In the age of social media hot takes, apparently, we aren’t allowed to enjoy good things. Even a good sports story has to become a flashpoint in our ongoing cultural battles.
In what has been called a Cinderella story, Oral Roberts University has made the Sweet Sixteen in NCAA March Madness. However, some in the crowd have been cheering for them to be banned rather than for them to win.
In the most recent example of cancel culture, the mob has been coming after ORU — mocking their name, history, and beliefs as bigoted or homophobic. Some have even gone so far as to call for the NCAA to restrict such Neanderthals from playing, others saying they should be “pariahs, not heroes.”
I spoke to the students of Oral Roberts University in 2019, in the times when we used to gather together in big groups. When I was there, I saw thousands of students passionate about their faith, their education, and their desire to make a difference in the world. Such religious faith motivates all kinds of good actions our culture wants, from disaster relief to Eric Talley, the officer who bravely gave his life running into King Soopers in Boulder earlier this week.
Yet, the mob has come for these college students.
And this is our new reality.
Not Just Oral Roberts
It’s easy to point out the eccentric elements of their history, but president Billy Wilson and the Oral Roberts faculty are well respected and the school is thriving. Yet, it apparently lacks the needed qualifications to play college sports today — a willingness to conform to the new moral dogma.
The dogma teaches that tolerance must mean agreement, then branding all who disagree as intolerant and harmful. Not satisfied that we respect opposing views on human sexuality, all must affirm homosexuality as acceptable within our own theology. There can no longer be any disagreement, only compliance.
This is a stunning 180 from the arguments we heard in 2009 when LGBTQ+ advocates maintained, “All we want is the right to marry. How will my gay marriage hurt you?” Now, it’s “We want your college accreditation, your athletic participation, and more.”
Considering how much those who expressed concern a decade ago were mocked for advancing slippery slope arguments, the rhetoric deployed against ORU or in defense of the Equality Act suggests these concerns were underemphasized..
The Equality Act
The calls to remove Oral Roberts from NCAA competition comes against the backdrop of Senate debates over the Equality Act. Proponents of the act want to say that the law will just keep the homophobes from harming the rights of LGBTQ+ persons, but that’s neither accurate nor honest. What we are seeing in the press is what the Equality Act will make into law.
The Coalition of Christian Colleges, of which ORU is a member, explains:
“The Equality Act fails to provide essential religious liberty protections that would allow a diverse group of social service and civic institutions to continue to thrive. In particular, as it relates to the sector of faith-based higher education that has religious convictions around marriage, human sexuality and gender, including CCCU institutions, these laws would conflict in ways that would put at risk their ability to hire and operate in accordance with their religious missions and would restrict student choice in an unprecedented way by preventing middle and low income students from being able to take their federal student aid to these institutions. Faith-based higher education has always been an essential element of the diversity of the higher education system in the United States—many of the first colleges and universities in the United States were religious—and it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all.”
And, this means that anyone who holds what is now a minority view on marriage and sexuality will face the new tolerance. That includes (as we were reminded a couple of weeks ago) Catholics, and still includes evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims and so many others.
Moreover, even as popular rhetoric claims the mantle of the civil rights movement, they ignore voices of dissent from religious people of color. Only this past week, prominent African American Church leaders wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee arguing for religious exemptions to the proposed Equality Act. Published by the AND Campaign, led by Justin Giboney, the letter was signed by respected leaders including James Meeks, Bishop Claude Alexander, and Suzan Johnson-Cook.
The New Tolerance is Not Tolerance
This matters to me because what is happening to Oral Roberts University is coming to all of us who hold to such outdated ideas. I serve as a dean at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution where students commit to a community covenant. We, too, call students to a lifestyle in alignment with our Christian beliefs. We don’t hold quite the same standards as ORU, but ours won’t pass the new tolerance test either.
I get that it’s easy to pick on Oral Roberts University. But I’d remind my fellow people of faith, nobody will get a pass on these issues if the dogma of new tolerance continues to take hold — so why not take a stand now?
From Chick-fil-a, to the Salvation Army, to the baker in Colorado, we have to decide if we want to run everyone out of everywhere they dare go with their biblically-based ideas.
Perhaps, instead of such a pendulum swing against people of faith, we could agree that all persons are worthy of dignity and respect, and that civil rights should matter for everyone.
And, maybe, just maybe, we could let the religious college kids play basketball without it becoming a national controversy.
That is what tolerance used to mean.
Ed Stetzer is a professor and dean at Wheaton College, where he serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.