Developing Story

Azusa Pacific Okays Gay Romance (But Not Sex and Marriage)

Christian university is also now hosting a formerly underground LGBT student group.
Morgan Lee
Azusa Pacific Okays Gay Romance (But Not Sex and Marriage)

Azusa Pacific University (APU) has dropped a policy preventing students from engaging in “romanticized” same-sex relationships.

The Southern California member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) also dropped longstanding language from an eight-point statement on human sexuality which had declared: “homosexual acts” (among others) are “expressly forbidden” by Scripture; “heterosexuality is God’s design for sexually intimate relationships”; and “humans were created as gendered beings” in order to be fruitful and multiply.

The Christian school, which still requires celibacy of unmarried students, now has a shorter six-point statement that more succinctly states that marriage is between “a man and a woman, which Jesus reaffirms,” and refers to humans as created “male and female” instead of “gendered.”

The new statement drops a list of sexual behaviors prohibited by the Bible. It also drops the word sin from its concluding sentence, which previously read: “Any deviation from a biblical standard of sexual behavior is sin and therefore is an opportunity for repentance, grace, and redemption, so that as a community we might honor one another and glorify God.”

“APU believes in a biblical definition of marriage as defined as between one man and woman,” Rachel White, a school spokesperson, told CT. “All others living outside of that definition are called to abstinence.” (APU does not offer married housing.)

“A change in policy does not change practice,” the university said in a written statement, which also says the new sexuality statement “strengthened” its definition of marriage. “We assessed our student code of conduct and made adjustments, much like other Christian schools have. In doing so, this enables us to care for all students and apply the same accountability across all populations.”

The previous rule had unfairly singled out LGBT students, said Erin Green, a recent APU alumnus and leader of Brave Commons, an LGBT organization.

“Queer students are just as able to have romanticized relationships that abide by APU’s rules,” she told ZU Media, APU’s campus media outlet. “The code used falsely assumed that same-sex romances always involved sexual behavior.”

When students complained about this discrepancy, administration leaders agreed.

“The changes that occured to the handbooks around sexual behavior creates one standard for all undergraduate students, as opposed to differential standards for different groups,” Bill Fiala, APU’s associate dean of students, told ZU Media. “The change that happened with the code of conduct is still in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution.

“The language changed, but the spirit didn’t,” he said. “Our spirit is still a conservative, evangelical perspective on human sexuality.”

The school’s shift will also be accompanied by a pilot program meant to provide an officially recognized space for LGBT students on campus in order to “reduce feelings of isolation and promote a sense of belonging,” APU told CT. A support group called Haven has existed for some time, but it could not advertise or meet on campus because it had not been endorsed by the university as an official club, ZU reported. The outlet said the school is now hosting official campus meetings with Haven.

Strained Collegial Ties

The broader question is whether APU’s shift could impact the CCCU’s attempt at a united stand on institutional religious freedom regarding sexuality.

In 2015, after lengthy deliberation, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and Goshen College added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies, opening the door for the schools to hire staff and faculty in same-sex marriages. In response, two other member schools—Union University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University—quit the CCCU in protest. In an effort to avoid an organizational split, EMU and Goshen withdrew from CCCU membership.

APU’s move is “not a small change,” said Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. (The school’s undergraduate institution, Boyce College, is not a CCCU member.)

“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 described by scripture,” he said Tuesday on his podcast, The Briefing.

APU’s recent activism may make the CCCU’s united stance even more complicated.

In 2016, a California state senator proposed withholding state funds from schools that ask for religious exemptions from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination policies. APU was among the Christian schools that flooded the committee with complaints; the school’s president Jon Wallace publicly opposed the bill, and APU and Biola University students created a website explaining how the bill particularly disadvantages minority lower-income students.

In the wake of the proposed legislation, Biola formed a government relations team to improve its outreach and began partnering with APU to together “practically and prayerfully” address potential legal challenges ahead, said Jennifer Walsh, a dean and political science professor at APU.

Earlier this summer, Kevin Mannoia, an APU chaplain and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, fought a California bill that would have banned reparative therapy for adults over concerns about how the bill might affect pastors’ ability to minister to those in the LGBT community. His friendship with Evan Low, the bill’s sponsor, led Mannoia to author an op-ed against reparative therapy and led Low to drop the legislation.

How APU’s Statements Changed

APU dropped the section on “Same-Sex Relationships” from its Student Standards of Conduct. It earlier read: “9.0 Same-Sex Relationships: Students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship.” In addition, it made several revisions to its sexuality statement.

Here is the full text of the school’s earlier and current statements. Deletions are marked in italics; additions are marked in bold.

[old version]
Biblical Foundations

Foundational principles from the Bible on human sexual relationships are as follows:

1. Humans, being created in the image of God, are inherently relational beings (Genesis 1:26).

2. The inherent relational nature of humankind is expressed in a variety of contexts including family, marriage, work, and for Christians, the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 12:14).

3. Humans were created as gendered beings. They were expressly blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply and to exercise dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28).

4. Heterosexuality is God’s design for sexually intimate relationships. Sexual union between a man and a woman is only to take place within the marriage covenant (Genesis 2:18, 21-24; Hebrews 13:4).

5. Jesus reaffirms the marital covenant as existing between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-9).

6. The New Testament teaches that followers of Christ are to remain celibate outside the bond of marriage. In sexual union, both body and soul are deeply impacted. A person who engages in sexual unions outside the bond of marriage sins against his or her own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:13, 18-20).

7. The sexual union between a husband and wife has been designed by God to bring them together as “one flesh,” creating a solid foundation on which to build a family (Genesis 2:18-24; Ephesians 5:31).

8. In Scripture, several sexual behaviors are expressly forbidden, which include but are not limited to: fornication, adultery, incest, unnatural sexual intercourse, and homosexual acts (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:7-23, 20:10-21; Matthew 5:27-28; Romans 1:20-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:17-19; Colossians 3:5).

Azusa Pacific University pledges to guide the university community toward understanding and embracing their God-given sexuality as reflected in this statement. Any deviation from a biblical standard of sexual behavior is sin and therefore is an opportunity for repentance, grace, and redemption, so that as a community we might honor one another and glorify God.

[new version]
Biblical Foundations

Foundational principles from the Bible on human sexual relationships are as follows:

1. Humans, being created in the image of God, are inherently relational beings (Genesis 1:26).

2. The inherent relational nature of humankind is expressed in a variety of contexts including family, marriage, work, and for Christians, the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 12:14).

3. Humans were created male and female and expressly blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply and to exercise dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28).

4. Sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:18, 21-24; Hebrews 13:4), which Jesus reaffirms (Matthew 19:4-6).

5. The New Testament teaches that followers of Christ are to remain celibate outside the bond of marriage. In sexual union, both body and soul are deeply impacted. A person who engages in sexual unions outside the bond of marriage sins against his or her own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:13, 18-20).

6. The sexual union within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman has been designed by God to bring them together as “one flesh,” creating a solid foundation on which to build a family (Genesis 2:18-24; Ephesians 5:31).

Azusa Pacific University pledges to guide the university community toward understanding and embracing their God-given sexuality as reflected in this statement. Any deviation from the biblical standard is an opportunity for repentance, grace, and redemption, so that as a community we might honor one another and glorify God.

December
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