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Culture’s challenge conveyed to students

NASHVILLE (BP) — Andrew Walker conveyed a message to hundreds of college students he did not relish delivering but felt obligated to convey.

“I don’t want to leave any of you disillusioned or unhappy or sad, but the way culture is going in one direction [and] Christian ethics — especially Christian sexual ethics — increasingly going in the opposite direction, I don’t know of a happy resolution,” Walker told students at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Walker, director of policy studies of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at the Baptist school the “true freakishness of Christian sexual ethics” is on display in the current culture.

The “freakishness” is “also the beauty and purity of Christian sexual ethics,” Walker explained regarding his use of the word. “The freakishness is seen against the backdrop of today’s sexual orthodoxy — Christianity looks freakish. It looks foreign, because we’re still this band of happy warriors that insist marriage ought to exist between” a man and a woman.

In a sense, Walker said, “we bemoan and regret the loss of common culture, a common sexual culture. But on the other end, we have an opportunity as Christians in whatever context we are [to respond] in a way that’s not angry. We’re … simply saying, ‘Fine, Jesus is Lord. … We think you’re wrong. We’ll even talk to our legislators. But Jesus is Lord.'”

Walker voiced his observations as part of a panel discussion on religious liberty with Union professors at the school’s Oct. 30 chapel service. On Nov. 11, he spoke to students at a secular school, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, regarding the relationship between Christianity and conservatism. At Vanderbilt, he also answered questions about how Christians should respond to proposals such as federal legislation to grant workplace civil rights on the basis of homosexual, bisexual or transgender status.

Addressing students on both Christian and secular campuses is vital, Walker told Baptist Press.

“The importance of communicating with college students is that their intellectual, philosophical and ethical development is still being cultivated,” he said. “Sadly, most university settings are avowedly liberal, so providing a counter-viewpoint is an important feature of establishing access to viewpoint diversity. To be well-rounded, individuals need to be confronted with both sides of an argument to see which best holds up to scrutiny.”

At Union, Walker told 300 to 400 students that religious freedom often is mistakenly thought of “as simply this right to be pious, a right to have our own sectarian ethics, the right to kind of go off in our own corner and do our own thing.”

Christians fail to understand that religious liberty “is really a function of the freedom to believe. It’s a freedom to have your conscience acknowledged as valid. It’s a function of your humanity,” he said.

C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union, agreed with Walker about defending religious freedom for all people.

“We’re not talking about protecting religious liberty for Christians or protecting religious liberty for Baptists or protecting religious liberty for Mormons. We’re talking about protecting religious liberty for human beings,” Mitchell said in Union’s chapel.

Mitchell said human beings “made in God’s image ought not be coerced in their conscience or their practice.”

Walker told Union students Christians should seek to protect religious freedom for all while not minimizing the distinctions between Christianity and other religious views.

“No one’s denying the differences that we believe, but we’re all recognizing” the need to “confront and eventually really refute” what is referred to as the “new sexual orthodoxy,” he said.

Christians also need to “connect religious liberty to the Gospel,” Walker said. “[W]e don’t hold these positions just to hold them statically and in a vacuum. We hold positions because we believe they’re actually oriented towards a particular end, and that end is Christ.”

Followers of Jesus “have a vested interest in telling the truth,” he told Union students. “We are truth-tellers by nature as Christians. And so when we’re confronted with laws that impede our ability to tell the truth, it’s not just harming ourselves. It’s harming our neighbor, because we are being unable to tell our neighbor what we believe is true about human nature, true about eternal destiny, true about the nature and character of God.”

In his speech at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Business, Walker said Christianity and conservatism share some common beliefs — including an anthropology that asserts human beings are not machines but creatures who are purposefully made by God but are “fallen.”

“But to say that much of conservatism has been Christian is not to say that all of conservatism is Christian,” he told about 30 to 40 students.

“The best of the conservative tradition recognizes that our political lives cannot merely be lived in the penultimate, and the best of the Christian tradition recognizes that a worldview shaped by the ultimate should inform and shape life in the penultimate,” Walker said.

In a question-and-answer session alongside Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson, Walker said Christians should tell the truth about the biblical view of human sexuality when responding to the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) but do so with grace. ENDA, which would grant civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, has gained approval in the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives has not acted on the bill.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).