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Do the Right Thing: Freedom of Religion and Title IX

By December 16, 2016 No Comments


Recently, Christianity Today ran an article exploring the uneasy relationship between Christian Colleges and Title IX. The article frames one side of the issue as a matter of principle—sometimes an institution as to “do the right thing” and let the chips fall where they may. Only, the “right thing” is never really defined. For some, the “right thing” is supporting victims of sexual violence by working to create a healthy dialogue about sex, discrimination, and abuse. It means a serious and open discussion of the biblical and theological approaches to the issues of homosexuality and gender; it means recognizing that good Christian people, reading and interpreting the same bible, arrive at different conclusions as to how the Christian community might respond to these difficult issues. What is needed, according to this approach, is a large measure of humility and grace, not litmus tests or lines in the sand. It’s not about believing or thinking the same, trying to cultivate some artificial unity for the sake of unity, it’s about living as a community that values and respects difference because it is a community founded on love.

Others see the issue through the lens of religious freedom. According to this perspective Christian institutions are at risk because they are being forced to recognize beliefs and approve practices that are contrary to their moral and ethical views on abortion and sexuality. For this group the issue is fundamentally about the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs without undo interference from the government.

So what does it mean to “do the right thing”? Frederich Nietzsche once said, “In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point” (The Antichrist). In the spirit of Nietzsche one could ask: Does “doing the right thing” with regard to title IX have anything to do with true Christian faith? Or does it have everything to do with an ideology (both liberal and conservative) firmly grounded in Mammon? Are protestant Christian colleges of the Reformed persuasion really opposed to birth control? (Monty Python certainly doesn’t think so…) Or is doing the “right thing” code for appeasing happy, wealthy, donors who are glad to see someone taking a stand for what’s “right”?

As far as I can tell Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, transgender, or birth control. He did, however, have quite a bit to say about money and wealth. Count up the number of passages that deal with gender and sexuality and compare them to the number dealing with money, poverty, and justice – what do we find? Yet, churches and denominations are being torn apart, not over issues of justice and greed, but over issues of sexuality. To make matters worse there are church and institutional leaders positioning themselves to reap the benefits, like a business mogul taking advantage of other people’s financial crisis, all in the name of “doing the right thing”.

Karl Barth differentiated between “freedom from” and “freedom for”. The freedom that comes to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a “freedom from” – it’s the freedom to live as the new humanity in the world. It’s a form of freedom that produces a new community of love and grace, a community that recognizes the complexity of human life and offers a gospel message that addresses lived experience of individuals and communities. In Jesus Christ, Barth argues, we are called to be “for” the world. This means we don’t get to create institutions and churches that cater to people who are just like us by affirming the cultural and religious status quo, and we certainly don’t get to sacrifice our sons and daughters, our friends and family members, on the altar of Mammon. Though, as Paul says, our struggle is no longer against “flesh and blood” but the principalities and powers of the present age, the freedom given to us in Jesus Christ is the freedom to live as a new creation—to “fight the power” with grace and love.


Jason Lief

Jason Lief teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He served as editor of Reformed Journal for many years and was one of the original bloggers on the RJ blog. You can find more of his writing at

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