….I would like to reflect on two Christian universities that have responded very differently to the challenges of our day: Franciscan University of Steubenville and Azusa Pacific University. I studied at FUS years ago, then regularly taught summer courses and worked for their summer conferences. I also taught full time in the Honors College at APU from 2018 to 2021.

Franciscan University is Catholic. Its motto is “Academically Excellent—Passionately Catholic.” Azusa Pacific is Evangelical. Its motto is “God First since 1899.”

While both universities pride themselves on their Christian identity, in reality they do Christianity very differently.

FUS is committed to the teachings of Christianity as transmitted in Scripture and Christian Tradition. And it does this very well. Franciscan radiates a vibrant Catholic life through its solid academic curriculum, intellectually rigorous and faith-filled learning environment, and dynamic spiritual life. My two years as a graduate student there were among the most formative years of my life.

My experience at APU was very different. I quickly discovered that APU’s commitment to Christian tradition is tenuous at best. Certainly, there are many at APU who love Jesus. And APU does many things well. It is generally a friendly place. Some of its departments are very good. Its Honors College offers an excellent Great Books curriculum. Unfortunately, what APU does not do well at all is Christianity. Although it markets itself as a “premier Christian university,” it is on track to become, rather, a “premier woke university,” significantly more invested in leftist identity politics than in the biblical faith. As Gerald McDermott wrote, Christian parents can no longer assume that evangelical colleges are free from secular ideologies such as critical race theory. APU is a case in point.

I will always remember my first tour of Franciscan University’s campus. The student who guided our group of incoming students matter-of-factly spoke about how Franciscan sought to serve our ultimate calling as Christians—to become saints. That first impression was consistently confirmed in my experience there.

I rarely, if ever, heard that kind of language at APU. There, the conversation was dominated by the ubiquitous themes of diversity and social justice, deployed against the perceived evils of racism and white privilege that allegedly plague American society.

One of my first impressions at APU was telling: outside of my first, temporary office, flyers advertised “the first transgender suicide hotline in the U.S.,” “staffed entirely by transgender people, to serve transgender people.” In other words, gender-confused students struggling with despair could seek help from other gender-confused people. So much for promoting a Christian anthropology at a Christian college. Walking by those flyers every day reminded me that I had come to a very different kind of Christian university.

Soon after my arrival, APU was enmeshed in an LGBTQ controversy. The administration lifted a ban on same-sex relationships, then flip-flopped and reinstated it. This prompted a protest (or, as they called it, a “prayer gathering”) on the part of pro-LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff. Few things speak of apostasy like Christians at a Christian university “praying” in support of grave sins in defiance of God’s law. The administration was either unable or unwilling to take a firm stand on the matter, and the controversy fizzled out without any resolution. Shortly thereafter, two APU trustees resigned, citing the institution’s “drift” from Christian principles.

Franciscan’s approach to academics exemplifies the successful marriage of faith and reason that characterizes authentic Christian learning. Credo ut intelligam, said St. Anselm—“I believe in order to understand.” For the Christian, the journey to understanding begins with the obedience of faith, taught through kerygmatic catechesis, which “echoes down” the faith received from Christ and the apostles. In the classroom, this means that while vigorous discussions are welcomed on any topic, there remains a respect for the teachings of Christianity as conveyed by the teacher. It is neither the role of the student nor of the teacher to reinvent the faith.

At APU, the Honors classes I taught were conducted in “colloquy” format using the Socratic method. While Socratic dialogue is a proven pedagogical tool that fosters learning through student participation, some take advantage of it to turn the classroom into a forum for aimless conversation where every opinion must be validated or celebrated. An echo chamber classroom is, of course, diametrically opposed to the “echoing down” of catechesis. Once students come to believe that learning consists in venting off their opinions, they become resistant to instruction and offended when their worldview is challenged by the hard truths of the Christian faith.

Most of my students at APU were wonderful, bright young men and women, eager to grow in their faith and knowledge of truth. But there were some exceptions—a handful of entitled “woke” Christians, eager to reshape Christianity into their own image and likeness by bringing their “new and improved” version of it to the world—especially regarding moral questions.

Franciscan does not shy away from the challenging issue of sexual ethics. In a world awash in sexual promiscuity, shattered families, and gender confusion, Franciscan understands that it cannot remain silent on the beautiful biblical vision for marriage and sexuality. Even if the call to sexual purity is difficult, the solution is not to lower the bar and compromise on the truths of God’s word. In its teachings and pastoral ministry, Franciscan echoes both Christ’s high moral standard and his merciful attitude vis-à-vis human sin: “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”—the classic “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

APU approaches sexual ethics very differently. Although the university professes a reasonably orthodox statement on human sexuality, the topic is largely avoided—with not a few faculty and students giving a nod to liberal positions on topics such as abortion, homosexuality, and gender identity.

Naively, I decided to tackle the topic in my senior classes. In one instance, a mini-mutiny erupted when students rebelled against the idea that gender is not a matter of personal preference, or that marriage consists in the union of a man and a woman. One male student “came out” as a “gay Christian” during his final class presentation. One female student twisted Proverbs 31—the beautiful poem exalting the virtues of the devoted wife and mother—into a manifesto for feminism.

Another girl lectured the class on “phallogocentrism”—a post-modern theory holding that the construction of meaning derives from male privilege. Yet another female student wrote a paper about being “Christ-like” without referring to the Gospels. As a result, her understanding of “Christ-likeness,” oddly enough, reflected liberal feminist ideology more than the biblical portrait of Jesus. Navigating through this kind of dynamic turned teaching into an exercise of walking on eggshells….

The above comes from a March 21 story by Andre Villeneuve in Crisis magazine.