New policies put colleges ‘at variance’ with MC USA

EMU, Goshen nondiscrimination policies now include employees in same-sex marriages

Jul 20, 2015 by and

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Two Mennonite Church USA colleges expanded their nondiscrimination policies July 20 to include employees in same-sex marriages, putting them at variance with the denomination’s education agency.

In separate statements, Goshen (Ind.) College and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., announced the change to hiring practices and benefits. The updated policies are identical.

The same day, Mennonite Education Agency announced that any institution that makes a change moving away from the MC USA’s teaching position on marriage will be considered at variance.

Previously, EMU asked tenure-line faculty candidates to identify any objections they have to MC USA’s Confession of Faith, which defines God’s intent for marriage as between one man and one woman for life.

After conducting a six-month listening process collecting input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and church leaders, the EMU board of trustees in 2014 delayed action regarding its hiring policy until after the MC USA convention earlier in July.

Board chair Kay Brenneman Nussbaum said the decision is in keeping with a commitment to nondiscrimination and hiring individuals committed to EMU’s core values.

“Our education is grounded in Mennonite/Anabaptist values, and we believe people in same-sex covenanted relationships are valued members of our learning community with equal rights to standard benefits,” she said.

Both colleges stated that actions taken by delegates at the MC USA convention in Kansas City during the first week of July were taken into consideration. Delegates approved resolutions calling for forbearance and also for accountability among those with differing views on same-sex relationships.

“We reaffirm our strong relationship to Mennonite Church USA, and recognize the diversity of interpretation of Scripture on this issue within our denomination and the broader Christian church, a diversity reflected within the board of directors and on our campus as well,” said Goshen President James E. Brenneman.

“We seek forbearance and grace amidst our differences. We deeply affirm the goodness of marriage, singleness, celibacy, sexual intimacy within marriage, and a life of faithfulness before God for all people.”

The Goshen news release stated that the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide was “part of the board’s considerations” but was “not the impetus for this shift in institutional policy.”

Goshen and EMU are the only members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to make such a policy change. The 181-member organization’s board will discuss the changes at an upcoming meeting.

Other MC USA colleges

The board of directors of Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., unanimously approved a revision to its nondiscrimination policy April 5, 2014, broadening it to include references to sexual orientation and gender identity. The expansion was a clarification rather than a change.

Each of the five Mennonite Education Agency colleges in MC USA has its own policies and governance structures, and no changes to hiring policies go through MEA.

Hesston (Kan.) College and Bluffton (Ohio) University have nondiscrimination statements, but neither explicitly addresses same-sex sexuality.

Candidates for faculty, student life and administrative positions at Hesston are required to submit a written reflection of their faith journey and respond to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as part of the hiring process. The college asks all employees to respect the Confession and represent the college in a positive way.

Bluffton director of public relations Robin Bowlus said there is nothing in Bluffton’s hiring policies that prevents Bluffton from hiring based on sexual orientation.

“As we have always done, and rooted in our Community of Respect, Bluffton strives to hire the most qualified candidate who embraces the mission of the university,” she said. “Bluffton’s board of trustees will meet again in October, and I can imagine they will thoughtfully consider actions and outcomes from the MC USA convention.”

MEA’s response

Also in its July 20 statement, MEA stated that the recently passed forbearance resolution allows institutions to implement changes that reflect their present understandings even when those are in contradiction to the teaching positions of the church.

“MEA will show forbearance and extend grace to these institutions,” the statement says. “The MEA board remains committed to ongoing conversations and discernment concerning the impact and possible consequences of the institutions’ actions that move them in the direction of changing their hiring policies placing them at variance with the denomination.”

The statement does not mention Bethel College.

In a phone interview July 20, MEA executive director Carlos Romero said he was in communication with Goshen and EMU before and after the MC USA convention.

“Our statement at this point is not a surprise,” he said. “I had communicated that with the boards when I talked to the boards over the weekend as they were meeting.”

He said MEA does not know what the implications of being at variance will be.

“So it’s not a situation where we are simply saying, ‘This is it,’ ” Romero said. “It’s not just a label, but it is a designation. It’s a descriptor we’re making at this point and saying, ‘We’ll be in conversation moving forward.’ ”

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  • Debra B. Stewart

    Good for EMU and Goshen! IMHO, allowing all employees to be protected, by allowing them to care for and protect each other, is just plain old common sense. When my then boyfriend/now husband was deathly ill years ago, I learned how few rights I had with regard to his care and decisions that might pop up. I had none. None. A very kind nurse, helping me fill out hospital paperwork, explained the conundrum in which we resided and said, “I can tell you guys really care about each other; I’m marking ‘wife’ and don’t you say a word!” I shudder to think what could have happened had that wonderful human being not cared enough to protect us. So, for me, it’s not about what folks do in their bedrooms, it’s about being able to care for and protect the one you love best. We should all have that right and opportunity and privilege. And, for those of you who care, in January, Cliff celebrated 21 years on Laura’s Lungs and in May we celebrated 22 years of marital bliss!!! Cheers to all!

  • Joshua Rodd

    What would be the relationship of MEA / MC USA to the colleges and universities if Goshen and EMU opened a ROTC program?

    • Debra B. Stewart

      Interesting observation, Joshua. As a matter of fact, there was some kind of kerfuffle with ROTC recruiting at EMC on campus, in the gym, during some kind of job fair affair a few years ago. Might want to check on how that all worked out . . . Lapp was president then so it may be more than a “few” years.

    • Jeremy Martin

      A more accurate comparison is to ask about the relationship between Mennonite Education Agency and the colleges if they hired military personnel as professors who committed to teaching the just war theory in their classes . . . Would the response be more than a statement about being at variance with the education agency? If being at variance with the education agency does not affect their funding or standing with the agency, then the variance statement is really just empty words.

  • Berry Friesen

    I wish MEA had been more specific about where the “variance” lies. Certainly there is nothing in our Confession of Faith or in the Membership Guideline that requires discrimination against gay
    and lesbian persons who have married under civil law.

    Apparently, these colleges have adopted morality codes, the violation of which can cause one to be eliminated from consideration for employment. With these changes in policy, a same-gender marriage will no longer be deemed to be immoral. Best I can tell, that is the variance.

    Still, I hope we will not use that term “variance” too loosely. Do church-related schools hire divorced persons? Persons who have remarried after divorce? Do they hire persons who are cohabiting with a member of the opposite sex? Who are subject to call-up by the military? And if so, does MEA call any of those decisions “variances” from church teaching?

    • Bruce Leichty

      I believe a principled distinction exists between couples in a same-sex marriage and all of the categories you are proposing, Berry. That the “LGBTQ+” crowd has posed this as an anti-discrimination issue — and of course they have done this cleverly and successfully for a long time — is more than half the problem. You say there is nothing in our Confession of Faith that “requires discrimination,” but by the same token there is nothing at all that required Goshen (my misbegotten alma mater) and EMU to proactively pronounce that they will not “discriminate,” either. The colleges should also not be hiring persons who are cohabiting without marriage, and they should not be hiring persons who are in the military reserves. This is not to say these are “bad people,” it is simply to uphold important norms and to confirm that the church’s best judgment is that these are practices and behaviors that should not be endorsed. Past behavior, whether consisting of divorce, remarriage, cohabitation without marriage, or military service, poses issues different from those posed by the couple who wish to openly live in what our church and historic Christianity regard as a state of sin (I do not believe the church holds the same to be true for those remarried after divorce, setting aside for the moment the question of whether the church SHOULD)..

      The colleges had the option of saying, along with many other Christian institutions, “here we stand, we will go no further, we do not wish to hold up a model to our young people whereby the now lawful abomination of same-sex marriage is recognized as normal. We don’t believe the issue is one of discrimination; that is a trap and an artifice; we believe the issue is cohering with God’s natural order and biblical admonitions.” Instead, they practically tripped over themselves to “update” their policies, embracing the entirely corrupt politics of the U.S. Supreme Court — for the Supreme Court’s recent decision is indeed politics, not law — and turned their backs on centuries of principled dissent and costly discipleship. Variance is much too mild a word for this.

      • Debra B. Stewart

        Agree totally with you about being consistent, my friend!

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