Editor’s Note: ChurchLeaders published three articles prior to this one on the topic of Azusa Pacific University’s recent changes to their Undergraduate Student Handbook. David Bixby, APU’s Executive Vice President, reached out to our team to give us more information in this unfolding story. The following article is our attempt to report as best and accurately as we can the “other side” of the story, thus giving a better and more complete picture of what happened.
Last fall, Azusa Pacific University (APU), an accredited Christian college in California, made headlines for “lifting their LGBTQ ban.” The supposed shift in direction came about due to changes in wording in the University’s Undergraduate Student Handbook. However, school officials say the change in wording was never intended to lift any such “ban” and that media outlets, and even some respected evangelical leaders, were quick to report and comment without knowing the full story.
“We lost our grip on the narrative back in September, and the narrative became that we removed the portion of [our student handbook addressing] same-sex romanticized relationships,” APU’s Executive Vice President David Bixby told ChurchLeaders.
Some Background on APU’s Student Handbook Changes
In response to the media’s reporting in September which took the school by surprise, Bixby said “the board wanted to be clear that we have not changed our values on human sexuality” so they reinstated the original wording pertaining to same-sex relationships.
At that time, Bixby says the board directed him to gather “stakeholders” of APU such as faculty, staff, students, trustees and alumni, to revise the handbook for undergraduate students, which hadn’t been revised in “decades.” This process took about five months—completed in March—and saw the removal (for the second time) of the language singling out LGBTQ romanticized relationships. Another round of newspaper reports ensued.
Bixby says the motivation to remove the language addressing same-sex romanticized relationships came from a desire to look at sexuality from a “30,000-foot view” and remove any “item by item by item” language listing behaviors considered inconsistent with God’s standards. Homosexual behavior wasn’t the only thing listed in the original handbook, which also mentioned bestiality and pornography. “We figured if we anchored on marriage…that would be a clear indicator of where APU stood on any type of relationship outside the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.”
Pointing us to the Statement on Human Sexuality that the revised student handbook refers to (accessible on APU’s site), Bixby said the university’s stance is very clear. A portion of this statement reads:
We hold that the full behavioral expression of sexuality is to take place within the context of a marriage covenant between a man and a woman and that individuals remain celibate outside of the bond of marriage. Therefore, we seek to cultivate a community in which sexuality is embraced as God-given and good and where biblical standards of sexual behavior are upheld.
Bixby maintains that no such “lift” in the ban on LGBTQ relationships was intended by changing the language of the handbook. “It would be so inconsistent of us to have a strong marriage covenant as described by Scripture and then allow same-sex romanticized relationships on campus,” he says.
Do LGBTQ Students Attend APU?
The University evaluated students’ application essays several years ago to determine what percentage of students are Christian. At that time, the University determined 98 percent of students “had some level of faith in Christ.” Bixby explains, “because we’re open enrollment, we attract all kinds of students, but most of the students who come to APU are Christians.”
Bixby says that because of this open enrollment, they “want to come alongside students who are LGBTQ and love them and care for them in a discipleship environment.” However, he acknowledges that the University has “a different perspective, for sure, and wants to come alongside all students as far as what Scripture says and point them to Christ and appropriate sexual stewardship.”
While Bixby says “there are students who identify as LGBTQ on campus,” he would be shocked to see same-sex romanticized relationships openly displayed at the school. “If we saw a same-sex couple holding hands on campus, we would have a kind, gentle, truthful conversation with them and share with them that that kind of behavior is not consistent with our community values,” Bixby says. He also maintains that because APU has such a relational atmosphere, if faculty were made aware of a heterosexual couple engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, they would have a similar conversation.