Evangelical Seminaries About To Go Woke?

News Image By Jules Gomes/The Stream June 18, 2024
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Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the world's most popular theological colleges, is poised to become the first evangelical seminary in the U.S. to permit same-sex relationships on campus.

Fuller says the document was created by a Human Sexuality Task Force, consisting of two deans and three faculty members, solely "for reflection and debate" in the midst of ongoing discussions. While the board could vote on it, there is no specific time frame in which it is expected to do so.

New Proposals Affirm Different Interpretations on Sexuality

The Stream obtained a copy of the "Revised Community Sexual Standards for Students and Learners" which, if passed, will allow students to marry their same-sex partners. 

"While the seminary embraces this historical Christian understanding of sexual intimacy and marriage, we acknowledge that there are faithful and thoughtful Christians and churches that have different interpretations," the draft notes. "Therefore, we expect all members of this global, evangelical, and ecumenical seminary student and learner community to live with integrity consistent to the Christian communities to which they belong."

"If Fuller Seminary's Board of Trustees approves this statement, and allows faculty to teach and write affirmingly of homosexual practice and transgenderism, then Fuller will have given up the Evangelical label, regardless of what it claims."

According to the revised norms, "trustees, administrators, faculty, and staff" must "abide by the sexual standard regarding sexual intimacy within the boundaries of the traditional understanding of marriage." Nevertheless, in the next sentence, the draft asks the seminary's trustees and employees "to live with integrity consistent with the Christian communities to which they belong," thus repeating the allowance given to students.

This murky wording leaves it unclear whether LGBTQ students would be expected to remain abstinent before marriage or a formal union and/or monogamous within it. Meanwhile, the school's existing policy makes it clear that heterosexual students must do both, as per biblical teaching.

The revised draft also urges students with nontraditional views on same-sex relationships "to support the seminary's statement, to engage with integrity, and to contribute constructively to nurturing the seminary's relationships of trust with global evangelical theological communities."

Biblical Scholar Warns of Transition to Full LGBT Affirmation

Founded in 1947, Fuller Seminary is the world's largest multidenominational theological college. It is attended by more than 4,000 students from 80 different countries -- most of which do not approve of same-sex relationships.

Currently, the school's sexual standards statement requires "sexual union" to be "reserved for marriage" and insists that "sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried."

"The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture," it states. All members of its community must "abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices."

"'Evangelical' Fuller Seminary is sliding into a transitional stage that will eventually result in full affirmation of homosexual practice and transgenderism," observed Prof. Robert Gagnon, a leading biblical scholar in the area of homosexual relationships.

Gagnon, author of the acclaimed The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, slammed the proposed revisions as "absurd" in a social media post on X.

"What Jesus regards as foundational to his understanding of God's sexual ethics by definition is not an agree-to-disagree matter of relative indifference," he warned. "If Fuller Seminary's Board of Trustees approves this statement, and allows faculty to teach and write affirmingly of homosexual practice and transgenderism, then Fuller will have given up the Evangelical label, regardless of what it claims.

"Indeed, it could not even claim a 'faithful Christian' label in any meaningful sense," he added.

Fuller Professor Pens Pro-LGBT Book

Fuller sparked controversy in April after Dr. Christopher B. Hays, an Old Testament professor at the school, announced the publication of a pro-LGBT+ book he coauthored with his father, Prof. Richard B. Hays.

The Widening of God's Mercy: Sexuality Within the Biblical Story (Yale University Press), slated to be released in September, reverses Richard Hays's earlier position on homosexuality as outlined in his 1996 book The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

The elder Hays, a reputed New Testament professor at Duke Divinity School, previously concluded in his 508-page book on Christian ethics that the Bible condemns homosexual practice, calling it "one among many tragic signs that we are a broken people."

A preview of the new book on the publisher's website reveals that it traces "how the Bible's narrative points to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in Christian communities" and that biblical debates thus far "are missing the forest for the trees."

Fuller's History of LGBT Controversies

Fuller seems to have been evolving on this issue in some ways for a decade.

In 2013, the school permitted the founding of an LGBT student club called OneTable, which it describes as a "safe space for all who desire to be a part of the conversation about faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity." OneTable identifies as "a student group that advocates for the shared interests of the LGBTQ community on our campus."

However, in 2019 and 2020, students Joanna Maxon and Nathan Brittsan sued Fuller, alleging they were being expelled for being in same-sex marriages. In December 2021, the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Fuller's right to enforce its sexual-standards policy prohibiting "homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct."

And this January, Ruth Schmidt, who's worked at the school since 2020, was fired from her senior director position after declining to sign Fuller's statement of faith, which reserves sexual union for couples in a traditional marriage. Schmidt said she became LGBTQ-affirming after taking a course on sexuality and ethics.

"I can't put my signature next to something that will harm the people that I'm called to serve," she told Religion News Service, explaining that she would be ordained in the United Church of Christ, which accepts gay marriage.

Fuller told The Associated Press that the discussions on this topic are ongoing and drafts have been created solely for reflection and debate. It insisted that no proposals have been submitted to trustees for a vote, and there is no time frame within which the board might even consider the matter.

However, "I have seen how this works at other seminaries," Gagnon warned. "If this new statement is approved, there will be pressure that any new faculty hires would have to affirm that homosexual practice and transgenderism rise at most only to the level of an agree-to-disagree issue."

Originally published at The Stream

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