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Are we free to disagree?

Biblical sexual ethics, religious liberty, and Title IX at Fuller Theological Seminary

On Jan. 7, 2020, Christianity Today (CT) reported that a second student from Fuller Theological Seminary (FTS) has joined a lawsuit against the school. The lawsuit claims that if a religious institution receives federal funding, then “even if it’s a seminary” the institution is “required to comply with Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination as applied to LGBT individuals.” The second student, Nathan Brittsan, who joined the case against FTS initiated by Joanna Maxon, claims that Fuller has “violated anti-discrimination laws” by expelling him for “his same-sex marriage.” 

CT reported that FTS will be represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Becket Fund attorney, Daniel Blomberg, noted that while the claims in this case are “weak,” they are nonetheless “dangerous,” potentially setting legal precedents that would “be harmful to religious groups of all backgrounds and particularly minority groups.”

How should Christians respond to the news of this case against FTS? 

The first response is to be grateful for Fuller for standing firm on the biblical truths regarding sexuality and marriage. The CT article noted that FTS defines marriage as a “covenant union between one man and one woman” and that “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct are inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” While Fuller’s current stance on sexuality might not be popular in the broader culture, it is certainly in line with historic Christianity’s understanding of marriage and sexuality. 

A second response from Christians should be to expect more of these types of attacks on religious liberty in the days ahead. Biblical sexuality will continue to be an explosive, divisive issue in our culture. Christians who hold to a biblical sexuality will increasingly find themselves in the minority, even among those who claim to be Christians. The fact that the New Testament so frequently noted the importance of sexual fidelity and the incompatibility of sexual immorality with following Christ means that we are not facing unique or new challenges at their core. Biblical sexuality is and will continue to be a dividing line that Christians must be prepared to remain faithful to Scripture on, even if that means being in the minority, losing positions of influence, or being ostracized in society. So, while it is true that Christians must hold their views on sexuality with kindness and compassion, they must also do so with conviction, courage, and resolution to stand firm without wavering. 

Finally, this moment is a reminder that Christians ought to work diligently for the preservation of religious liberty in the U.S. and abroad. The case brought against FTS is only a symptom of a bigger issue at play in society. Whether in higher education, politics, or popular culture, many people want Christians with biblical convictions contrary to the ever-changing wisdom of the current age to retreat from the public square. And many want to strip the public square of religion altogether.

However, this is an impossibility. Everyone is religious. As David Foster Wallace once stated, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships.” Another way of saying this would be to say that it is impossible to strip the public from all religious expression. While not everyone’s religion is formalized and systematized, everyone is still very religious and working to advance their values in society. To this end, Christians ought not work to silence other voices in the public square, but rather labor to ensure a public square where genuine debate can take place. Such debate depends on robust religious liberty.

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