The culture wars have been raging for a long time, always changing, adapting, seeking new fronts. We watch it on the news; we see it on social media. Sweeping the nation, these ideological wars create division and confusion—the inevitable consequences of the fog of war. What role do Christians have in this fight? Are we willing to challenge our own government when necessary?
College of the Ozarks answers with a resounding “Yes!”
On April 15, College of the Ozarks—the small Christian college in the heart of America where I serve as president—sued the Biden administration for its gross overreach of power. Religious liberty is on the line, and College of the Ozarks will not stand idly by.
In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order titled “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” As a result, a directive from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), issued a few weeks later, attempts to force religious schools to violate our beliefs by opening our dormitories, including rooms and shared shower spaces, to members of the opposite sex. This order is unconstitutional and illegal.
The federal judge where we filed our case did not put an immediate halt to the government’s unconstitutional overreach and blatant disregard of religious liberty. But College of the Ozarks, along with Alliance Defending Freedom, looks forward to a prompt appeal. The American people are beginning to understand this egregious overreach; more than 1 million citizens have responded positively to our school’s actions, and the number of calls, emails and social media responses grows daily. And we need not risk massive fines and penalties while we wait for a specific prosecution or enforcement action—we can defend our rights from government encroachment now.
This breathtaking infringement on religious liberty barely made the news when it was issued. Since our lawsuit, however, hundreds of articles have been published. Christians should use their voices to stop the tidal wave of such anti-Christian actions by our own government. College of the Ozarks has determined we must try, because our long-standing mission demands it.
College of the Ozarks, dubbed “Hard Work U” by The Wall Street Journal, is committed to “providing the advantages of a Christian education for youth of both sexes, especially those found worthy but who are without sufficient means to procure such training.” We offer a distinctively Christian education to students with financial need. All students work on campus to defray the cost of their education, graduating debt-free.
Founded in 1906, our college’s historic Christian commitment is rooted deeply in Scripture and the creeds of the Christian church. Included in our employee and student handbooks is the statement, “College of the Ozarks is guided by a long-standing traditional, Biblical worldview which reflects the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God.”
The handbooks go on to affirm that a person’s biological sex is his or her “God-given, objective gender, whether or not it differs from their internal sense of ‘gender identity,’” and human sexual relations are to be achieved “solely through heterosexual relationships in marriage.” The college explicitly prohibits “gender expression inconsistent with sex assigned at birth,” and “gender transition.” These beliefs and policies are supported with Biblical passages like Genesis 1:27, which teaches of humanity’s creation as male and female in the image of God.
Consistent with our mission and convictions about human sexuality, the college has a long history of sex-separated residence halls. Expectations for students living in these halls are clearly stated in the institution’s published materials, and all students agree to abide by the college’s policies. President Biden’s HUD directive would make such resident halls illegal, since they would be interpreted as discriminatory toward LGBTQ students. Our adherence to Biblical truth and the promise of religious freedom in America tells us precisely the opposite.
In fact, our lawsuit signals just this: The president’s HUD directive is discriminatory toward Christians, and we directly oppose this discrimination. We will not back down. For over 100 years, College of the Ozarks has strived to maintain its deeply rooted commitment to the foundational doctrines of Christianity. Leadership matters, so we pay close attention to hiring practices, with all faculty required to sign a statement of faith and practice. All faculty must demonstrate how faith is integrated into teaching, and this becomes part of their evaluation. Trustees sign the same commitments; further, they affirm the mission statement each year as recorded in board minutes.
Students of all faiths are welcome, but they must respect our integrated Christian approach to education. All students are required to take two Biblical worldview courses. An upper division course called “Big Questions Seminar” informs students about contemporary lifestyle issues (critical race theory, the LGBTQ movement, etc.), through the lens of a Biblical worldview. Students hear prominent Christian speakers, such as Alveda King, Edward Graham, Ben Carson and John Lennox, at required convocations.
The college also sponsors Christian mission teams at home and abroad and operates a Christian camp for underprivileged children as well as a classical Christian laboratory school for K-12.
We teach our students that College of the Ozarks is not a place to retreat from the world, but of preparation to be poured out on it. We believe our students need to know what they believe and why, so that when they go out into the world, they are firmly rooted and prepared to stand up for the cause of Christ in an openly hostile culture. The decision to sue the Biden administration for the threat to our religious liberty provides an example of faith, strength and courage for our students and the world.
Unfortunately, the leaders of many colleges and universities have remained silent. If Christian institutions do not take a stand, then who will? A “do-nothing approach” will result in more liberties challenged and diminished in every sphere of public life. We have learned from hard experience that ideologies spawned in ivory towers and imposed by government bureaucrats go on to affect our children’s classrooms, local churches, and, eventually, our own families.
We must always be willing to step up, speak out and say clearly what we believe the Bible teaches about God, humanity and the message of Jesus Christ. From this there can be no departure! ©2021 College of the Ozarks
Jerry C. Davis, Ph.D., has served as president of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, since 1988. Under his leadership, the school has consistently been recognized as one of the nation’s top colleges.
PhotoL Mark Summerfield/Alamy Stock Photo