BreakPoint: Christian Colleges at a Crossroads

Faithfulness or Federal Dollars?

If you think, like I do, that Christian colleges are hugely important, especially in this culture, you should be concerned.

A recent NPR web headline ran “Christian colleges are tangled in their own LGBT policies.” A more accurate headline would have been “Christian colleges struggle to maintain their identity in the face of pressure from without and within.”

The pressure from without is financial. While there are some elite universities living off enormous endowments, most schools, including almost every Christian college, don’t have endowments. They depend on government assistance to students, through things like Pell Grants and guaranteed student loans. Which, of course, come with strings attached.

The string causing the most trouble for Christian colleges these days? Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any “education program . . .  receiving federal financial assistance.”

The original purpose of Title IX was to guarantee full participation for female students. But the Obama administration decided that Title IX should cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

So schools committed to historic Christian teaching on human sexuality, including the biological basis of sex, immediately faced losing access to the federal funds that help keep them afloat.

While some schools opted out of federal assistance, most haven’t, and many couldn’t.

Thankfully, the Trump administration’s top education policy isn’t to integrate restrooms. So it has backed off of this strange interpretation of Title IX. But who knows what the next administration will do? It’s an ominous prospect.

So many, as was made obvious by their comments included in that NPR article, have preemptively caved. They don’t want to risk losing Title IX funding, or risk running afoul of the students or faculty who champion LGBT ideology on their campuses, even if their “school’s official belief (is) that human beings are created ‘as gendered beings’ and that heterosexuality is ‘God’s design.’”

In fact, it’s just not clear to me at all what many Christian colleges are going to do in the face of this pressure. Which only reveals the real pressure, which is not from without but from within: namely, the lack of a coherent, biblically grounded sexual ethic in so many churches and institutions today.

Take, for example, how one student of a prominent, historic Christian college described her journey of identifying as queer to NPR: “When I realized,” she said, “that my faith wasn’t necessarily about the [Christian Reformed] Church, and it wasn’t even necessarily about the Bible but about my relationship with God and that God is all-encompassing and loving, I felt very free.”

That same feelings-centric sexual ethic, or lack thereof, was on display in another article recently in Christianity Today on surrogacy, especially through the words of women who see surrogacy as a “their ministry,” and who know it’s okay because they “feel at peace.”

All too often, some “inner knowledge” like this is used by Christians to dismiss physical realities, including the goodness of God’s created design for sex and marriage. That’s not Christianity. That’s Gnosticism.

And if it’s not corrected, it will undo Christian colleges. Which would be a tragic loss. Christian colleges uniquely provide a context that unites discipleship and learning, not to mention a real education, where alternative viewpoints can be evaluated and actually debated. That doesn’t happen in most secular institutions today.

But make no mistake, if Christian colleges cave on sex and marriage, they’ll lose what makes them worth saving. If they choose to remain faithful, they’re going to need prayer, ingenuity, and our financial commitment to stay afloat.

So thank God for the faithful institutions and the faithful leaders of Christian higher education. There are many of them. May their tribe increase.

 

Christian Colleges at a Crossroads: Faithfulness or Federal Dollars?

Your support is needed for those Christian colleges and universities that stand strong in the face of overwhelming pressure. Pressure that comes, as John revealed, not only from outside but from within. Do your research, then encourage, pray for, and support financially those institutions that continue to keep their focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute.”

Resources

Christian Colleges Are Tangled In Their Own LGBT Policies
  • Tom Gjelten | NPR.org | March 27, 2018

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  • The Bechtloff

    Caesar’s coin always comes with strings attached, and so it’s best avoided if possible. Honestly though higher education in general is a hyper inflated bubble due to pop. Most kids would be far better off forgetting college in favor of a trade school anyways.

    • Scott

      I have witnessed several very successful cases of kids forgoing college for trade school and found them selves in far better economic positions than most of their peers.

      • Tyler

        I’m so glad you said so, Scott. I’m a school counselor at a large public high school, and I just got an email today that said that our local laborer and carpentry unions are allowing students to start working prior to even graduating high school because of the shortage of applicants, and many of these unions (however you feel about their political leanings, myself not a huge fan) offer very good paying jobs, in practical skills, in which a person can live a quiet, productive life, and make some good money right away without accruing lots of debt. I have two students entering a trade next year. More to the point of the article: I’ve wondered about this: do you think this is an uphill climb for Christian colleges in the fact that there seems to have been a shift toward assimilation? Like many Christian institutions, has our emphasis on trying to prove that we’re not weird or silly and “like everyone else” made it more difficult to distinguish ourselves?

        • Erik Hoekstra

          Tyler—as a school counselor, please take a look at the new ProTech program from Dordt College (in fact, look at all of our programs). I serve as president there and we have received a religious exemption from TItle iX to continue to treat marriage/sexuality in the biblical, traditional means. We are only seeing enrollment growth since we’ve not assimilated. And, we’re starting these new programs to acknowledge that every vocation has the calling and potential to give glory to God as we build His kingdom as his servants. https://www.dordt.edu/academics/pro-tech

          • Scott

            By the way I like your schools attempt to change the traditional college model… it is in need of reform. I wish the business sector would partner with colleges in an effort help create new ways of interning/apprenticing young adults into the workforce. Any efforts there to help offset the rising costs of advanced education and promote human flourishing would resonate with most parents. : – )

          • Erik Hoekstra

            Thanks, Scott for the prayers and the encouragement. We’re working hard to keep college focused, affordable, intentionally & integrally Christian, and important. Through offering summer online classes (taught by the same quality FT and PT faculty as semester classes), we’re allowing students to graduate in less than 4 years and get to work. Our job placement rate is 99%+ the last five years and the average debt at graduation is less than $25k. We’re trying!

          • Scott

            I have no doubt that you are trying and that effort is greatly appreciated!.. it also sounds like you are producing good fruit. : – ) 99%+ job placement rate is very impressive. What many people don’t realize is that success in college and beyond is also dependent upon the individual students. From an earthly standpoint, the success of your students will be your success.

 Thank you so much for your reply Erik and God bless you!

            Just curious if you read Roberto Rivera’s article here on Breakpoint entitled “Be Like Brigham” and what your thoughts are?

          • Tyler

            Very cool program Dr. Hoekstra! I happen to be in your same state too, just on the very opposite side.

          • Erik Hoekstra

            We’d love to invite you for a visit…please let us know when you’d like to come. This program is one that we’re really excited about. email me at president@dordt.edu and we’ll set up a time for you to come visit!

        • Scott

          That is a great question… and perhaps one I am not qualified to answer. : – )

          Assimilation with and distinguishing from our culture would seem to create bit of a juxtaposition (or conflict) from within. Interestingly individuals (Christians and non-Christians) have this very thing in common… we all have some inner conflict to reconcile. Christians have the unique advantage of knowing who the enemy in the conflict is… our sin nature. I think the Christian plight to “fit in” with the rest of our culture might sometimes compromise our ability to identify the enemy within? I think we are seeing that common internal battle play out in a larger scale through our institutions.

      • Erik Hoekstra

        Scott, FYI that Dordt College has a new program for blending a vocational focus with a traditional Christian college environment. https://www.dordt.edu/academics/pro-tech We believe that serving God doesn’t mean that your collar is white, but that you use the talents He has given you faithfully. And, to John’s point in this Breakpoint, we haven’t capitulated on gender/sexuality. We retain federal funding, but have been granted a legal religious exemption.

        • Scott

          This sounds like a good program… Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to pick on Christian colleges. In my honest opinion, all colleges have become a bit pricey for what they deliver and many offer no navigation for undecided kids. In truth, parents are culpable as well… the idea that kids will go to college and “figure it out” ends up costing too much. Parents and high school counselors should help kids understand the importance of making good decisions when it comes to life after graduation.

          For example it makes no sense to pay $80k for your education if you are going to start out making 25k. I have witnessed too many examples of people with crippling debt and no way of paying it back. This includes college drop-outs and graduates. The issue is much larger than what I touch on here but in my opinion fewer kids should be counseled into college and more options should be available for MUCH less costly vocational training.

        • Scott

          Sorry, I got off topic… The Bechtloff made a good point and I wanted to affirm it as I have witnessed more than a few real world examples.

          I am Glad to hear that you have been able to retain federal funding in the midst of government pressure to conform to our cultures new sexual orthodoxy. I will continue to pray for all Christian colleges/institutions and their freedom to practice faith in the public square. You are doing God’s work, may He bless you!

    • Erik Hoekstra

      The Bechtloff—we do need to always remain wary of Caesar, but we can also assert ourselves. Dordt College has retained federal funding, but have been granted a legal religious exemption, as we continue to assert Biblical marriage/gender/sexuality. And, we’ve added a new program for blending a vocational focus with a traditional Christian college environment. https://www.dordt.edu/academics/pro-tech

  • ElrondPA

    A slight correction of fact here: It’s not accurate to say, “most schools, including almost every Christian college, don’t have endowments.” Almost every college has an endowment. However, in general those endowments are a tiny fraction of what would be required to provide tuition assistance equal to what students receive from the federal government. As a few examples: Wheaton (IL) has $450M, far more than most; Biola $114M, Grove City $111M, Taylor $61M, Anderson $28M, Bethel $8M. Hillsdale is another outlier at $528M, which is how they can survive without accepting federal funds. (Grove City also doesn’t accept federal funds; clearly they have to be more aggressive in annual fundraising to make that work.)

    Typically a college will plan to use about 5% of the endowment for current funding, so it’s not hard to see that endowments of one and two digit millions can’t possibly make up for a loss of federal funding. Even Wheaton would face a major upheaval, since the money it currently generates from the endowment is already being used for other purposes.

    • Scott

      Just to clarify, John wasn’t speaking of any type of endowment he actually said “enormous” endowment… he just didn’t reuse the adjective the second time he used the word endowment.

  • John Lody

    The whole notion that there is a civil right to be sexually perverse is entirely misguided and is an insult to real civil rights struggles throughout history. The reason is that civil rights struggles historically have been about either accidents of birth, that is, race, nationality, or ethnic origins; or about religion. Accidents of birth are morally neutral by definition, so these causes are self-evidently worthy of their civil rights. Religious freedom, on the other hand, is about freedom of conscience and religious practice, with no obligation placed upon non-participants other than mutual respect and tranquil interrelations. Their is no obligation on non participants in any given religion to approve, admire, or agree with any idea of any certain religion.
    But our new breed of so-called civil rights is alien to any and all of these principles. The new civil rights demand not only freedom and equality, but also approval and agreement from the general citizenry. Besides this, the approval and agreement that these “rights” attempt to enforce through government powers are actions that have carried with them inseparable immoral onuses throughout human history. In addition, these actions are based merely on personal, psychological, and emotional foundations. It is patently ludicrous to expect the citizenry of any free society to approve or agree with actions and behaviors that are based merely of strong personal feelings about who someone “really” is, or how they should be allowed to behave as they interact with the rest of a nation’s citizens.
    By lending legitimacy to these subjectively based civil non-rights, our country is forcing its citizens to live and act as if any feeling or action, no matter how irrational, immoral, or inappropriate, is a civil right that we all must agree with, approve and affirm.
    In short it will make us an asylum run by its inmates!

  • Erik Hoekstra

    John, I listen to you regularly both here and on World each Friday. I so appreciate what you bring to these conversations. One aspect that you didn’t include in today’s piece was the option schools have for a religious exemption (which my school, Dordt College has done effectively). http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/december/title-ix-lives-of-christian-colleges-cccu-exemptions.html

    • John Stonestreet

      That is a good thing to add, Erik. Obviously, that doesn’t solve all state-level pressures, and sometimes comes with other strings attached too… appreciate your faithfulness brother!

  • gdubya31

    Excellent article and insights! Afraid many “Christian” institutes of higher learning caved long before this issue which will likely make it easier that they ‘cave’ on this to keep the funding and stay open regardless of the compromises and justifications that are made! Will continue to pray and trust The Lord to change and/or strengthen hearts and minds to this end and for those institutions which are and will stand strong in His Truth and Love by His Grace!

    Not sure if you’re aware of if but in light of this article may be worthwhile to check out, if you haven’t, the push in education today toward SEL ( Social Emotional Learning) with Comprehensive Sex Education (porn disguised as education) at the core. Essentially it can be described as “group think” and “emotion/feeling centric” teaching. Not really education at all but rather continued indoctrination. This is being funded by the Soros, Buffett and Gates along with other similar folks and foundations in order to destroy families and build “communities” and classes to achieve their end goal of one world govt. and a worker class to support it. The sexual/gender issues are a huge part of this as the goal, understood or not, is to destroy the work of the Creator from the beginning…Male and Female in His Image and for the purpose of expressing His Love and glorifying Him!

    Thanks for all you do and make it a great day in The Lord!

  • Just One Voice

    I just read an article about a psychologist at the UW receiving a $1 million grant for long term study of “trans” youth. http://komonews.com/news/local/1-million-federal-grant-will-help-study-of-transgender-kids

    Creepy stuff.