Two members of the Board of Trustees for Azusa Pacific University (APU) have resigned, according to World Net Daily (WND). They charge that the school has “drifted” away from its biblical moorings and urgently needed accountability has not been forthcoming.
Founded by Free Methodists in the 1930s, APU is now a non-denominational evangelical school that bills itself as “a community of disciples and scholars preparing to impact the world for Christ.” Its longtime motto is “God first.”
Now, resigning board member Dave Dias, an insurance executive, solemnly fears “that it may be too late to save the university.”
Financially, APU could be the next in a long line of small Christian schools to fold in the wake of the Great Recession. Just recently, Grace University, Marygrove College, and St. Joseph’s College shut down in 2017, and they were joined in 2018 by St. Gregory’s University, Morthland College, Marylhurst University, and Mount Ida College. The credit agency Moody’s recently downgraded APU’s credit rating to just above junk-bond status, indicating that if APU cannot turn its debt situation around, it may be next to close.
But even if APU remains open, Dias fears it may no longer stand for its founding principles. He characterized the school’s culture as a “toxic” one of “compromise” and “mediocrity.” If the notion that such an explicitly evangelical institution could backslide seems far-fetched, let’s remember that Harvard and Yale began as Puritan seminaries.
The other trustee who resigned was Pastor Raleigh Washington, a former leader of Promise Keepers. Like Dias, he had served on the Board of Trustees for 15 years, and said that he had spent the past six years trying to convince the Board of the evidence of progressive ideology among the APU faculty. “In their practice as well as their teaching,” said Washington, some professors and administrators at APU “blatantly violate Christian biblical precepts.” Washington went on to say that other board members have “admitted to both Dave and myself, and to others in private, that virtually everything both Dave and I have said is true.”
Back in September, the administration at APU changed the student code of conduct to allow same-sex relationships between students. Amid backlash from donors, alumni, and parents, the APU Board of Trustees quickly reinstated the ban on same-sex relationships, at least officially.
At the same time, APU Honors College Professor Barbara Harrington wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees lamenting that APU faculty had abandoned their “God-first” calling. She wrote, “through certain APU courses, particularly in the theology, Biblical studies, global studies and social justice arenas, the students are exposed to radical beliefs that deride and malign traditional Biblical Christianity.”
The resignations of Dias and Washington come shortly after this latest incident, but it seems to be merely the last straw in a long string of motivating grievances.
In an official statement obtained by WND, APU’s Board of Trustees insisted that it was “actively engaged in stewarding our evangelical Christian identity” and said that Washington and Dias resigned for “personal beliefs.” While the Board undoubtedly has an interest in calming uneasy donors, they also make a good point. Determining just how far an institution can slide before it is unsalvageable is a judgment call, and reasonable people can fall on different sides of a judgment call.
However, inquiring minds want to know whether the remaining members of the APU board believe that “stewarding” their “evangelical Christian identity” is at odds with classroom professors who instruct the next generation of American Christians in radical, progressive ideas. Their recent response to the same-sex relationship policy indicates they will take action against overt radical policies, at least when pressured.
But what about when sin disguises itself as “academic freedom?” As Christ’s brother asked, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”
Chelsen Vicari, the IRD’s evangelical action director, highlighted evangelicals’ short memory in an earlier piece on APU:
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.
Mainline denominations have hemorrhaged 50 percent of their membership over the past 50 years, even as—or perhaps because—they have liberalized on sexuality and other hot-button issues to appease the culture.
Given APU’s sensitive financial situation, it’s doubtful that either its evangelical identity or its viability as a university would survive any further liberalization. Still, the future is never certain, and the conclusion of the APU drama remains to be seen.