Over the weekend, I read the news of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s recent visit to Wheaton College. The reports I read focused on a demonstration led by Wheaton students who were concerned about Butterfield’s testimony. It’s no surprise when students on a secular university campus stage a public protest against Butterfield. But it is quite surprising when about a hundred students demonstrate at an evangelical bastion like Wheaton. The question is this: Why did these students feel the need to demonstrate?
It turns out that they did not like the message that Butterfield was bringing to the college. And the message they didn’t like was the story of her own conversion to Christ. As I have noted here before, Butterfield was formerly a tenured lesbian professor specializing in feminist studies at Syracuse University. But the Lord intersected her life and won her to Christ through the witness of a local minister and his wife. In her book, Butterfield is very clear that following Christ meant repenting of her lesbianism. And that’s the part that the Wheaton demonstrators didn’t like.
The students who demonstrated said that it was wrong for the university to give the impression that Butterfield’s “story” was the only valid story. According to the demonstrators, there are gay people who follow Christ and who see no need to repent of same-sex behavior. Their stories are just as valid as Butterfield’s, and Butterfield’d story of repentance from sin should not be held out as the norm on Wheaton’s campus. If you want to read about these student demonstrators you can do so here. You can read about Butterfield’s “talk back” session with the student demonstrators here.
Wheaton College’s “Community Covenant” reflects a very clear biblical understanding of sexuality. Every student on campus voluntarily agrees to this covenant as a condition for admission to the college. What does the covenant say? It requires students to “uphold chastity among the unmarried (1 Cor. 6:18) and the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman (Heb. 13:4).” It also condemns “sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).”
As President Ryken pointed out in his recent statement, the college’s covenant is very clear. Students know up front that Wheaton has staked out a traditional biblical understanding of sexual norms and that they must volunteer to live within those norms in order to be students. The problem is not with the covenant. The problem is that these students are protesting the very terms of the covenant that they promised to uphold when they were admitted to the college.
I think there is a lesson here that goes beyond Wheaton College. We are witnessing a generational shift in attitudes about human sexuality—a shift that is touching the evangelical movement. The children of evangelicals are not nearly as committed to a biblical sexual ethic as their parents have been. If there are students at Wheaton who are confused about these things, you can be sure that there are students in evangelical youth groups across the country who are as well. This issue is a pressure-point in the culture, and many Christian students are standing strong. But other students are eager to see if they might relieve the pressure by combining their Christian faith with acceptance of homosexuality. What many of them fail to see is that such a compromise is a poison-pill for authentic Christian faith.
The challenge for Christian pastors, teachers, professors, and administrators will be to hold the line in the face of this challenge. Biblical clarity is a necessity in this context, and so are leaders who have the courage of their convictions to require real accountability to biblical teaching. Leaders must show the emerging generation that there is no need to be embarrassed by the truth of God. We must persuade them that holding firm to the biblical message is the only path to the good life—indeed the only path to eternal life—in spite of the culture’s message to the contrary.
This isn’t the last time we will hear stories like this one. I expect to hear more in coming days, and I suspect that they might also originate in unexpected places. They might even originate near you. Will you be ready when they do?