Thirty years ago, I asked a gay theologian in Denver a blunt question, while we were thinking out loud about the distant possibility that gay marriage would become a reality.
The question: Did he know anyone in the gay theological world — this man was well connected — who thought that gay women and men should remain virgins until taking vows and forming a monogamous, lifelong relationship with a partner?
After laughing out loud, he said, “No.” The debates, he said, would be about the meaning of the word “monogamous”? Few gay men, in particular, would accept what he called the “twin rocking chairs into the future” approach to absolute sexual fidelity.
About 15 years ago, I asked another gay activist if LGBTQ people lobbying for change in Christian higher education had considered attacking a very specific fault line: If Christian college leaders asked students to promise not to have sex outside of marriage, what would be the doctrinal grounds for banning gay dating?
He said: That’s a very interesting point. That’s going to be an issue someday.
Put those two questions together and you get the tensions on the campus of Azusa Pacific University, where administrators briefly approved a policy stating that gay romance — short of intercourse — was as welcome on the campus as straight. The trustees quickly nixed that revolutionary change.
During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I talked about the APU furor, focusing on a particularly lousy, one-sided news report on the subject that ran in The Los Angeles Times — a newspaper once known for its quality religion-news work. The original post on that topic can be found here: “Azusa Pacific, doctrine and sex, again: Los Angeles Times acts as cheerleader for one side.”
Also, National Public Radio has produced a lengthy, solid report that — while not very friendly to small-o Christian orthodoxy — is must reading, and listening, for anyone who wants to learn the stakes in this debate. The story is very sympathetic to the motives of left-of-center evangelical insiders. Click here for: “Christian Colleges Are Tangled In Their Own LGBT Policies.”
The key is that there is no safe way forward. Christian educators cannot please students who want change without driving away students who embrace 2,000 years of Christian moral theology. It will be impossible to please donors, parents and trustees without ticking off the principalities and powers in mass media and the educational establishment.
Pain and change is ahead, no matter what.
But what about those two questions I asked long ago? Can evangelical leaders articulate theological reasons for banning LGBTQ romance and dating? Also, what about this: If college administrators can’t stop straight sex behind closed doors, why pick on LGBTQ people? Why not let everyone violate the doctrinal standards that define these voluntary educational associations?
If you want to hear someone discuss the theological dangers in this debate, from the conservative Protestant side of the table, click here to listen to (or read) a fairly recent podcast by Al Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This aired right before APU trustees reversed the gay-dating decision.
This is long, but essential:
... What we are looking at here is the fact that the change at Azusa Pacific means a change in the fact that same-sex couples will be able to be identified romantically as same-sex couples and to be involved in the full life of the campus as same-sex couples and, furthermore, as openly LGBTQ+ individuals, and that the only restriction, well, it comes down to whatever might be defined as this physical act which expresses sexuality.
But in the context of this announced change, when you look at the statement, certain words and certain terms take on what can only be described as an explosive significance. For example, the associate dean of students is cited as offering the fact that the university's response was at least in part predicated on a desire to be, "attentive to equity." Well, what in the world would that mean? What does the word equity mean in this context? Here, it can only mean an equity between students who are not LGBTQ+ and students who are LGBTQ+ when it comes to establishing romantic relationships short of what's described here as sexual union.
But then we also have to go back to that statement that was made by Erin Green, co-executive director of Brave Commons, the facilitator of this conversation. She said, listen to these words again, "We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same-sex romantic relationships while it is impossible to enforce or monitor," and then in brackets, "whether other students are remaining abstinent."
Do you see the connection between my old questions?
Let’s keep reading:
Now, here you see the equity that's being invoked. … What does it mean? Well, it's straightforward in that statement, if you heard. What it means is that those who are in same-sex or otherwise described LGBTQ+ relationships should be considered on par with the relationship between a young man and a young woman when it comes to the legitimacy of that romance and that romantic relationship short of what Azusa Pacific University is identifying as sexual union.
Well, let's face the facts squarely. That's not a small change. That's a complete reversal and repudiation of the historic Christian understanding of what romance is to be, as defined by Scripture, and what is appropriate as sexual and gender identity, as defined by Scripture. What you have here is something else we have seen campus after campus, college or university, one after another.
Now, journalists: You do NOT have to agree with what Mohler is saying to see that the gay-dating debate raises some high, high, high theological stakes. There is news there. Can an biblical conservatives in zip codes near your newsrooms articulate a Christian theology of dating?