Azusa Pacific

Azusa Pacific’s Compromise on Sexuality is Significant, but Nothing New

on September 24, 2018

Last Friday, I spoke to a ballroom filled with fervent young Evangelical students at Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit. I was asked to address the question: Is the Church immune to conflicts over sexuality and gender? Obviously, no. I sensed that a good number of the students had encountered Christians enthusiastically affirming LGBTQ relationships within their Christian communities. But what many of the young Evangelicals in the room did not know is that this leftward drift on sexuality in the Church did not start within Evangelicalism.

Here at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, we often encounter Evangelicals unaware of unorthodox trends among Mainline Protestant denominations and their affiliates. Liberal Evangelicals especially tend to think they’re the first to, well, compromise on Christian sexual ethics, and then they pat themselves on the back for their perceived innovations. Somehow they overlook the Mainline denominations who took this route years, sometimes decades, before—and have suffered for it in influence and witness.

If you haven’t heard the news, Azusa Pacific University, a nondenominational affiliate of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), will no longer ban same-sex relationships for students on campus. Oddly, the college claims to still believe that all sexual behavior is “intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.”

Azusa Pacific’s Evangelical administrators probably think their policy revision on sexuality is ground-breaking too. They are mistaken in that regard—not to mention misleading in their claim to still uphold traditional Christian teachings.

“The change that happened with the code of conduct is still in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution,” said Azusa’s Associate Dean of Students Bill Fiala. “The language changed, but the spirit didn’t. Our spirit is still a conservative, evangelical perspective on human sexuality.”

The decision was seemingly prompted after an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, Brave Commons, aided LTBTQ students on campus to pursue policy changes. However, it is hard to believe LGBTQ activists will be satisfied with this half-way policy change. Likely doctrinal revisions will soon follow.

In 1994, the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary, General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York, revised its policy to permit same-sex couples to live together in married student housing. Eventually, the seminary’s policy turned into doctrine. The seminary’s current Dean, Kurt H. Dunkle, wrote that he supports the LGBTQ community “without condition,” and GTS prepares openly practicing LGBTQ seminarians for ordained ministry within the Episcopal Church.

As the unorthodox trend goes, GTS has struggled to avoid possible closure due to declining attendance. In 2015, the IRD’s Jeff Walton reported GTS sold or redeveloped property in order to pay down its $40 million in debt. According to data garnered by the Association of Theological Schools, GTS reported only 34 full-time enrolled students during the 2017-2018 academic year. During 1994-1995, GTS educated 141 full-time students.

Azusa should take heed. Their decision to compromise on sexuality amidst social pressure is not new, but such decisions are likely to have the same decline results as the capitulating schools before it.

  1. Comment by Jason on September 24, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    So Azusa has decided to no longer follow Christ. Another “Christian” university down the tubes.

  2. Comment by Josh on September 24, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    How do you ban same-sex relationships on a seminary campus anyhow? Do you scrutinize every student who might be acting a little “gay”?

    I mean, sex outside of marriage is a sin too. How would you enforce a rule that kicked out people who were engaged in premarital sex?

    I understand being wary of compromise in schools and such, especially with what has happened in many seminaries. But this article kind of has that “slippery slope” fallacy going on. The reality is that the seminaries and Christian schools are having a tough time navigating a post-Christian Western world. Azusa has always been a strong evangelical school. The author might ought actually try and interview some of the leaders at this school before insinuating that there is some liberal/ progressive agenda going on. I assure you that the leaders at Azusa are fully aware that any sort of compromise on biblical ethics will lead to the eventual closure of their school. And I am sure that the leaders do not want to compromise. But they are also being severely pressured by outside forces.
    It would probably be better to pray for them than to accuse them.

  3. Comment by Kevin Davis on September 24, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    Sorry, Josh, I don’t think you quite understand what this means. Prior to this policy, an lgbt person had to hide his or her relationship with someone of the same sex: not talk about it openly, much less display it through kissing and other expressions of physical intimacy. After this policy change, that is over. In fact, the language of the Azusa statement is telling: “Queer students are just as able to have romanticized relationships that abide by APU’s rules. The code used falsely assumed that same-sex romances always involved sexual behavior.” Azusa is explicitly saying that “romanticized” same-sex relationships are now permitted and therefore can be openly affirmed and celebrated, basically everything (kissing, dates, etc.) other than sex. That’s obviously naive, and it won’t take long for Azusa to take the logical step of allowing both “romanticized” same-sex relationships and sexual activity itself, even if within the bounds of gay marriage. That’s not a slippery slope fallacy. It’s logic. It’s unbelievably naive to think you can have romantic relationships that do not involve eventually sexual activity, even if only after marriage.

  4. Comment by Kevin Davis on September 24, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Small correction to my comment: The quotes about romanticized relationships is from Erin Green, who helped lead the discussions that eventually resulted in the Azusa policy change. So, that’s not from the Azusa policy statement, but it represents the thinking behind the statement.

  5. Comment by MikeS on September 24, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    “And I am sure that the leaders do not want to compromise. But they are also being severely pressured by outside forces”.

    This is the very definition of compromise. Anyone who doesn’t recognize this as the camel’s nose under the tent, is naïve.

    “Outside forces”… that is, the people who wield money and accreditation, the true gods of all colleges.

  6. Comment by David Thrush on September 24, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Apostasy…more of the falling away from the true faith predicted

  7. Comment by Larry Collins on September 25, 2018 at 12:41 am

    Poor Azusa Pacific. They used to be highly regarded as an island of conservative Evageliscalism amidst the Californian cesspool. Apparently that island is sinking into the muck and mire. Conservative Evangelical students will be forced to go elsewhere. It’s now just another LIBERAL arts school.

  8. Comment by MJ on September 24, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Though non-denominational, they have historical connections to the Society of Friends. As for the issue of changing their policy, I’d be slow to judge. They may be removing language that they are simply in no position to enforce and which could be perceived as discriminatory.

  9. Comment by Don Bryant on September 25, 2018 at 11:23 am

    What makes it worse is that now they are not telling the truth. No one believes them. They caved.

  10. Comment by Elaine on October 7, 2018 at 10:20 am

    I graduated from Azusa Pacific in 1975 and compromise in the area of sexuality was already in play. We had a number of liberal professors who I was not convinced were true Christians and the school has been in a continual slide. The school desires adulation in the eyes of the world and you can’t have that and Jesus too. If He couldn’t have it, why do we think we can?

  11. Comment by M Shelton on October 8, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    The argument that if something painful or bad happens (like GTS closing), it’s because you did something wrong, is a terrible way to approach ethical questions. Many, many times there are huge consequences for making the right decision, whether as a person or as an institution. The goal for the Azuza trustees is to create the best learning environment possible. By now there’s plenty of theoretical and practical evidence (including and going beyond GTS) trustees can use to figure this out. The harder part, as is often the case with ethical stances, is to hold their ground no matter what silly or harsh criticisms follow in the short term.

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