Caleb Pollema – Staff Writer
The following is a Q&A session with Dordt’s Dean of Chapel and Chief of Staff, Aaron Baart. This is being published in response to a series of articles by Jacob Hall, a local man involved with Sioux County Conservatives and a writer for the Iowa Standard website. Hall has posted a sixteen-part series on the Iowa Standard “exposing the undeniable falling away from Dordt University’s biblical roots.” Nearly half of the series has specifically gone after Baart for his personal politics, social media activity, and chapel messages on homosexuality and various other topics. Hall claims many students have decided to not attend chapel because of Baart’s comments. The purpose of the following is to allow Baart to respond to the accusations for the benefit of the Dordt community. The passages below are Baart’s exact words. The sole exception is found in his answer to question three. Baart initially quoted the entire introduction to Dordt’s handbook section on “sexuality, gender identity, and sexual conduct”. Due to space and readability, this has been cut down to a key selection that Baart highlighted himself. Dordt’s handbooks can be read in their entireties online. Any questions regarding the subject should be directed to him for further discussion.
1. Why do you believe that Mr. Hall has brought these accusations against you?
I honestly don’t know. My guess is that he believes it’s a righteous crusade and that he’s rooting out heresy or false teaching or something. That’s why it pains me to even be writing these things. I think it’s tragic that too many people have been exposed to his online activity and have believed that he might have a point—that Dordt might be suffering any form of mission drift. I assure you, Dordt is not. Nor am I. Up until now, I simply have not engaged his critique, but since our own students have now asked and because good people are being led astray by what he posts, I felt it was time for transparent answers to the questions being asked of me.
It also merits a reply because these attacks feel like an insult to Dordt’s board of trustees and our denominational church structures that already oversee my life and doctrine. Virtually all of the accusations have been settled by those official bodies already years ago. Specifically, the allegations all stemmed from a chapel sermon I preached at Dordt on March 18, 2015 about homosexuality. You can still listen to it online as Dordt has never sought to remove it or apologize for its content (see “Dordt Chapel” on Spotify).
Perhaps the irreconcilable difference for Mr. Hall simply lies within the distinction between our two worldviews—how we each see the world. As a Dordt graduate and ordained CRC minister, I would self-describe my theological inclinations as “Reformed,” while Mr. Hall would more readily define himself as a “fundamentalist,” and indeed has called himself this in a recent post on his blog. As a result, I’m going to pursue a path of cultural engagement, consistent with a Kuyperian, Reformed world and life view, whereas a fundamentalist approach is much more culture- warring by nature. In the end, I think that Mr. Hall’s stated fundamentalist worldview is incompatible with the Reformed worldview that Dordt upholds. As such, his critique of both Dordt and me lacks relevancy because we perceive the world so differently and are truly operating out of very different worldviews.
Regardless of such differences though, I’m heartbroken that a brother-in-Christ would use blogs and social media pages that attempt to look like actual news outlets to try and unfairly discredit my ministry. I strive to spend my life on behalf of the Kingdom of God, ministering in hard places, adding beauty and efforts of reconciliation in my community and in the world. In the end, it’s my prayer that the visibility of the fruit from my life and ministry will simply speak for itself.
2. One topic that Mr. Hall addresses in his series of articles is homosexuality. What is your position on the topic? Do you believe that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman only?
I have always held to the historic positions regarding sexuality outlined by both Dordt University and the CRC. And, I have always submitted to the authorities appointed to govern my life and doctrine. When I was hired at Dordt over ten years ago, I assured the president that integrity and a foundational submission to the authority of Scripture and appointed, supervisory bodies are deeply important to me, and that if I ever deviated from the university’s stance on any significant theological issue, neither Dordt nor any denomination would need to investigate my beliefs because I would resign before that could ever happen. That’s true, not only regarding doctrine pertaining to sexuality, but equally applicable to all major points of doctrine. I don’t believe that it’s my calling to deceptively change a denomination or an established institution. Rather, it is to serve said organization. I still believe that. This is why I’m so troubled by these false accusations.
Moreover, I have said before in numerous settings that I believe that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman. Even the students who self-identify as LGBTQ that I have the privilege to visit with know this about me. But more importantly than that, they know that I love them deeply and so does God. Historically, the Church has struggled to navigate healthy conversations around sexuality. In fact, on the whole, we’ve been quite abysmal at it, and we likely all owe these fellow image-bearers sincere and heartfelt apologies. Jesus himself would often disagree with people, but he still always loved them deeply and even offered his life up for them. To borrow language from Dr. Preston Sprinkle, our primary offensiveness to our LGBTQ friends hasn’t been our theological position; it’s been our ministry posture. Unfortunately for some, that nuance is lost and ministry presence or absence in a messy situation can only be seen by some as either condoning or condemning. But I believe that the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels teaches us very clearly that such a dichotomy simply isn’t true, even if it is tempting. We are to hold fast to our beliefs while being unconditionally loving to absolutely everyone. This is especially true when they are God’s hurting or marginalized children (see the Sermon on the Mount).
I am well aware that questions concerning sexuality are a substantial issue for our youth today. I live in those conversations every day. Seeing this great need, I’ve sought to educate myself and spend time learning to minister effectively in and around this issue. This has helped me tremendously in my ministry on campus and also beyond, presenting in nine different states and three Canadian provinces to over 10,000 high school students (and their parents) in the past few years on issues of pornography, sexual dysfunction, and God’s Biblical ideals. I have written articles for the Christian Educators’ Journal, The Banner, and other publications. I have been invited to numerous Protestant, Catholic, and public schools to teach on these issues. I’ve done the same at colleges and universities. And I have served as a consultant for churches, regional groups of pastors, school districts, and community leaders who are working through very difficult issues around sexual abuse, hurt, confusion, and brokenness. The hard, but great joy in all of this has been the opportunity to see firsthand the healing power of Jesus Christ in the middle of some people’s greatest pain and anguish.
My life as the Dean of Chapel and Chief of Staff at a Christian university exists at the intersection of grace and truth. And if you’ve never lived day-in and day-out for over a decade with 18-22 year-olds who have real sexual struggles and stories, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to keep a hospitable and loving approach like Jesus to anyone who is searching, confused, or simply thinks differently than you. I’m going to hold to the truths of Scripture, but I’m going to do it in a very loving way. Sometimes, I think that approach is confusing to people. That’s why I’ve often referred to Jesus’ model as being willing to get “ministry mess” on us. It’s where we are called to live.
3. As a Christian university, do you believe that Dordt should make a public statement regarding where they stand on the topic of homosexuality?
Dordt doesn’t need to make a new statement on sexuality because it hasn’t changed the same one we’ve held to for decades. You can find that information in our student, staff, and faculty handbooks. The wording is identical in each. Here’s the excerpt from the faculty handbook, specifically page 89, section 188.8.131.52.
“Dordt University believes, based on its understanding and interpretation of the Bible, that the only appropriate and permissible context in which sexual intimacy may be expressed as overt sexual interaction is in the marriage partnership of a man and a woman.”
Anyone who works at Dordt has already agreed to live by those shared standards, myself included. And even if someone writes online stories trying to make Dordt’s policies appear slippery, that doesn’t change Dordt’s stance (nor my agreement with Dordt’s stance), just because they keep saying it several different ways.
4. Would you be concerned as the Dean of Chapel and Chief of Staff if Dordt students were skeptical of what you have said and have decided to no longer attend chapel?
I wouldn’t merely be concerned, I would be heartbroken. If any of our students ever decided to no longer attend chapel because of what they have read on a social media post or blog, it would mean that they have been led astray by someone who simply doesn’t grasp the complexity of cultural engagement that lies at Dordt’s Reformational core. But I hold out hope that Mr. Hall would want to reconcile with Dordt, and with me. I pray one day that will still be possible.
Finally, I would also encourage anyone to go back and listen to or view our past chapels. They are on our website, on Livestream, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, and more. Dordt has nothing to hide, and neither do I. I’ve been pastoring in Sioux Center now for over 16 years. My life is a wide-open book, and I am doing everything in my power to live it fully to the glory of God. And at Dordt, we’re proud of the faith formation that we instill in our students. We have always not merely sought to produce graduates, but serious disciples of Jesus and effective Kingdom citizens who live for the glory of God. Rest assured, that’s not going anywhere.
And, if any Dordt student or genuine supporter has any lingering doubts about those realities after reading this article, I would welcome them to call or email me and continue the conversation.
Soli Deo Gloria!