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Church Colleges & Universities Culture

Seattle Pacific University Faculty Vote No Confidence in Board Over LGBTQ Stand

The faculty of Seattle Pacific University, a Christian school associated with the Free Methodist Church, has taken a vote of no confidence in its board of trustees.  The board has re-affirmed the college’s commitment to marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical expression of morality.

The no-confidence vote, approved by 72 percent of the faculty, was the latest in a series of escalating clashes between faculty, students, and the school’s governing board. Faculty and students also want the school to drop its statement on human sexuality. Of the 213 who voted, 153 faculty voted for the motion, 47 were opposed, and 13 abstained.

The board of trustees issued a statement last week saying it would not change its employment hiring policy, which excludes LGBTQ people from full-time positions. It has not yet responded to the no-confidence vote.

“The board recognizes that fellow Christians and other community members disagree in good faith on issues relating to human sexuality, and that these convictions are deeply and sincerely held,” the board chair, Cedric Davis, said in an April 12 statement. “We pray that as we live within the tension of this issue, we can be in dialogue with the SPU community.”

The board also indicated it was taking its stand because it wanted to continue to maintain its ties to the Free Methodist Church, a small denomination of about 70,000 in the United States and 1 million around the world. The Free Methodist Church has eight affiliated educational institutions, including Azusa Pacific, Spring Arbor, and Greenville universities.

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Kevin Neuhouser, a sociology professor at Seattle Pacific and faculty adviser for Haven, a student club for LGBTQ students on campus, says the board is the last remaining group who has not yet “come to recognize that LGBTQ individuals can be faithful Christians, and as faculty and staff they would play positive roles on our campus, if we can hire them.”

The most recent conflict began in January when an adjunct nursing professor filed a lawsuit accusing the university of refusing him job opportunities because of his sexual orientation.

Jéaux Rinedahl alleged in the lawsuit that when he applied for a full-time, tenured position as an associate nursing professor, Seattle Pacific rejected his application because he’s gay.

The status of LGBTQ faculty and students at Christian colleges and universities has been roiling many campuses.

Last month, 33 LGBTQ students or former students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education alleging widespread discrimination at 25 Christian colleges and universities, including Protestant, Latter-day Saint, and Seventh-day Adventist schools.

One of the 33 students named in the suit is a transgender person who attended Seattle Pacific, who said he was harassed, humiliated, and forced to sign a statement saying he knew he was “breaking lifestyle expectations.”

In 2015, two Mennonite schools, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, announced they were updating their nondiscrimination policies to allow the hiring of married gay and lesbian faculty. They also withdrew from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

The Free Methodist Church formed in 1860, when it broke away from the larger Methodist Church over slavery. Free Methodists were abolitionists who also believed in women’s ordination. In the 20th century, it became more conservative. The denomination does not contribute financially to the school.

Last week, about 200 students held a vigil on campus to mourn what they called discriminatory practices toward LGBTQ people and to outline a series of demands.

The school does not require students to sign a sexuality statement.

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is a North Carolina-based reporter who has written about religion for more than 17 years. She is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.