By R. ALBERT MOHLER, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Will Christian colleges survive? Will colleges and universities that hold to historical biblical definitions of gender and sexuality and marriage be forced into the academic wilderness? What about American collegiate sports? Will conservative Christian schools be ruled out of bounds?
These are real and urgent questions. Christians in the United States now face the reality that open hostility to our convictions is now leading to public calls for Christian colleges and schools to be marginalized and excluded from organizations such as the NCAA.
Just consider a recent article at ForTheWin, part of USA Today Sports. This article will knock you off your feet. It is an outright attack on biblical commitments and a public call for the NCAA to eliminate Christian schools from post-season play, and even from membership.
There has been no article that underlines the significance of where we stand in the LGBTQ debate like the column by Hemal Jhaveri for USA Today. The headline read, “Oral Roberts University Isn’t the Feel Good March Madness Story We Need.”
The article chronicles the unexpected triumphs of the men’s basketball team at Oral Roberts University, a Christian university located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The team not only made its way into the NCAA tournament, but it then defeated Ohio State and the University of Florida to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. That in and of itself is big news in the realm of sports and for the small Christian University, which almost assuredly did not expect to find itself in this Cinderella story scenario.
Jhaveri, on the other hand, says, “not so fast”—this is not the Cinderella tale we need. Why? Because, according to Jhaveri, the NCAA should never have permitted Oral Roberts to participate in the national tournament, due to the institution’s apparently bigoted, out-of-date, homophobic, prejudicial views on marriage, gender, and sexuality.
This column reveals not only a secular indictment of one institution, but rather an indictment of any Christian college, university, institution, chartered organization, church, or denomination that would dare to stand against the headwinds of the moral and sexual revolution.
Indeed, Jhaveri argues, “And yet as the spotlight grows on Oral Roberts and it reaps the goodwill, publicity, and revenue of a national title run, the University’s deeply bigoted, anti-LGBTQ+ policies can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.”
The article introduces its readers to the school’s founding in 1963—a university named after televangelist and the charismatic leader, Oral Roberts. Roberts lived from 1918 – 2009 and was largely responsible for mainstreaming the charismatic movement in America. The school’s evangelist namesake makes the institution, according to Jhaveri, “not just a relic of the past, but wholly incompatible with the NCAA’s own stated values of equality and inclusion.”
Jhaveri condescendingly delineates the school’s standards of behavior and the student code of conduct, which bans profanity, social dancing, and shorts in the classroom. She then writes, in a way that is apparently meant to shock the reader, that “twice in their student handbook, Oral Roberts specifically prohibits homosexuality. In their student conduct section, under the heading of Personal Behavior, the school expressly condemns homosexuality, mentioning it in the same breath as ‘occult practices.’”
What do we find in this section of the student handbook? To Jhaveri, we find a book riddled with bigotry. Yet, to be clear, this student handbook reflects biblical Christianity. It is the same basic code held at Boyce College and Southern Seminary and the vast majority of evangelical institutions. This is exactly what you should expect to find at any legitimately Christian organization. You are likely to find a similar statement at an institution committed to Orthodox Judaism or any traditional Roman Catholic college or university. For that matter, you will find a similar statement at most Islamic institutions.
Jharveri uses language beyond anything most Christians might imagine. It keys us in to how the world is organizing itself. Oral Roberts’s policy is described as discriminatory and hateful—a belief system, rooted in fundamentalist Christianity, that proclaims beliefs, “wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency.”
Oral Roberts just found itself accused of violating “basic values of human decency” by merely adhering to what biblical Christians believe and teach. Jhaveri lambasts Oral Roberts University, describing the school as an institution of hateful prejudice that espouses moral regressivenss and is said to “fetishize chastity.” That is her way of dismissing a requirement that students restrict sex to marriage between a man and a woman.
Jhaveri states that if the school wants to mandate ridiculous policies that promote the “toxic notions of fundamentalism,” it would be eliminated from decent human society and banned from participation in the NCAA. She declares, “what is not up for debate… is their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, which is nothing short of discriminatory and should expressly be condemned by the NCAA.”
She goes on to challenge the NCAA to live up to its promises by eliminating schools like Oral Roberts from participation. “Anti-LGBTQ” schools, “steeped in bigotry,” which “practice an exclusionary fundamentalism,” have no place in a national basketball tournament. She states that “fans and media eager to embrace a Cinderella story helped to push that narrative along either without knowing the facts or willingly bearing them as irrelevant.” Her article concludes, stating, “However accomplished its young student athletes are, the school is a hotbed of institutional transphobia, homophobia, with regressive sexist policies. There is no way to separate their men’s basketball team from the dangers of their religious dogma, no matter how many top seeds they defeat.”
The challenge could not be any clearer. She has drawn the line in the sand – or, in this case, on the basketball court.
The pressure on the NCAA, however, is strategic. The most dangerous letters when it comes to the continuation of biblically based Christian higher education are the letters, “NCAA.” The NCAA has long adopted policies entrenched with the sexual revolution, which will make it difficult, if not, impossible for Christian institutions to continue to participate. We are about to find out just how many schools identified as Christian will sacrifice their convictions at the altar of collegiate sports.
The antipathy towards this university is not rooted in its charismatic theology or its Pentecostal heritage—the fury directed at Oral Roberts is a fury that transcends denominational boundaries. Indeed, the outrage levied against Oral Roberts will not stay with Oral Roberts. Other Christian colleges and institutions that share the same convictions over marriage, sexuality, and gender will face the same cultural hostility that Jhaveri lays bare in this article.
This time, Oral Roberts University is on the line because its men’s basketball team is a winner.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. The challenge has been given in a publication that bears the masthead of USA Today.
Make no mistake, this may be about Oral Roberts University today, but the same will be said about you and your school, your church, and your organization tomorrow. You can count on it. All the scare words in this article, about bigotry and phobia and regressive sexist policies and fundamentalist morality and “wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency,” will soon be directed at any Christian institution that dares to defy the new moral order.
The only question that remains is this: Will your school capitulate or stand firm in the truth of God and the promises of his Word? Whether you realize it or not, you are making that decision right now.
R. Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a commentator on a daily podcast called The Briefing.
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