The concluding paragraph of “Mission of Seaver College” reads as follows (Mission):
“Seaver is a Christian college. As such, it affirms in undergraduate and graduate programs that there are sources of truth deeper than those of secular culture: Moses, purveyor of divine laws; Amos, crying out for social justice and unfeigned piety; Paul, overwhelmed with both the reality of sin and the joy of forgiveness; and ultimately, Jesus of Nazareth, in whom God is uniquely revealed, and by whose death and resurrection all humankind can receive reconciliation with God. The study of religion and the opportunity for corporate worship are integral elements in the Seaver experience. A commitment to Christian beliefs regarding the origin, nature, and destiny of humanity permeates the curriculum. The College’s ties to the Churches of Christ call it to a serious commitment to Biblical Christianity. Thus, in its mission, Seaver College seeks to remain true to the most profound insights of the religious movement which constitutes its heritage.”
On Wednesday, April 06, 2022, Seaver College’s “Student Government Association” (SGA) passed a resolution that we believe incompatible with the Christian mission of Seaver as stated above. Not only so, we believe the resolution tacitly rejects anything resembling “Biblical Christianity” and replaces it with the spirit of contemporary secular culture. We find ourselves, therefore, compelled to respond.
Summary of Resolution 11-S22
SGA Resolution 11-S22 calls on the University to remove the following statement from the Student Code of Conduct:
“Pepperdine University affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife. This view of sexuality and marriage is rooted in the Genesis account of creation and is maintained consistently throughout scripture.”
The SGA justifies its resolution in a series of four assertions each of which begins with “Whereas.” We take the word “whereas” as synonymous in this case with “because” or “for these reasons.” The first three justifications are negative and the last is positive:
(1) The offending statement is divisive.
(2) It conflicts with the University’s stated goal of increasing diversity.
(3) Student opinion overwhelmingly favors removal of the statement. Eighty-five percent of students responding to an SGA-sponsored survey (34 out of 40 or approximately 1% of the Seaver student body) agree that the statement in question should be removed. Under this heading the Resolution quotes eight student responses as representative of student opinion. We assume that they also articulate the opinion of the SGA. According to these students, the offending statement in the Student Code of Conduct section on “sexual relationships”…
Alienates and excludes non-conforming students
Projects a mood of hostility
Limits recruitment of a diverse student body
“Erases and invalidates” non-approved identities
Incites hostility and hate
And forces a choice between “following” God and owning one’s identity.
(4) The Resolution’s positive justification asserts that removing the offending statement will contribute to Pepperdine University’s “fostering an inclusive environment.”
Analysis and Critical Reply
1. SGA Resolution 11-S22 calls for the “removal” of the offending statement. Significantly, it does not assert that the statement is “false.” The reasons proffered to justify the SGA’s call for removal, however, assert explicitly that the statement is sub-ethical in principle and that at least some of its practical effects are destructive to persons and community, thus insinuating the statement’s immorality.
2. SGA resolution 11-S22 fails to take into account the theological nature of the original statement or the theological justifications given to support it. The statement that offends the SGA “affirms” that sexual relationships are “designed by God” for certain purposes and that we know this because the Christian scriptures—the final norm for Christian doctrine and morals—say so unambiguously. Because the original statement makes truth claims, any worthwhile critique should address the status of those claims; for the issue of truth is the decisive question. The SGA statement ignores this obligation. Hence we ask:
Does the SGA affirm that even if the statement is true it should nevertheless be removed?
Or, does the SGA deny its truth and for that reason demand its removal?
Or in a third alternative, does the SGA assert that we cannot know whether Pepperdine University’s truth claim is true or false and, therefore, it should be removed from the Student Code of Ethics?
3. SGA Resolution 11-S22, instead of addressing the theological claims made in the offending statement by answering the three questions stated above (in point #2), appeals to the subjective and emotional reactions of those who read it. The SGA argues in essence that the Code of Conduct’s statement on sexual activity should be removed solely because it provokes in some people negative feelings, which they describe as shame, exclusion, erasure, condemnation, and so on.
We are very clear that such reasoning is fallacious. Its fallaciousness becomes obvious when the Resolution’s reasoning is generalized into a principle:
Any statement that asserts a truth, opinion, preference, fact, or value that provokes negative feelings in anyone must be proscribed.
Attempting to put this principle into practice would shut down all speech and foreclose debate and discussion. It would make a mockery of the University’s stated ideal of truth seeking. It would also make communal identity impossible. Clearly, there is no truth so self-evident and no virtue so compelling, that no one could take offense. Whether or not an assertion of truth, fact, or value provokes negative feelings in someone is completely irrelevant to its truth. History is replete with evidence that some truths prove offensive to some people and some moral rules make some people feel guilt and shame. By its very nature truth is indifferent even to treasured preferences and prejudices, and this is why truth should be cherished above all things.
4. SGA Resolution 11-S22, far from calling for a superficial change, calls for a revolution so fundamental that it is tantamount to renunciation (in fact condemnation) of Pepperdine University’s Christian identity. The assertion in Genesis of the created order of male and female in life-long marriage was maintained throughout the Old Testament, reaffirmed by Jesus (Matt 19:5), and assumed, asserted, and applied by Jesus’s apostles and all the authors of the New Testament. Jesus, the New Testament, the early church, the medieval church, and the Protestant Reformers, agree that every form of sexual intercourse outside life-long marriage between male and female must be rejected as immoral. This teaching is still the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and the overwhelming majority of Protestant churches.
SGA Resolution 11-S22 rejects the teaching authority of Jesus, the apostles, and the unanimous and ecumenical teaching of the church for Christian doctrine and morals and replaces it with the individual’s subjective feelings. The Resolution looks not to the Creator for guidance in using the Creator’s most precious gifts—our bodies and souls—for their created purposes. Instead, it encourages us to treat our bodies and souls as if, guided by our feelings and desires, we had the right to do with them whatever we please. To reject and condemn the Bible, Jesus, and the Christian tradition as morally benighted and hateful for its teaching on human sexuality is to reject Christianity as a whole. We contend that SGA Resolution 11-S22 calls for nothing less than this wholesale rejection.
Dr. Ron Highfield, Professor of Religion
Dr. Fiona M. Stewart, Associate Professor of Italian Studies
Dr. Andrew M. Yuengert, Professor of Economics