Here’s what’s not surprising: Last week, the administration at Seattle Pacific University, a private Christian college in Washington, chose to keep in place “lifestyle expectations” in their contracts effectively blocking the hiring of openly LGBTQ people.
Here’s what is surprising: The students are revolting.
It’s not like this issue arose out of nowhere. More than a year ago, SPU refused to hire Jéaux Rinedahl as a full-time nursing professor. It wasn’t because he lacked credentials. It was simply because he was “not heterosexual.” He wasn’t even in a same-sex marriage, mind you. Just gay. (He filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court just weeks ago.)
SPU’s justification was that they wanted to maintain their affiliation with the Free Methodist Church, which is anti-LGBTQ. But that response didn’t sit well with students or faculty members, who staged a vigil on campus. In April of last year, 72% of faculty members supported a vote of no-confidence against the university’s board of trustees after they refused to budge on this issue. The statement they issued said 75% of surveyed faculty and 68% of overall staff objected to the LGBTQ discrimination.
The board responded by admitting that Christians disagree on LGBTQ issues… while also saying they had no plans to change their hiring policy. Words without substance. And even though LGBTQ students are allowed to attend the school, they weren’t happy with the board’s decision.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: It’s easy (and arguably lazy) to attack the students for attending SPU when they disagree with these policies because some of them may not have a choice in the matter. (In some cases, their parents may be paying tuition on the condition that they attend a private Christian school like this.) But it’s also worth noting that SPU isn’t a religious institution that necessarily has to shut out LGBTQ faculty members. They’re choosing to do this… and it doesn’t even make sense because the Free Methodist Church doesn’t give the school money. There’s just no good excuse to keep the policy in place other than a belief that Christianity requires you to be cis and straight and never have sex with someone of the same gender. (Just like Jesus demanded, I guess.)
Which brings us back to the board’s recent decision, which comes just weeks after Rinedahl’s lawsuit was settled out of court. After a year of this controversy festering on campus, the board had a chance to simply remove the anti-LGBTQ language from their contracts. It’s one thing to require staffers to be professing Christians; a private Christian school has that right. But it’s a choice to require staffers to sign an anti-LGBTQ pledge. And the board decided that being a bigot was a prerequisite to working there.
The irony is that the school loves to pretend bigotry has no place there:
The university is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all undergraduate and graduate students, welcoming and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students in all academic pursuits, faith practices, and life together in community.
They love diversity and inclusion… just not for the people who teach there.
And many students are pushing back. Last week, they staged a sit-in outside the school president’s office:
They did this for several days straight. Some professors even brought their classes to join them. Even more impressive? The students did this while studying for their finals.
Maybe you think that’s all well and good, but it’s just symbolic. It’s not like anything will change. But you’re wrong! This pushback is having an effect. Late last week, two of the board members resigned. A third said he wouldn’t return now that his term had ended. Unfortunately, those were protest resignations, too. All three of those board members had opposed the bigoted language.
The problems don’t stop there:
The students are demanding the board reveal how each trustee voted and that “every trustee who voted in favor of upholding the discriminatory policy must resign.”
The Associated Students of Seattle Pacific are also calling on Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington, to take legal action against the board of trustees for failing to act in the school’s best interest.
“We feel they are not fulfilling their duties to put aside their personal interests and do what’s truly best for the university,” said Chloe Guillot, the Associated Students’ vice president of ministry, who expected the sit-in to continue through the weekend.
As of this writing, the sit-in is still going on and the students are still demanding resignations.
It’s a reminder that there are plenty of decent young Christians willing to support inclusion because they see it as an extension of their beliefs even if the people tasked with educating them want to impose a rule of faith-based hate. Those board members didn’t have to do this, but they decided to put bigotry over quality, preventing otherwise excellent faculty members from ever working at SPU for no reason other than their Jesus-infused homophobia.
With the end of the semester near, it’s possible this story could just fade away over the summer. But if the students can keep the pressure on the school, it’s bound to have an effect when potential students with several options decide they don’t want to attend a school run by people who expend this much energy maintaining bigotry.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)