By / Dec 31

Imagine that the year you were born, the world changed forever. Terrorists decided to attack your country on the same day in multiple places in September of 2001. We know that this tragic event is real life. It changed how we lived, how we traveled, and how we view the world.

Now, fast forward 19 years. Your world has changed yet again. Your last year of high school is obliterated in the spring by a virus that no one fully understands. Fear of the unknown casts a shadow on your future, and life as you know it has changed once again. 2020 high school graduates had to finish up their high school year virtually, and some graduated virtually as well.

These same young people, and their parents, are still trying to figure out how to navigate college. They were forced to decide if they move on campus or if they attend their first year virtually. Some didn’t even have a choice. This poses a whole new set of challenges for students, parents, and also ministries that are focused on reaching this generation.

The importance of ministering to college students 

I have the privilege of working with both campus collegiate ministers and church-based collegiate ministers in my vocation. I have had the opportunity in the last month to be on calls with them and hear their hearts. These are some of the most creative people I have ever known. Many have shared innovative ways they are trying to reach out to new college students and disciple and lead those students returning to their ministries in the middle of a global pandemic.

Any collegiate minister will tell you how important ministry on campus is to the spiritual life of college students. Many of these ministers have testimonies of how their lives were captivated by Jesus in a Baptist Student Ministry on the campus of their school or spending time with a collegiate minister from a church near their campus.

In my role as a mission mobilizer for students, I have heard over and over by those who end up serving long term in a different cultural context and language that college is where they heard God’s call the clearest or experienced missions for the first time. In other words, college is a critical season in the life of students and ultimately the church.

In light of this information, I want to share some ways you can pray for these students, their parents, and the ministry leaders that want to desperately connect with them while they are college students.

Pray for the students that are entering college, whether in person or virtually, will find Christian community and invest their time and energy there. Pray for unbelieving students to find connections and friendships among those strong believing students in these ministries. More than anything, we want students who do not know Jesus to come to know him.

Pray for parents as they send their students to dorms, classrooms, or virtual learning options. This is a unique season for parents as they work through the best situation for their children. I am sure some fear or anxiety for their children’s safety and health is involved as they drop their students on campus.

Pray for campus ministries and church-based collegiate ministries. These unique times are calling for creativity and fluidity. I say fluidity and not flexibility because things are changing quickly with requirements and rules imposed by the university campuses on which they work.

Ask God to give these ministers endurance and encouragement as they seek to love and disciple young adults.

Pray for God to move among college students even with these challenges. We know that nothing is impossible with our great God (Luke 1:37). He will continue to draw students to himself, empower his people to share the gospel, and build his kingdom. We can trust him to display the light of his glory, even in the midst of such pandemic darkness. 

By / Nov 30

I remember attending my university’s freshman orientation the summer before school began. For all of the talk of academics, the prevailing conversation among us, the prospective students, revolved around the fun we were ready to have. To us, college was one big game, a grand experiment that was just waiting for us. After all, that’s the way it’s pitched. Sure, college is the place we go to get a degree, but more importantly, it’s the place we go to have fun before entering into the real world. The underlying narrative is that every person gets four years between high school and a 9-to-5 job to do whatever he/she wants. For most freshmen, it’s viewed as four years with no parents, no curfews, no restrictions—to have the most fun possible—with no consequences.

All students eventually discover that the generally accepted narrative is unable to deliver on its promises. Though college is fun, it’s unable to produce lasting satisfaction. This realization, though disappointing, is bearable. But, the truly devastating realization for most students is that the choices they make in their quest for ultimate fun do inevitably bring consequences, sometimes life-altering.

For the past four years, I was the college pastor at the same university that I attended as a student. And each week, I sat with students who were struggling through weighty consequences. It broke my heart to see the effects of the “grand experiment” lifestyle; however, it also gave me unique opportunities to be a voice of gospel healing and hope in a hard-to-reach place.

The need for a pro-life voice on campus

One particular consequence common to university students that demands a loving, hope-filled response from the church is unplanned pregnancy. Statistics reveal that college-aged women (18-24-year-olds) experience unplanned pregnancy at a higher rate than the rest of society.1https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/unintendedpregnancy/index.htm Sadly, many of these pregnancies end in abortion. In fact, when abortion rates are broken down by age group, college-aged women account for nearly a third of all abortions (31%).2https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm

These statistics alone are devastating, but what’s even more tragic is that many women (and men) walk through an unplanned pregnancy and the grief that follows an abortion in isolation. The “grand experiment” narrative sold to them as exhilarating—a retreat from “being tied down” by meaningful relationships—breeds a life of loneliness that only compounds with the fear of an uncertain future. Often, in these moments, a friendly voice seasoned with reason, hope, and stability acts as a salve to the fear, grief, and loneliness. 

In my experience, the college students who are suffering in this way are desperate for a place where they can share their pain and be free from shame. They just don’t know where to find that person. This is where the people of God can not only provide a listening ear and safe place to cry, but we can also apply the love, grace, and hope of the gospel to their life and circumstances.

How to be a pro-life voice

The first time I encountered the need for a pro-life voice on campus occurred when I was a student. I was discipling a guy who asked me for advice on a situation that he and his girlfriend were walking through with their friend; she was facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering abortion. Their friend, who was not a Christian, approached them, who were both Christians, because of the genuine care she felt in their relationship and asked if they would drive her to an abortion clinic. The guy I was discipling wanted to know what he should say and where he and his girlfriend could take their friend for real help. I don’t remember my exact words. I’m sure I stumbled through a response and pointed them toward church counsel, but more than anything, I remember feeling ill-equipped for the situation as a 19-year-old.

My hope is that the Lord uses our pro-life voice to protect babies in the womb, provide hope and healing to the hurting, and most importantly, to lead many to salvation through Jesus.

Years have gone by since that day and though it was difficult, I’m thankful for that experience as a student because it greatly influenced my strategy as the college pastor and continues to shape the ministry’s objectives today. It reinforced my belief in the need for a pro-life voice on campus as well as the need for a practical strategy of how to be one. As a result, here are three things I put into practice during my tenure: 

1. Introduce pregnancy resource centers to the students

On any given week, our church’s college ministry connects with hundreds of students. These interactions take place in various settings including our weekly gathering, small groups, outreach events, on-campus marketing, etc. What’s clear to me is that God has graciously given us a lot of influence on campus. I believe a practical way to faithfully steward that influence is to use it to champion the tools, resources, and mission of pregnancy resource centers. 

In an effort to do this, we’ve invited representatives of the centers to speak at our gatherings, included their promotional materials at some outreach events, and allowed representatives to have face-to-face interactions with students in various parts of campus through our small groups. In essence, we want to leverage our influence to amplify the voices of pregnancy resource centers.   

2. Provide avenues for men and women to receive post-abortive care and counseling 

I’ve already addressed some of the heartbreaking realities that the statistics regarding abortion and college-aged women indicate. What I haven’t mentioned is that I know college students within the ministry are among those included in the numbers. Namely, there are students we interact with on a weekly basis who have chosen to get an abortion and are grieving alone. Instead of ignoring this reality, we’ve begun to address it directly and now provide avenues for men and women to reach out anonymously to receive post-abortive care.

3. Partner with local pregnancy resource centers to equip students under my care  

After my experience as a college student, I was thankful to discover that pregnancy resource centers often provide training to individuals who want to develop a more effective pro-life voice. Often, in college towns, the content is specifically tailored toward students. As a pastor, I’ve encouraged students under my care to take advantage of these opportunities, and then I work hard to help the students understand the impact of their voices for the protection of human life on campus. 

This influence is most clearly felt in personal interactions with friends or acquaintances struggling with the fear associated with an unplanned pregnancy. I am convinced that the greatest weapon students carry in the fight for life in these crucial moments is not merely statistics or arguments, but a gracious ear and a loving presentation of the truth. God has given students a meaningful voice on campus, so we’ve begun to teach them how to use it.

The college campus is a segment of the nation that seems to be growing increasingly cold to the gospel and the implications it carries for the sanctity and dignity of life. The grand experiment culture appears to have a strong hold on students. However, since Jesus provides the only real answer to the let-downs of the grand experiment, I’ve found the hearts of college students to be incredibly soft when lovingly presented with the truth of their condition and its consequences. My hope is that the Lord uses our pro-life voice to protect babies in the womb, provide hope and healing to the hurting, and most importantly, to lead many to salvation through Jesus.

  • 1
    https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/unintendedpregnancy/index.htm
  • 2
    https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm
By / Sep 9

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 9, 2020—A coalition of national student ministries and religious freedom advocates commended the new final rule from the U.S. Department of Education today that ensures federal protection for the First Amendment rights of free religious exercise and assembly for students on public college and university campuses.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Christian Legal Society, The Navigators, the National Association of Evangelicals, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship have long advocated for the necessity for these regulations to protect the Constitutional rights of students. Today, they are partnered together to publicly support the significance of these protections.

ERLC President Russell Moore, responded to these new regulations: 

“A shared commitment to certain core beliefs is fundamental to the very purpose of a Christian student group. This new regulation recognizes that. The freedom of students to hold such beliefs is not a malleable aspect of their assembly that is up for debate by college administrators. The state has no authority to determine the qualifications of a religious group’s membership or leadership. A government allowed to impede the consciences of college students is a government that can do so anywhere.”

In addition to Moore, other coalition leaders commented on the new regulations.

Gary Cantwell, The Navigators: “A university campus should be a place where students are free to explore new ideas, perspectives and worldviews. With this guidance, the Department of Education provides for a diversity of thought and spiritual expression on campus that will help students as they prepare for an increasingly complex world.”

David Nammo, Christian Legal Society: “Christian Legal Society welcomes this common-sense protection for religious student groups’ right to choose leaders who share their religious beliefs and mission. For nearly forty years, religious students have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and speech. This new protection will deter future discrimination against religious students.”

Walter Kim, National Association of Evangelicals: “The right to assemble together based on religiously informed beliefs is foundational to a tolerant and truly pluralistic society. This right includes the ability to choose leaders who support the distinctive religious tenets of our groups.”

Greg Jao, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: “This regulation was unfortunately necessary because some universities would give official recognition only to certain faith-based groups, while rejecting others. What made the student groups who were denied recognition different? They expected their student leaders to agree with their religious beliefs. The recognized groups did not. Universities should welcome all religious groups equally, in order to encourage tolerance, pluralism and religious diversity.” 
The Department of Education regulations are available here.

Mark Gauthier, Cru“We applaud this decision which provides the option for every student on campus to equally participate in the life of the academy.  We look forward to the continued opportunity of helping students explore and nurture a relationship with Jesus Christ and to take their next steps with Him.”

By / Mar 26

We are all shaped by the events that we live through. I was born in 1998; I’ve never known a pre-9/11 world. I felt my parents go through the 2008 financial crisis. I graduated high school in the national turmoil of the 2016 presidential election. And now, I graduate college, without a ceremony, into a world that feels like it is collapsing around me. I’m looking for a job in a world of tremendous illness, uncertainty, fear, hiring freezes, and soaring unemployment. Young people today, just like those before us, have known tragedy and loss一 we grew up in it. But this feels unprecedented, and brings a different kind of grief.

My friends and I were given days to evacuate our campuses. Student-athletes’ careers were instantly over. The internships, study abroad programs, and things we’ve worked so hard for were suddenly gone. We were sent back to places that, for many, no longer feel like home and prematurely said goodbye to the people that have become our families.  We can’t help but feel like important lasts went unnoticed and meaningful goodbyes went unsaid. 

In addition to the very real emotional losses we are facing, our futures feel especially uncertain. Some students had already moved out of their homes before college, and now, they have been evicted from their schools to return to a “home” that no longer exists. As they were forced to leave, many college students lost the part-time jobs they relied on to meet their needs. While paying down crippling student loans and continuing to pay rent and tuition, college seniors are trying to find jobs in a world where no one is hiring and pre-existing offers are being rescinded. 

It is natural and right to grieve the loss of the time we were supposed to have and the incredibly difficult circumstances we are facing, but Christian college students must not stay there. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us that we do not grieve as those without hope. We have confidence that, although we may not walk across a stage, God sees and knows the work that we’ve done. We can reflect with gratitude on the gift that our college experiences have been. We can remind ourselves that God has always been in control and will remain in control in the days to come. As our circumstances seem more uncertain and our comfort has been stripped away, let us lean into the Comforter and trust that none of this has taken him by surprise. 

So, what can the church do? How should Christians care for the college students among us?

1. Pray: Ask God to reveal himself in a new way to college students as they are forced to recognize dependence on him more completely than before. As I said before, college seniors are facing a daunting job market. Many were forced to leave or laid off from their current jobs at their schools. Some go home to financial uncertainty or scarcity. All are losing their community and will face loneliness. Pray that God would provide in tangible ways with jobs, finances, friends, and peace.

2. Extend grace: In times of tragedy, it is easy for us to minimize the experiences of others and count their feelings as less valid than our own. As young people, there is the temptation to say, “Well, I’m not vulnerable—who cares what I do?” As older people, there is the temptation to say, “You’re not even at risk—why are you complaining about your loss?” While we all have seen our fair share of tragedy, none of us has lived through a pandemic and done this before. It is a weird time for us all, and we are all doing our best with what we have to make it through this. Love your neighbor by extending grace to each other, genuinely listening and seeking to understand the pain we are each feeling in our own ways.

3. Give: Reach out to a local church or university and see if they know of any college students in need. Giving financially, providing temporary housing, storing items, or helping with transportation are practical ways to love college students well. If you order takeout from a restaurant, consider tipping above your normal amount. If you are working from home, ask a college student in your neighborhood to help you with childcare as a form of employment. If you want to look further, check out this spreadsheet that Jefferson Bethke created where people are posting needs and others are meeting them.

4. Celebrate: Think of creative ways you can celebrate and champion the accomplishments of the college seniors in your life. Send them a card in the mail. Give them a call. Even if there are no ceremonies to attend or parties to throw, let them know that you are proud of them and love them.

As we journey through these tragic days and grieve all of the things that should have been, cling to the one whose ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8) and who is in control yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). In him is our trust and our hope.

By / Apr 2

The Monthly “Research Institute Forum” is an initiative of the Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Learn more about the Research Institute.

Given that many students are narrowing down decisions on which college to attend during this time of the year, I am wondering if you all would each answer the question:

As professors, what would you tell parents and students are the most important criteria for selecting a college?

Nathan Finn

As an academic dean in a small Christian university, I regularly talk with prospective students and their parents about this very issue. I think certain criteria always apply, and others apply in only some situations. I’ll put them in the form of questions that prospective students and parents need to be asking.

First, what is the student’s sense of vocation, and which academic programs are best suited to that calling? This question presumes that you are thinking in terms of God’s calling more than less-important questions such as compensation, prestige, etc. It’s important for believers to think about the vocation(s) God might be leading them toward based upon a combination of desire, giftedness, wise counsel, opportunity for kingdom influence, etc. I believe the answer to this question is more important than questions about institutions and even majors, since more than one pathway might lead to vocational flourishing. (Side note: pastors and youth ministers need to be equipping the church to think vocationally rather than simply occupationally, but that is another topic for another day.)

Second, which institutions offer combinations of a solid foundation in the liberal arts and strong major opportunities? The liberal arts help to form students into particular types of people, while in many cases one’s major(s) helps prepare them for certain types of occupations. So is there a sufficient grounding in the arts, humanities, and sciences that can enable students to flourish in their chosen major, whether the latter is in the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, a STEM-related field, a health profession, or business?

Third, if you are considering Christian colleges and universities, which ones seem consistently Christ-centered, and what is the their academic reputation? The best Christian institutions are guided by a strong commitment to a Christian worldview, engagement with the Christian intellectual tradition, and the intentional integration of faith and learning across the academic disciplines and professions. Some Christian schools aren’t that different from the regional state school down the road, other than offering a couple of Bible classes and chapel services. Many nominally Christian schools don’t take seriously the implications of the gospel for all of life. Avoid institutions that either downplay the role of faith or settle for academic mediocrity.

Fourth, if you are considering secular institutions, what opportunities are available through campus ministries and area churches to help a student grow in his or her faith? This question applies to Christian schools as well, but it’s especially relevant when looking at secular schools. If you believe God is leading you to attend an institution that is non-committal or even hostile toward Christianity, make sure you maintain meaningful connections to a healthy local church and the wider body of Christ. Know in advance that you will be able to thrive spiritually, perhaps in spite of the worldview(s) you are immersed in on campus.

Finally, what options make the most sense from a financial standpoint? Every school wants you to believe their education is worth the cost—and in some cases, this is undoubtedly true. But the fact is, families are in the driver’s seat: schools need your money more than you need their programs. Few students attend college for free, so for most folks, it’s a significant financial investment. Make sure you are making a wise investment, that you are incurring as little debt as possible, and that you have a plan to pay down any debt as soon as reasonably possible after you are finished with your formal education.

Andrew Lewis

I have now spent the majority of my academic and professional career in public universities, but I have also spent time at selective private universities and an evangelical seminary with an undergraduate college. From my experience and observation, finding the right college is more about what you do when you arrive on campus than what sort of institution you choose. A variety of colleges can provide paths to educational and career development, while aiding personal and spiritual growth. But it is primarily up to the student to pursue these goals, hopefully with excitement and discipline.

When selecting a college, you certainly want a quality institution, a dedicated faculty, career resources, and the presence of a supportive Christian community. Yet, colleges cannot force their students to attend class, study, develop professional skills, build mature friendships, and cultivate real Christian maturity. Individual students must seize these opportunities.

Some colleges might be better at promoting these qualities and channeling students toward making positive choices. The right kind of programs, curricular and extra-curricular demands, and campus culture can incentivize students to diligence and reflective engagement in the process of becoming educated and building good character.

Unfortunately, special curricula and an overtly Christian culture can often carry a hefty financial price tag. Basically, there are trade-offs. Some are financial on the front-end (tuition), some financial on the back-end (earnings), and some less measurable character qualities (e.g., intellectual, spiritual, personal, etc.).

So what should parents and students do? I suggest that they assess their personal situation with honesty. What are the student’s realistic career goals? What does the family’s financial picture look like to achieve these goals? How disciplined and mature is the student, and where could he or she use help? What type of resources, curriculum, and culture would be most helpful for sustained educational success, while also protecting and bolstering the student’s spiritual and personal life?

I recommend visiting a variety of colleges to get a feel for how the campus resources and cultures fit with the student’s needs and wants. (And while you are on these campus visits, also investigate local churches and Christian ministries.) Getting comfortable with institutional resources and culture prior to enrolling will make it easier to make the transition.

In my view, across the U.S. today, a student can generally obtain a quality education while finding a spiritually supportive community at a variety of educational institutions. A successful college experience is mostly about what happens after a student arrives on campus. Students and parents can help make those more important choices easier by considering in advance how different colleges fit with the needs of particular individuals.

Jonathan Pennington

My wife and I have six children with ages ranging from 21 down to 13. We have one who is about to graduate from a private Christian college, one who is a sophomore at a state university, another one who will be a university freshman in the Fall, plus three more teenagers still at home. College has been a big topic of discussion and stress in our household for some time and will continue to be for some years to come!

I’m quite hesitant to give overly specific advice about college decisions because so many factors are person-specific—vocation, calling, financial situation, intellectual abilities, etc. But I can offer a few thoughts of a general and visionary nature.

First, a college degree can and should give job-related skills, but this is not the ultimate goal of education. Education is first and last about forming us to be a certain kind of people. From the ancient Greek tradition of paideia, down to the American vision of an educated populace necessary for democracy, education has rightly been understood as shaping people’s sensibilities, loves, and vision toward individual and societal human flourishing through a broad, liberal arts curriculum. Christians, of all people, should value highly the formation of the individual, not just the acquisition of skills.

The practical import of this for making college decisions is that various colleges should be valued accordingly as to what they offer beyond pragmatic skills. For many, this may mean the decision to attend a Christian college, but not necessarily. I would prefer a well-rounded and balanced university educational curriculum and experience over a narrow skill-set and limited-scope education, whether Christian or not.

Second, one of the greatest factors in higher education decisions like never before is the exorbitant cost relative to average household incomes. Again, so many factors are at play with this issue that it is impossible to be dogmatic. I would generally encourage incurring minimal debt (both parents and students), though I don’t think it is necessarily a mistake to take loans for education if one considers education as a financial investment in one’s future earning potential as well as life-satisfaction.

At the same time, none of us should buy a house we can’t afford to live in. So we must seek a wise decision about the costs incurred in private versus public education in conjunction with the degree earned and its potential in enabling a return on investment. Of our three kids who are of college age, different decisions have been made on the financial side—decisions that included the major chosen, scholarships earned, and individual desires.

Finally, it is life-giving to remember that God’s will is nearly always a circle not a dot. That is, God is inviting us to be wise but we need not live in anxiety about accidentally making the wrong college choice. There are pros and cons for every situation, and the Father gladly provides and blesses his children without reluctance. Consider the many factors, pray for wisdom, and then step toward what seems best with confidence that God is at work in us for our good.

The views represented in this post belong only to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ERLC.

By / Jun 9

When Notre Dame and Boston College conferred honors upon heads of state who work to secure abortion rights—respectively, President Obama and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny—thousands of alumni, students, and parents signed petitions, wrote open letters and editorials, and protested publicly. Bishops and prominent Catholic intellectuals refused to attend the events. Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon declined an honor from Notre Dame, which she was to have received alongside President Obama. The controversies prompted reflection, much of it thoughtful, about what it means for a college or university to call itself a Catholic college or university. At least in Notre Dame’s case, that reflection has borne fruit.

Protestant Christians have not had that conversation about our own colleges and universities. It is time to discuss the matter.

What makes evangelical and other Protestant Christian (Reformed, Churches of Christ, Baptist…) colleges and universities distinctive is supposed to be what makes them effective at informing and disciplining young minds. Two commitments stand out. First, an emphasis on the primacy of scriptural authority is thought to give students access to, knowledge of, and hearts inclined toward God’s special revelation.

Second, the Christian insistence that faith and reason are allies is understood to enable and embolden students to pursue and witness about what is good, right, and true. The alliance of faith and reason is not merely an intellectual but also a moral matter, a source of inclination toward truth. It is supposed to be why Christian college graduates go off to do good things in the world.

When Christian colleges are willing to compromise those commitments, their students suffer. But the colleges also place themselves in peril. Parents, students, and donors might reasonably wonder: Do Christian colleges have a unique reason for being, or are they merely attractive campuses where students encounter the liberal arts, among hundreds of such places?

Authority of the Bible

A couple of years ago, the Bible department of a Christian university advertised a public event on the question whether to support a law defining marriage as marriage, i.e. the union of a man and a woman. The advertisement promised that four clergy would speak to the issue, two in favor of the marriage law, two against it. Professors in the same university wrote an editorial which encouraged students to vote against the law. In other words, the discussion proceeded on the premise that there are more than one Christian definitions of marriage, as if marriage were a changeful, malleable, institution which can be redefined by law and other human institutions.

Some Christian educators assert that this way of framing the discussion is necessary for academic dialogue. That’s just not true. This is not to deny that Christian educators do well to engage winsomely with non-Christians in public discourse about moral issues. I have participated in public debates and discussions about abortion, assisted suicide, and the meaning of marriage with non-Christians. Of all the thank you notes I have received, one of my favorites was from the LGBT(AQ…) society at a secular law school, thanking me for “being willing” to participate in a forum they hosted about marriage laws and to “share [my] view.” That view was simply the case for real (biblical) marriage, made in non-biblical terms—with appeal to the coherence of law, the rights of children, the duties of adults, etc. The students and faculty in attendance had never heard it before, and were fascinated. After the event, several students stayed to continue the conversation, which dove into more fundamental questions, such as the relationship between law and morality, the role of reasons and religion in legal discourse, and the meaning of empathy.

Discourse with non-Christians has enormous pedagogical, as well as moral, value. And Christian institutions should be commended for hosting and encouraging dialogue with non-Christians on all matters of civic importance. But when Christian college faculty cast doubt upon the biblical conception of marriage they risk causing intellectual and moral harm to their students and the community. And they cast doubt upon the commitments of their institutions.

If we are committed to the authority of the Bible, there is one answer to the question what marriage is. The Bible does not endorse marriage as anything other than the one-flesh union of a man and woman, and never even speaks of marriage as a genderless institution. And if marriage is not the union of a man and a woman, then what is it? For anyone who thinks that the Bible equivocates on marriage, it is not enough to observe that there are both central cases and borderline cases of marriage in the Bible. No one doubts that there were better and worse marriages in ancient times, just as there are today. Christian teaching on marriage has not changed in twenty centuries in part because the Bible has not changed. Equivocation on the meaning of marriage indicates a willingness to make the meaning and authority of the Bible negotiable.

That law establishes a civil, rather than religious, institution of marriage does not create space for good-faith disagreement among Christians. Some conception of marriage is going to be enshrined in law, either a true conception or a false one. And American Christians cannot avoid responsibility for what the law teaches; we live in a democratic republic. A vote to abolish from marriage law the distinction between men and women is a vote to eradicate the legal offices for fathers and mothers, to eliminate the legal right of children to be raised by the people who gave them life, and to force an unbiblical conception of human sexuality on our own institutions (including our colleges and universities) as well as others. Civil marriage is a public institution, and marriage law applies to everyone. Support for redefining marriage in law just is support for destroying marriage as a public institution. That Christian educators should lend support to that effort is troubling.

Note well: I am not advocating for a particular policy. I am not arguing that faculty who advocate marriage revisionism be sacked, or that only non-Christians must be invited to present non-Christian or anti-Christian views. But it is important to point out the costs of promoting confusion about Christian teaching on marriage, and to acknowledge that less confusing means of addressing these controversies are available. To adapt terminology from law, a Christian college should have a compelling reason to present non-Christian views as ostensibly Christian, and it should adopt the least morally-costly means of achieving that goal.

Moral Witness

Also a couple years ago, a Christian college invited then-Senator John Kerry, now the Secretary of State, to deliver a talk titled, “On Faith.” The lecture was advertised as the inaugural event in a series of lectures which would keep “a thoughtful Christian perspective at the forefront of contemporary cultural issues.” This move puzzled and even shocked many of the college’s alumni and supporters. Secretary Kerry has on many occasions contributed to the deliberate killing of unborn human beings. He is a vocal and tireless advocate for abortion rights and for public funding for organizations that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood. He has worked to secure public funding for research that entails the destruction of human beings in their embryonic stage of development, when they are most vulnerable.

In short, John Kerry’s public words and actions have been the very contradiction of a Christian perspective on the most fundamental moral issues of our day. What possible conception of a “Christian perspective” could have justified the Kerry event? The science is clear that human life begins at conception. And one of the clearest of Christian principles is the prohibition against murder. So the only question is whether we have the will to extend protection from murder to all human beings.

Public subsidies for abortion and embryo destruction are not merely policy or political issues, like immigration enforcement or the lawfulness of carbon emissions. To hold Senator Kerry out as a model of Christian witness is to risk forfeiting one’s own witness to the faith of many Christians who have courageously fought for the most vulnerable of God’s beloved creatures.

This is because to be pro-choice on abortion is to repeat the error of those who were pro-choice on slavery a century ago. It is either to accept or to claim that some human beings are less worthy of legal protection than others. Articulating, defending, and acting on the truth that all human lives are intrinsically valuable and equally deserving of legal protection is an indispensable aspect of Christian witness. American and British Christians in the nineteenth century defended this truth, and therefore stood against legalized slavery. For the same reason, Christians must oppose legal support for abortion.

Moral Muddle

The confusion about abortion and marriage is particularly striking in light of the stands that Christian college leaders have taken. A few years ago, several administrators of Christian colleges joined other evangelical leaders in signing a document called the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI). The ECI affirmed the importance of “moral witness,” but then proceeded to obscure that witness. The ECI declaimed that “Christian Moral Convictions Demand” certain responses to the issue of global warming, including “national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.”

What Christian principle resolves the question how much carbon dioxide Americans should be permitted to emit? What is the Christian answer to that question? The answer must be more than zero. To state that obvious fact is to demonstrate that this problem is not a moral or theological problem at all. It is instead a pragmatic problem, to be resolved by technical expertise and prudential deliberation. Indeed, one must answer many additional, complex questions, implicating expertise in science, engineering, economics, law and other disciplines, before one can in confidence conclude that a cap-and-trade program would do more good than harm.

Of course Christians ought to be good stewards of God’s creation. Any disagreement is about the complex and numerous means of fulfilling that obligation. To suggest that Christians have a moral obligation to support a particular, national policy governing carbon emissions is to reveal a profound confusion about reason, morality, and obligation.

Clarity: The Path to Institutional Flourishing

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs. Faculty, staff, and administrators from Christian colleges are among the hundreds of thousands of people who have signed the Manhattan Declaration, pledging to affirm the intrinsic value of life and marriage, and the importance of religious liberty. Some Christian colleges have ventured their resources and reputations in defense of life by filing lawsuits to challenge the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, which requires religious employers to subsidize their employees’ use of abortifacient drugs. Several Christian colleges have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to marriage and sexual virtue in response to recent cultural pressures to abandon marriage.

The job of a Christian college is to promote clarity, not confusion, in the minds of its students. Many Christian educators seem to understand this. Those educators are serving their students well. And they are demonstrating a will to preserve their institutions for future students. Will all Christian colleges commit themselves to the same purpose?