believe it.  There is no middle ground.

  • Bob R
    Posted: Thu, 09/27/2018 11:32 am

    Let's replace the innocuous-sounding phrase "same-sex" with "adulterous" in that sentence;  ""Students at the Southern California college are no longer prohibited from having romantic adulterous relationships—as long as they remain abstinent."  Ok with that?  Sin is sin.  Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (I Corinthians 6:18)

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Thu, 09/27/2018 04:21 pm

    Has "Christian University" become an oxymoron?

  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 09/28/2018 03:04 pm

    Sexist dress code? - Well L. J. the only problem with your excellent common sense solution is that the administrators are either lacking in common sense or worse, they are willing to sacrifice the teen girls to satisfy their own moral depravity?

    Posted: Fri, 09/28/2018 08:17 pm

    "EDUCATION | Christian university lifts ban on same-sex romantic relationships in a bid to better disciple homosexual students"

    If you throw someone into the mud with someone, that person will NOT get clean.

    One reason you can't send your kid to a Christian university. They aren't prepared for what's coming. Just like parents send their troubled child to a Christian High School thinking it's good for them, parents send their children to a Christian university and hope they will turn out better in a good environment. At a regular university, your Christian kid might be ready for an encounter with a non-believer, especially if you prepare them.   

    Don't think homosexuals don't have an agenda. "You're not homosexual? Have you ever had sex with a homosexual? You might like it." 

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sat, 09/29/2018 02:49 am

    Re the same-sex relationship policy change: I'm not sure I agree with their reasoning, but on the other hand, failing to specifically prohibit something (and enforce consequences) is not the same thing as approving or condoning it. I imagine that they also don't have a policy against students failing to love God with their whole hearts. That doesn't mean that neglecting that love is not a sin, but a school does need to make decisions about which sins are egregious enough in a school setting to have consequences enforced by the school administration.