There was a time when polite society required Americans to pretend to sympathize with historic Judeo-Christian ethical norms, even as they defied them privately. That time is past. The truth is that Christians who understand and believe Christian ethical norms are a diminishing lot. We might wish that the postmillennialists were right but all the evidence is to the contrary. Much of evangelical cultural engagement has been driven by the transformational model but transformationalism, at least as it was originally envisioned, has evidently failed.
As I mentioned in the latest episode of the Heidelcast, I am not a big fan of Oral Roberts (1918–2009). Please do not misunderstand me. He is a great American success story. Born in poverty, in Oklahoma, he helped to impel a major religious movement (Pentecostalism) in the USA. He founded a broadcasting empire, a university, a medical center, and a retirement center. He was a classic American religious entrepreneur. He might have been born at the turn of the 19th century as well as at turn of the 20th century. His theology, piety, and practice were right out of the Second Great Awakening. In March, 1987 he announced that he had, as all good Pentecostals and Charismatics do, received a “word from the Lord.” That word was the Lord would “call” him “home” if he did not raise $8,000,000 for medical scholarships. According to the wire service coverage from the period, he was filmed climbing to a “sparsely furnished” spot half-way up the “prayer tower” to fast and pray for the remaining $1.3 million. He did well for himself. Through the 1980s and 90s the empire flourished. By the early 2000s, however, longstanding questions about finances and management re-emerged as the school was $50,000,000 in debt even Roberts had a nice mansion in Beverly Hills.
Roberts’ dubious theology and fiscal management notwithstanding, every American who still believes in the founding principles of this country ought to come to the aid of Oral Roberts University. Indeed, once upon a time, that is exactly what such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union would have done. Why? Hemal Jhaveri, in the pages of USA Today, has called for the exclusion of the Oral Roberts University men’s basketball team from the NCAA tournament on the basis that ORU’s traditional ethic, influenced by the holiness and pentecostal traditions (of which Jhaveri apparently knows nothing), offends her late-modern sensibilities. ORU forbids homosexual activity and it also forbids heterosexual sex outside of marriage. Jhaveri calls such prohibitions “antiquated.” So, President Obama’s objection, on professedly religious grounds, in 2008, to homosexual marriage also places him outside the pale? Should he be cancelled because he once held religious views that Jhaveri now finds objectionable?
That Oral Roberts wants to keep its students tied to toxic notions of fundamentalism that fetishize chastity, abstinence and absurd hemlines is a larger cultural issue that can be debated. What is not up for debate however is their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, which is nothing short of discriminatory and should expressly be condemned by the NCAA.
“Toxic.” “Fetishes.” “Discriminatory.” “Condemned.” There is more:
Yet, Oral Roberts, with its decrees banning homosexual conduct, stating that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and specifically banning male students from wearing makeup, earned a ticket to the Big Dance even though the university’s foundations expressly go against the very things the NCAA say they value. The fact is, any and all anti-LGBTQ+ language in any school’s polices should ban them from NCAA competition.