Values made clear

Church colleges take stands, offer choices

Apr 25, 2016 by

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Beside a single candle glowing in the Beth­el College chapel, a student sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” The song’s power came not only from the strength of the singer’s voice but also from the words he and others had just spoken. The April 13 chapel service featured three LGBT students who told of the challenges, even the cruelty, they had faced in the past and the acceptance they had found at Bethel.

A week of Bethel events celebrating diversity put special emphasis this year on affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Hayley Brooks, a staff member of the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests and a graduate of Goshen (Ind.) College, spoke in convocation April 11.

The climate of welcome for LGBT students on the North Newton, Kan., campus is one example of the important role Mennonite colleges play in the life of the church. The colleges are more than church-related. They are an integral part of the church itself. One student who spoke in the Bethel chapel service said he had been “cast away by the church I was baptized in.” At Bethel he found love and acceptance. The campus was his sanctuary.

Bethel’s values of inclusion and tolerance are longstanding. A retired professor recently said that for more than 40 years he had seen the college community living by the principle of “love above law.”

In the past couple of years, due to its liberal reputation and supportive constituency, Beth­el avoided a controversy that other Mennonite colleges faced. Particularly for Eastern Mennonite University, policy changes that opened the door to hiring LGBT people sparked opposition. In 2014, leaders of five Mennonite Church USA area conferences cited EMU’s review of its policy as one reason for their frustration with the denomination. Last year, when the controversy spread to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, three Mennonite schools — EMU, Goshen College and Bluffton University — withdrew from the CCCU. But when Bethel, which is not a CCCU member, broadened its non­discrimination policy, the revision caused little stir.

Meanwhile, the Mennonite Brethren schools, Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University, take a traditional stand on LGBT issues. In February, more than 120 Tabor alumni signed a letter commending the board of directors and President Jules Glanzer for upholding the MB Confession of Faith, “especially in this day and age with the headwinds of trendy morals, cultural pressure and capitulation to the highest bidder.” Tabor or FPU would be a good choice for any Mennonite student or family, of any affiliation, who prefers a more conservative college.

Most Mennonite colleges have taken a stand on LGBT issues in some way. It is important for each to be clear about the values that shape it as a Christian community.

Those seeking an Anabaptist-oriented higher education are blessed with an abundance of good options among the Mennonite and Breth­ren in Christ colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. They are communities of faith that shape lives in positive ways. They are the church as much as any congregation.


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  • Conrad Ermle

    It’s hard to believe something like this would be happening in a Mennonite college. No wonder we are losing so many people. We seem to have lost our way. It’s shameful. – Conrad Ermle

  • Michelle Ferguson Morrow

    I commend Bethel for having the courage to celebrate diversity in this way. As an alum of FPU who many years after graduating finally found the support to reconcile my sexuality with my faith, I wish I had had more opportunity to be honest about my experience and find safe spaces to explore beyond the conservative position. Yet, it was my training in biblical studies and theology at FPU and later at Fuller Theological Seminary that gave me the tools and inspiration to engage my Anabaptism outside the “normal” boundaries. It is actually my Anabaptist theological roots that has convinced me even more that, as a lesbian, I have a unique place in the community of God and gifts to serve in God’s kingdom. Our compassion for the marginalized, heart for justice and hopes for community are part of what compels me to affirm LGBT Christians to embrace their identity and live it out faithfully as participation in God’s grace.

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