HARRISONBURG, Va. — A Mennonite university in Virginia is considering making a change to its current hiring policy to allow faculty members to be in same-sex relationships.
Eastern Mennonite University issued a news release on the matter last week, noting that it has decided to open up a 60-day listening period “to review current hiring policies and practices with respect to individuals in same-sex relationships.” President Loren Swartzendruber was authorized unanimously by the school board to design and oversee the process, which will begin in January.
“As a Christian university, it is our responsibility to engage in community discussion and discernment over issues that Mennonite congregations—indeed almost all denominations in the United States today—are wrestling with,” he stated at a recent staff forum. “One responsibility of leadership is to help define reality.”
The board also released a statement which “reaffirm[ed] EMU’s relationship with Mennonite Church USA and its practice of biblical discernment in community.” Mennonite Church USA believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, and that marriage is solely between a man and a woman. The university has also distinguished between resistance of homosexual temptations and capitulation to sin. However, the board also reaffirmed “EMU’s Academic Freedom policy,” which upholds the right of each individual staff member “to articulate their personal beliefs and values.”
Therefore, the 60-day listening period is said to involve dialogue between students, faculty and administration to understand the level of interest in allowing a policy change that would permit university employees to be in homosexual relationships.
Eastern Mennonite University already has a homosexual student group on campus, known as Safe Space.
“Safe Space members commit ourselves to building interpersonal relationships while maintaining a long term vision of equality and justice for the LGBTQ community,” the group page, posted on the university website, outlines.
Darian Harnish, Safe Space co-founder, told Inside Higher Ed that some of his former classmates, who are homosexuals, have been aware that they would be unable to find jobs on campus.
“Many of my friends who have graduated from the university and gone on to pursue higher degrees really love the institution, but as openly gay men or women, have said, ‘It will be a very long time before I can come back here and teach,'” he explained.
But some current faculty have opined that change is imminent.
“I do believe we’re moving toward an acceptance policy,” said history professor Mark Sawin, who attends a Mennonite church that recently adopted a policy to allow members to be in homosexual relationships.
However, others who are aware of the pending policy change have expressed disappointment.
“I think of a ‘Christian school’ as having a specific worldview based on principles outlined in the Bible,” one commenter wrote. “If students and professors don’t agree with the doctrinal statements of the school, then look elsewhere to teach or be educated. Being private education is just that—private. Don’t try to be too inclusive.”
“This college reminds me of how the UMC likes to approach homosexuality: let’s have a discussion about it and see if we can agree on a way to go forward,” another stated. “That’s exactly how Satan got Adam and Eve in trouble, and the rest of humanity after them.”
“Here is a prime example of how the Christians start to bend God’s rules in favor of Satan’s agenda,” a third wrote. “Who is going to reexamine his or her sinful ways if the church doesn’t oppose sin? I think that generally speaking, Mennonites have more spine than this particular group.”
Photo: Michael Sheeler