Each month it seems another Christian university is heaved into news headlines for doing nothing more than maintaining Biblical sexual ethics. It’s one of the most demanding queries facing Christian academia: Which schools will uphold their Christian values and which ones will cave to cultural pressures?
On March 4, a column in the Lexington Herald-Leader placed Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, under a microscope after the school allegedly refused to renew the contracts of two professors who are “LGBTQ affirming.”
The two Asbury professors named in the column are Jill Campbell, assistant professor of music education and voice, and Jon Roller, professor and founder of the school’s Worship Arts program.
The column quotes worship leader Derek Chilton, who started a GoFundMe page for Roller, saying, “Jon was told in his tenure meeting, ‘you do not belong here.’ There was no thank you. No appreciation. And no reason for the non-renewal other than Jon being LGBTQ affirming. His contract was not breached, and there was no budget cut.”
According to Chilton, he was one of the first to hear Roller’s account. “Those of you who know him know he would never exaggerate, or make himself look better in any way,” tweeted Chilton.
Remember Bill Mefford, the former United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) senior staff member who disrespected the March for Life with his “I march for sandwiches” sign? He is quoted in the column too. Oddly, Mefford asserts that Asbury University is more conservative than Asbury Theological Seminary (a separate institution). “So I always thought if this is happening at the seminary,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be LGBTQ or LGBTQ-affirming at the University.”
(In August 2019, Mefford signed an open letter–alongside some 70 other Asbury Seminary alumni and current students–chastising seminary faculty, students, and President Emeritus Rev. Maxie Dunnam for their support of the United Methodist Church’s Traditional Plan at the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference.)
The column also quotes David Wheeler, a former Asbury University journalism professor who supposedly left the school for another job due to the university’s position on human sexuality. “It is a tragedy for an institution of higher education to be so closed-minded that they would deny someone tenure for being LGBTQ-affirming,” Wheeler said. “But that is clearly the direction Asbury is going. No room for nuanced views. Only anti-LGBTQ hysteria.”
The “direction” Asbury University is going? How frustrating to have Asbury University accused of “anti-LGBTQ Hysteria” and being “close-minded” when their mission is to tell of Christ’s love and redemption of sins. All sins. It is revisionists who’ve changed course, and determined repentance is not necessary for sexual immorality.
Asbury University was established in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and currently enrolls 1,900 students from more than 20 different nations, according to the school’s website. The “Asbury University Statement on Human Sexuality” makes the school’s faithfulness to traditional sexual ethics abundantly clear. The statement reads, in part:
A faithful interpretation of Scripture affirms the principle that sexual purity honors God and that all forms of sexual intimacy that occur outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage are sinful distortions of the holiness and beauty for which God intended. As members of a larger community, we recognize that stewarding one’s expression of sexual intimacy is a trust that reaches beyond ourselves, extending even to those who may disagree with our beliefs. Therefore, we understand our responsibility to uphold biblical truth in our belief and practice, but in a way that reflects the grace that holiness produces.
We believe that the sin of sexual immorality (e.g., pre-marital sexual behavior, adultery for the heterosexually married person, polygamy, polyandry, pornography, incest, and all forms of same-sex practice) is about the behavior. As sinful fallen creatures, we are all tempted to sin, however, we do not claim those areas of temptation as right and good – and worthy of embrace and celebration. Rather, we unashamedly insist that by the grace of God we are called to live within the biblical boundaries of our sexuality, and are empowered to live in obedience with God’s will and alignment with His purposes as revealed in Scripture. We do not surrender the biblical standard of sexual purity to the prevailing secular culture, nor the definition of “male” and “female” to mean something more or different than a individual’s sex at birth. At the same time, we do pledge to extend compassion and care, providing accountability and assistance as we support all members of our community— students, staff and faculty—in their desire to live consistently with the Christian teaching on human sexuality as described above.
I’ve read many university statements on human sexuality, and don’t believe any are as robust and thoughtful as this pronouncement from Asbury University. Notice the language “we do not surrender the biblical standard of sexual purity to the prevailing secular culture…” I pray more Christian schools would be so bold.
As I stated at the start of this post, the world is waiting to see which Christian schools will uphold traditional sexual ethics and which ones will accommodate cultural trends. The world is waiting to pounce on those who like Asbury who refuse to compromise.
Why sexual ethics? Why the LGBTQ issue that always lands Christian schools in the headlines (and not the innumerable acts of community outreach, service projects, and academic achievements)?
“LGBTQ is not being singled out by churches and institutions who hold to the historic biblical witness but rather by those who seek to legitimize it as normative in the church and Christian academy,” wrote David Prince, pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Other sins, which must be unapologetically called what they are as well do not have constituencies seeking normalization and affirmation.”
Prince was one of the first Christian leaders to comment on the Herald-Leader column in his article “Asbury University Chooses the Bible and Institutional Integrity Over the Spirit of the Age.”
“Let us be clear, the Bible-believing church and academy does not believe that sexual sin is beyond the scope of the gospel or carries a greater moral weight than a host of other sins,” explained Prince. “Nevertheless, we rightly resist without equivocation, when anyone suggests that we stop calling sin, sin, and instead start calling it sacred.”
In her column, Herald-Leader columnist Linda Blackford argues that younger Christians “don’t adhere to such narrow perspectives any more,” and she is right. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 47 percent of Generation X/Millennial evangelicals favored gay marriage, compared to only 26 percent of boomer and older evangelicals.
A generational divide on the LGBTQ issue does not mean young people’s sentiments outweigh Scripture or the sacrament of marriage. I think it merely means Christian parents, churches, and schools like Asbury University must continue doing their jobs well and teaching the Gospel without compromise and with love. There are young people who hear.