A Virginia school could become the first member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to allow tenure-track faculty to pursue same-sex relationships without censure.
At Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), president Loren Swartzendruber will lead a six-month "listening period" to allow students, faculty, and staff to weigh in on the school's review of "current hiring policies and practices with respect to individuals in same-sex relationships." The review will begin in January, and trustees will consider the resulting report at their June meeting.
Faculty will not be penalized for violating the policy during the review process, EMU communications director Andrea Wenger confirmed to CT. In a November 16 motion obtained by CT (full statement below), EMU trustees unanimously instruct that "between now and June 2014, EMU will suspend taking any human resource actions based on hiring practices that are currently under review."
This means "some professors in same-sex relationships could keep their jobs or be hired" during the review period, reportsInside Higher Education, which broke the story.
"As a Christian university, it is our responsibility to engage in community discussion and discernment over issues that Mennonite congregations—indeed almost all denominations in the United States today—are wrestling with," Swartzendruber told faculty and staff on November 18.
EMU's student newspaper, The Weather Vane, noted in an April article entitled "The Intricacies of EMU's Hiring Policy Predicament" that "technically, there are no limitations on hiring openly gay, celibate faculty" because "the hiring policy addresses behavior, not orientation." According to the paper:
Tenure-track faculty must sign the CLC [Community Lifestyle Commitment], which restricts sexual relationships to the confines of marriage between one man and one woman. Furthermore, faculty are expected to respectfully engage with the Confession of Faith, which states the belief that "God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life."
Because the CLC demands compliance, and the Confession of Faith must be respected by EMU employees, LGBTQ faculty in committed same-sex relationships cannot find employment at EMU.
EMU trustees unanimously authorized Swartzendruber to conduct discussions regarding the policy change, given that "it has been twelve years since the Community Lifestyle Commitment was formally reviewed," and that "significant concerns have been raised in the EMU community regarding the hiring policy."
The board stated that it "reaffirms EMU's relationship with Mennonite Church USA and its practice of biblical discernment in community."
EMU's Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective currently states:
We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life. Christian marriage is a mutual relationship in Christ, a covenant made in the context of the church. According to Scripture, right sexual union takes place only within the marriage relationship. Marriage is meant for sexual intimacy, companionship, and the birth and nurture of children.
EMU currently requires faculty members to sign the Community Lifestyle Commitment, which asks faculty to "refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage." The commitment does not mention same-sex relationships, or homosexuality in general.
Shortly before Swartzendruber became president in 2004, EMU fired two professors for engaging in homosexual behavior. At the time, Swartzendruber said the faculty were fired for their behavior not orientation, noting that two other staff were fired for heterosexual behavior outside of marriage.
CT recently noted how a transgender professor parted ways with Azusa Pacific University, another CCCU member school. In March, Inside Higher Education ran an anonymous open letter on what it is like to be a gay professor at a CCCU institution.
CT's previous coverage of Mennonites includes how pastor Greg Boyd might move his Minnesota megachurch into Anabaptism.
Here is the full board motion:
MOTION PASSED UNANIMOUSLY BY EASTERN MENNONITE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, NOV. 16, 2013
Whereas it has been twelve years since the Community Lifestyle Commitment (posted at www.emu.edu/about/clc/) was formally reviewed, and whereas significant concerns have been raised in the EMU community regarding the hiring policy;
We recommend the following:
1. That the Board of Trustees reaffirms EMU's relationship with Mennonite Church USA and its practice of biblical discernment in community, and EMU's Academic Freedom Policy. The purpose of this action is to ensure that staff, faculty and administrators have the freedom to articulate their personal beliefs and values.
2. That the Board of Trustees authorize the President's Cabinet to design and oversee a six-month listening process (January 2014 to June 2014) with EMU's multiple constituencies. The purpose of the listening process is to review current hiring policies and practices with respect to individuals in committed same-sex relationships. Between now and June 2014 EMU will suspend taking any human resource actions based on hiring practices that are currently under review.
3. That particular attention is given to relationships and prayer throughout this process.
4. That the President's Cabinet will report the results of the listening process to the full board at its June 2014 meeting.
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