Columnists > Voices

Relativism at Fuller

Seminary professors affirm heterosexual model-but support gay couples as well

Issue: "Books and Movies 2006," July 1, 2006

For Kimberley Livesay, June 10 was a bittersweet day. That morning, she got her long coveted master's degree in marriage and family therapy from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

But like students WORLD talks with often, Kim Livesay says her experience with a Christian institution leaves her feeling troubled. "I went out of my way to find a school I thought would give me a Christian preparation for my work as a counselor," she says, "and I went $50,000 into debt." She says she's confused about what she got.

"Why," Kim asked me in conversations during her last semester at Fuller, "should I have to keep asking myself: 'Couldn't I have gotten this same education at Arizona State, where I could have lived at home and saved a whole lot of money?'"

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Kim wants to be a counselor, and especially she wants to help those who are sexually bewildered. She went to Fuller in part because she wanted to be biblically grounded as a counselor in a professional field filled with relativism. But while she credits Fuller with giving her a sound professional education, she thinks that education has involved much of the same ambiguity that secularists offer.

Kim details how her professors claim that homosexual behavior is sinful, but then "go out of their way to defend and show understanding toward those who want to go on living a homosexual lifestyle." She says practicing homosexuals are given platforms in various classes. One guest lecturer derided heterosexism as a social construct rather than a historical or biblical norm. Using the story of the prodigal son, he likened the older brother to heterosexual Christians in their unjust treatment of homosexuals, whom he likened to the younger brother. The guest told students, however, that "I don't do theological debate"; no feedback or discussion was permitted.

But Kim suggested that I not just take her word for all this. She suggested I call Jack and Judith Balswick, the husband-and-wife combo who team-taught her "Gender and Sexuality" course over the last semester. "They really go back and forth," she said. "That's what makes this so difficult."

I did so, and chatted briefly with Dr. Balswick. He affirmed that he, consistent with Fuller's official position, believes that homosexual practice (as distinct from homosexual orientation) is sinful in the eyes of God. He acknowledged that class discussion, at times, had become confusing as students wrestled with the issues. He knew that Kim had been unhappy with the direction of things, and he planned further discussion in classes that followed. To keep things specific, I asked if I could forward several questions in writing for his response, and he agreed.

But instead of answers to my questions came word that I should talk with Fuller's PR office or the seminary's president. Then came complimentary copies of two books by the Balswicks, which I assumed were meant to make the record clear. Fine, I thought; I'll go with the book.

So here's what Kim's teachers say in Authentic Human Sexuality, published in 1999 by InterVarsity Press, a book the Balswicks call "the culmination of our teaching over the last 15 years at Fuller." As they conclude chapter 5 on "Homosexuality: A Christian Response," they write: "We acknowledge that some gay Christians may choose to commit themselves to a lifelong, monogamous homosexual union, believing this is God's best for them. They believe that this reflects an authentic sexuality that is congruent for them and their view of Scripture. Even though we hold to the model of a heterosexual, lifelong, monogamous union, our compassion brings us to support all persons as they move in the direction of God's ideal for their lives."

If that isn't an explicit example of relativism at work, I'm not sure I'd ever know one. Here is no case of "he said/she said." It's a case instead of "she said, and he confirmed-in his own words."

Whether careful or careless, the ambiguity in the Balswicks' conclusion is the last thing needed by a young professional trying to set her feet on a solid biblical and theological foundation. Who wouldn't understand why Kim Livesay feels confused-and shortchanged?

So let students demand, when they inquire about enrolling at Christian colleges and seminaries: "Give me some examples of how your faculty use the Bible as a final authority in their academic approach."

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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