Wednesday, November 16, 2022

An Impossibly Fine Line

Briercrest College and Seminary is an evangelical Bible college in Caronport, Saskatchewan where, since 2013, you could get a university degree without going to university. It also continued to run sports programs over the last three years when many other post-secondary institutions had shut theirs down. These two features have made Briercrest attractive to a broader range of students than previously.

Naturally, there is a cost to that.

Allegations of Discrimination

CP’s Mickey Djuric writes of multiple allegations of discrimination by LGBTQ former students at Briercrest that has purportedly left them feeling fearful and vulnerable. Some say they are now getting therapy for “religious trauma”. “You either have to hate yourself or know that everybody around you hates you,” said one former Briercrest student. “Often it’s a combination of both. That’s obviously horrific to your formation as a human.” The same student alleged her LGBTQ peers were self-harming and trying to commit suicide.

This is a common theme among teens and twenty-somethings confronting the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality. The LGBTQ’s victim culture invariably frames everything from gentle disagreement to shaming as “hatred”, and quivers in a puddle of well-schooled angst at the merest hint of disapproval, which makes it difficult to know how seriously to take their posturing. The statement that criticism of certain behaviors is “horrific to your formation as a human” assumes the desires and self-expression associated with homosexuality are natural and to be encouraged. This is not what the Bible teaches, and it leaves Briercrest with a bit of a dilemma: it’s awfully hard to get around the teaching of the Bible while remaining anything approximating a “Bible college”.

Renouncing Ungodliness and Worldly Passions

To its credit, Briercrest has yet to budge. Earlier this year they fired a bisexual resident advisor after photos of her with her girlfriend appeared on social media. Students struggling with their sexuality have been advised to pray about it. (This is a bad thing?) Guest speakers encouraged Briercrest students toward heterosexual expression of sexual desire, and to “deny their sexuality”, which is the plain teaching of the word of God:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”

Homosexual desires are worldly passions. Scripture’s remedy is to deny them. Again, not outrageous to expect the Bible at Bible college.

The home page for Briercrest’s college website announces it is “Preparing you to equip the church and engage the world.” The blurb goes on to say, “We are training young adults to seek the kingdom of God, to be shaped profoundly by the Scriptures, and to be formed spiritually and intellectually for lives of service.” You might think such statements would inspire students contemplating the homosexual lifestyle to look elsewhere for their educational opportunities. Apparently not.

Student Responsibilities and Expectations

To make it even more obvious what prospective students should expect from Briercrest, responsibilities and expectations are plainly posted on the institution’s website, including such provisions as:

Cross-dressing is not allowed.”

“Briercrest holds that the Bible teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, a covenant of love and faithfulness entered into before God between one man and one woman.”

Briercrest also plainly states that “Students who do not comply with the SRE shall be held accountable for their actions.” The Policy Reference Guide reads, “Certain choices, attitudes, or behaviour carry consequences that may render students liable to immediate suspension, dismissal, or other discipline without prior warning.” You would think that’s plenty clear enough, and would discourage interest from the LGBTQ community.

That’s not good enough for former student Jody Hartung. She says:

“I didn’t have an inkling that I was gay until I was 20 years old. And at that point, I’m already halfway through my degree, heavily involved in the community and loved it there. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, if you’re queer, don’t go there.’ Because you’re undermining the experience of figuring out your sexuality and the journey that a lot of queer people are going on.”

Undermining the Experience

Briercrest would probably take exception to the accusation that they are “undermining the experience of figuring out your sexuality”, since they clearly state in their student code that they believe biblical sexuality only has one legitimate form of expression: heterosexual marriage. From Briercrest’s perspective, there is nothing to be “figuring out” about your sexuality if you are unmarried and committed to Christ. There’s no “journey” to go on, and the college has no investment in supporting fantasies of importing the world’s current depraved view of sexuality into the local church. It’s simply a question of whether you have decided to sin or not, and whether you are prepared to pay the biblical price for your choices.

Despite this relatively firm stand on morals, the student code of conduct also asks students to show respect for homosexuals:

“We are going to ask you to show respect for people who are different than you

  • Particularly with regard to homosexuality and same sex attraction.
  • The use of derogatory language in the past (i.e. ‘That’s so gay!’) closes doors, making it unsafe for people to share their stories. We do not want to be guilty of forcing people into hiding and secrecy.
  • At Briercrest, we hold to the Church’s historic teaching on homosexuality, but we do so with a kind of humility that celebrates the image of God in creation and grieves the deep brokenness in all of our lives.”

A Fine Line

Briercrest is trying to walk what may be an impossibly fine line here. If I am reading their policy correctly, they won’t kick you out for conceding you feel same sex attracted, but they will not graduate you if there is proof you are acting on your desires, or if you go from “struggling” to public advocacy. They want you to “share your stories”, they want to avoid “hiding” and “secrecy”, but only provided you agree with them about the sinfulness of homosexual acts. If you think you’re normal rather than “deeply broken”, you are probably in the wrong place.

Jody Hartung claims to have discovered her “sexuality” during her Briercrest experience. Too bad. A few months of self-imposed sexual restraint does not seem an outrageous price to pay for graduation when one has already made a major financial investment. Nor does a few months of comparative discretion about your newly-discovered “identity”.

After all, Christians who work in the private and public sectors go through this every day of our lives. We use pen names online. We risk termination at any moment for expressing our Christian values on the job, and sometimes for what we say or do outside the job. In order to make a living, we have to learn when to “share” what we believe and when not to. A certain amount of secrecy and hiding are simply part of the package for us. It’s difficult to see how exercising a comparable degree of verbal restraint, especially for only a brief period, poses a great hardship to members of the LBGTQ community.

The CP article is unclear about how Hartung decided to resolve her dilemma.

Questions of Law

Briercrest President Michael Pawelke responded to CP’s charges last week with an open letter that included this paragraph:

“As for questions of law, we work with our legal counsel to ensure our practices follow federal and provincial legislation. The freedom of religion is afforded to Canadians and is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Within the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, section 13(2) protects the right of Briercrest to maintain and preserve its Christian character. Being religious in character is not in violation of the Code but rather is protected by the Code. Allegations that we are acting outside of the law are untrue. We have never been the subject of a human rights complaint, nor have we been found to violate the Human Rights Code.”

Unfortunately, Briercrest also took $250,000 in funding from the Province of Saskatchewan for this school year. Any modification to the existing Saskatchewan Human Rights Code could easily be enforced with the withdrawal of funding.

When you take favors from secular governments on the taxpayer’s dime, this is the sort of thing you have to deal with. At one point that line becomes too thin to walk anymore.

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