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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