Last week Carl Trueman published a thoughtful piece on the future of Christian colleges. His premise is that they’re threatened, existentially threatened, by the hostile secular culture, particularly as it is expressed by the US government, and particularly in the matter of sexual discrimination, and particularly on the question of transgenderism. If Christian colleges stick to their beliefs, they will run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, thereby losing their accreditation and possibly—probably—even their tax exemption. An existential threat.
I don’t find anything he said directly wrong, but I’d like to balance his thoughts just a little bit.
First, a key piece of his argument is the Bob Jones Supreme Court case, in which my college lost its tax exemption because it violated “public policy” by prohibiting interracial marriage among its students. Something he doesn’t seem to consider, though, is that public-policy decisions arise more out of politics than out of law. It was easy for most Americans to agree with the court’s decision in the Bob Jones case because BJU was, well, wrong. It seems to me that if the government were to seriously consider denying tax exemption to all Christian schools that do not accommodate the policy du jour on transgenderism, the breadth of public outcry, and the consequent threat of political backlash, would render such an incursion politically impossible. There are a lot of people in this country who don’t see current transgender policy as in the same category as the civil rights movement.
There’s a reason that Social Security is the third rail of politics, even though the math underlying it is confessedly bogus. Politics works that way.
But times change, and majority public opinion changes with it. Suppose that, over time, clear biblical teaching on sexual morality is seen by most Americans as the enemy of the people? What then?
Well, several observations.
First, colleges can survive without tax exemption. Bob Jones did (and yes, it got the exemption back after several decades). It’s difficult, and with the passage of time a college will need to change significantly in the way it does things and perhaps even in its basic structure, methods, and size. But people are in the image of God, and that fact makes them creative, among other things. Just as businesses adjust to changes in tax law and all sorts of other elements in their legal environment—and do that every year, routinely—so people who want to run an educational institution can come up with ways to make it work. (And toward the end of his piece, Trueman essentially says that.)
But suppose the environment gets so oppressive that the college model can’t work at all? Well, for most of human existence—and this is true for young-earth creationists as well as old-earth creationists—people have been educating their offspring and preparing them for useful lives without any colleges whatsoever. You think businessmen are creative? Just watch parents trying to ensure their children’s success. There are no limits.
And it’s not just about the motivation and determined action of the parents.
For decades the People’s Republic of China was one of the most oppressive societies on the planet. It was completely cut off from the West; everybody had to dress just like Chairman Mao, and they had to quote his Little Red Book; and Mao had unfettered power to annihilate the scourge of Christianity from his land.
Several years ago I was teaching Christian theology. After class one of the students, who had grown up in China, said to me, “You are telling the [Bible] stories.” “Yes,” I replied. “I know the stories,” she said. “How do you know?” “My grandmother taught me.”
Mao had all the power imaginable, and he used all of it. Millions of his own people died under his orders just because they were Christians. But today Mao is dead—I’ve seen his corpse—and his great effort was foiled by a bunch of wizened 4’10” Chinese grandmothers, who told their grandchildren the stories. And today, by most estimates, there are more Christians in China than there are in the US.
Christian parents of whatever nation, however hostile, will tell those same stories, and Christian sons and daughters will go out as ambassadors for Christ, to spread the Good News, to die if necessary, but they will go out, and they will be faithful.
Christ, whose power well exceeds that of Mao and of any future American autocrat, will build his church, and the very gates of hell will have nothing at hand to stop it.