On Tuesday April 28, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the U.S. Constitution mandates or allows a re-definition of the historic meaning of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, and, if marriage is not so defined, whether all states must recognize same-sex marriages from those states that choose to allow it. California’s voter-approved Prop 8 is a primary element of this case. Sometime this summer the court’s written decision will be released. There is no way to predict how the case will be decided, but regardless of that outcome, across America Christian colleges and universities are submitting formal requests to the federal government for a religiously based exemption from governmental regulations that apply anti-discrimination laws in ways that effectively require colleges to allow any and all kinds of sexual expression and activity as long as it is consensual and between people at least 18 years old.
Fresno Pacific University is submitting such a request on the basis of our strong and long-held religious beliefs and values as clearly stated in the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith. Our case rests on the governance authority of the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, which appoints 60 percent of the members of our FPU Board of Trustees and fills those positions with members of an MB church. Our case also rests on our consistent expression of these values in our policies and practices. Although some other Mennonite groups are actively considering approving gay marriage, I have been assured by our MB church leaders that there is no expectation of any such change by the USMB churches. Our sister MB institution, Tabor College, has already been granted its exemption. We are prayerfully hopeful of the same response from the government for Fresno Pacific.
The issues involved are complex and involve trans-gender as well as same-sex concerns. Trans-gender situations are not explicitly referenced in the faith statements of many denominations, because those statements were drafted or revised before the recent very rapid expansion of this behavior. At FPU we are seeking protection of our right to implement policies we believe express Christ-like love and compassion for persons with same-sex attractions and questions about their gender identity, while also maintaining our commitment to the sexual behavioral standards we believe are morally right and pleasing to God, as consistently stated in the Bible, which we accept as the moral and ethical truth.
Like most Christian colleges, we have students, faculty, staff and supporters who are gay or trans-gender, or who have family members who are. The issue is not which tendencies, desires or temptations any of us must deal with as we seek to follow Christ. The issue is our behavior as we follow Christ.
We are all sinners in constant need of God’s guidance and grace. In the sexual areas of life, as in the rest of life, any one of us may sin and need forgiveness and reconciliation with God and with other people against whom we have sinned. When we fail to behave properly, either in our actions or in the desires of our hearts, there are consequences that we must live with. We need to foster healthy relationships with gay and trans-gender people, but because of our faith commitment we do not endorse sexual activity outside of the marriage of one man and one woman. A person may have strong desires for sexual activity outside the historic monogamous heterosexual marriage model, but the ideal that God has established still stands. And we find no place in Scripture where God approves or blesses sexual activity other than in a man-woman marriage. This reality has significant implications for every member of the FPU community.
We want to be a safe and hospitable community where a person can learn to understand who they are and deal with whatever challenges they face. However, we assert that there is a critical difference between having desires that contradict God’s ideal for our sexual behavior and deciding by words or actions to reject that ideal altogether.
As a Christian academic community we need the right to create a campus environment where people committed to biblically faithful living can feel safe and comfortable and be encouraged in that walk of faith. We recognize the right of every person to equal opportunity in society, but we need the corollary recognition of our right to be a university community defined by a particular set of beliefs and behaviors. Because we want to be an academic community of Christ-like thoughts, words and actions, we cannot tolerate any disrespect or harassment of people whose desires and views differ from ours. For the same reason we must require that our faculty, staff and trustees support our confession of faith and live in alignment with that confession.
This is a great challenge in a world that does not value what we believe is right and good. We understand that when we do not compromise these faith-based behavioral matters, some will condemn us as hateful bigots. Our responsibility is to respond with genuine love, not anger or defensiveness. We need to constantly pray for each other for wisdom in our efforts to be faithful. We need to pray for those who wrongfully accuse us. And we must pray for those in authority over us in the government and especially now in the courts of law.