A short article in Inside Higher Education drew our attention this week, as it talks about Biola University going against the grain in contemporary American culture by strengthening its public opposition to sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
Once again, the key here is the school's statement of Christian doctrine -- as opposed to a set of legal "rules" -- that define it as a voluntary association of believers.
Biola is a private liberal arts Christian college in La Mirada, a suburb of Los Angeles that was described thusly by Inside Higher Education:
A few Christian colleges have moved in 2015 to change their rules to permit the hiring in some circumstances of gay and lesbian faculty members. Those colleges are in the distinct minority among evangelical colleges, most of which require faculty members, employees and students to abide by conduct codes that bar any sex except in heterosexual marriage.
At least one Christian institution in California, Biola University, has responded to shifts in public attitudes about sexuality and gender identity by twice in recent years making its rules more strict. While the university characterizes the changes as clarifications, some gay and lesbian employees have complained that the additions make it more difficult for them to sign a required statement that indicates their adherence to the college's rules.
Biola has long had a traditional statement of faith and code of conduct restricting sex to opposite-sex married couples, and new employees (faculty and staff members) must pledge their agreement to the statement when hired and then periodically. A new request to employees (not faculty members, who sign annually) resulted in some people seeing new language in the statements -- which they hadn't necessarily reviewed since being hired -- that made them fear for their jobs.
The article goes on to describe one 2012 rule that forbade same-sex marriage and another rule mandated in September 2014 that forbids employees to change one’s “birth sex” by medical means, which rules out transgendered people.
I was not sure why Inside Higher Education waited a year to report this latest change until I saw further down that it was lifting the story from a Dec. 11 piece in The Advocate. If you’re going to use material from an advocacy news publication that has a clear ax to grind, it’d help to do a bit of original research.
Some of the comments by readers were instructive, including this one: “Why these folks keep on applying to work at these ‘colleges’ is beyond me.” Although this commenter clearly disliked Biola, he brought up a valid point: Why work at an institution that goes contrary to your beliefs and sexual practices? Why sign your name on that doctrinal covenant if you don't believe key elements of what it says?
The Inside Higher Education reporter should have asked that same question. I’ve written before of employees at religious institutions whose private lives go completely against the institution where they work. Journalists never seem to pose the obvious question to these folks.
The writer never got behind the “why” of Biola tightening the definitions. Remember how Health and Human Services has required institutions to offer their employees and students, health insurance that pays for sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the abortifacient"morning-after pills?" The HHS mandate says these non-profit employers must have the "inculcation of religious values" as their goal, primarily employ persons who share their "religious tenets" and primarily serve persons who share those same tenets.
So it behooves these institutions -- in today's legal climate -- to make their religious identity as clear as possible and to tie their policies to a biblical text, if need be.
We’ve been covering the permutations of the HHS battle, the Hobby Lobby ruling and the Little Sisters of the Poor case, which are different sides of the same coin.
Religious groups don’t want to in any way fund causes they don’t believe in. The leaders of these colleges and universities don’t want a fifth column of dissenting employees claiming that they weren’t aware of said institution’s stance on how professors and staff conduct their private lives. There is a reason these covenants are becoming more and more detailed.
Remember, these institutions are not churches, which enjoy more protections under law. They are doctrinally defined schools, colleges, parachurch ministries, hospitals and the like whose brand depends on its staff following the precepts of its parent institution.
It’s too bad that the Inside Higher Education team didn’t do more of its own research, such as finding its own anonymous gay employees to talk with or someone on Biola's staff or faculty who agreed with Biola’s crackdown. Just to quote another publication plus get a few quotes from Biola’s publicist does not a good article make. This publication ordinarily has lots of interesting, well-researched pieces. Next time, I hope they don’t simply aggregate but instead investigate.
The top photo, from Biola's website, shows an aerial view of the campus.