To preserve the future of Christian higher education, faith-based colleges and universities must understand and navigate the complex issues of gender and human sexuality while presenting a clear understanding of their theological and spiritual identity, the president of International Council of Higher Education has said.
Kevin Mannoia, who serves as chaplain at Azusa Pacific University and chair of the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium, said that as the country continues to undergo broad cultural shifts, Christian colleges and universities no longer have the option of avoiding LGBT issues.
"Every one of these schools has to address the growing LGBT conversation," he said. "The most important asset they have in dealing with those issues is their institutional identity, theologically and spiritually, because that's going to determine how they go about doing it."
Christian institutions must make clear to faculty and staff who they are and what they believe on such issues because every administrative decision is going to be shaped by their identity, Mannoia said.
"It's kind of like an iceberg," he explained. "The bottom of the iceberg is what holds the iceberg stable. You can't see it, but without the bottom of the iceberg, the top of the iceberg has no stability and it has no ability to navigate stormy waters on top. So institutional identity is like the bottom of the iceberg. It's what's gonna hold these schools stable in the midst of a changing culture which is like a storm on top of the water."
How each school addresses the LGBT conversation will differ, Mannoia said, based on their individual theology.
"There will be some schools that will address social issues in a way that would be more propositional," he said. "Some schools will say, 'We don't want anybody from the LGBT community to come onto our campus.' Other schools will say, 'We're going to welcome them on our campus and we're going to have conversations about how we can find common ground for our students.' Some schools will say, 'We only want Christian students to come here.' Other schools are going to say, 'You don't have to be a Christian to go here.'"
"So those are not merely arbitrary administrative decisions; those are decisions that are made out of the core institutional identity of the school," he added.
However a faith-based institution responds to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, it's important to refrain from "throwing stones" at one another, Mannoia said.
"We can't be saying, 'That's bad and this is better,'" he said. "What we have to say is, 'Are you being faithful to who you are as an institution when you do this?' Because if you are, then that's good, that's right, whether you're Reformed, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, whatever you are. You've got to know who you are. Everybody who is leading that school has to have a clear understanding of their soul, of their identity."
"When you remember what your last name is, when you remember who you are and you have a family name, that name means something," he added. "Then, you're going to make a decision that's consistent with who your family is. It informs those administrative decisions and that's why it's so important for these schools to know that."
A recent study from Pew Research noted that "Roughly half (51 percent) of evangelical Protestants in the millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996) say homosexuality should be accepted by society."
The 2017 "Shame List" from LGBT activist group Campus Pride — which identified the so-called "absolute worst campuses for LGBT youth" in the United States, accused dozens of Christian colleges as promoting "religious bigotry that is unsafe, harmful — and perpetuates harassment toward LGBT youth."
Some prominent Christian institutions included in the "absolute worst" category included Wheaton College, Covenant College, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dordt College, Bob Jones University, and dozens more.
While culture has in the past been "largely Christian," that's no longer true, Mannoia said, as such statistics indicate. Now, in an overtly pluralistic environment, Christian institutions must "double down" on establishing a strong identity" and "make sure we dig deep into the core identity of who we are so that it informs the decisions of what we're doing."
"Whatever it is, that institutional identity has got to be front and center and it has to be really well developed within the fiber of the university," he concluded.