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Goshen College and EMU Change Hiring Policies

Waltonian | The Waltonian
Waltonian | The Waltonian

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Goshen Student Apartments (1)Waltonian | The Waltonian

Several short weeks ago, Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) updated their anti-discrimination policies to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” meaning that both schools will now offer employment and benefits to same-sex married faculty and staff. It is unclear to what degree this decision is related to the recent Supreme Court ruling to lift bans on same-sex marriage.  It is also unclear how this decision will affect transgender students in regards to housing. Jodi Beyeler, Director of Communications at Goshen, commented, “If we become aware of transgender students wanting to live on campus, we determine the best housing situation for them on a case-by-case basis, in conversation with the individual students. We strive to meet student needs while honoring understandings of life in a community.”

The policy changes at Goshen and EMU follow long, painstaking processes of dialogue and discernment on both campuses. In 2011, Goshen students initiated a petition to gain support for a change in the school’s hiring policy, and many students continued to vocalize support for such change. EMU initiated an intentional “listening process” from January to June of 2014 to gauge the position of the community regarding issues of sexuality. The process included 20 dialogue sessions engaging over 300 community members, as well as a survey of over 7,000 students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors, and church leaders.

Both Mennonite schools are accountable to the Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), which is accountable to the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA). Goshen and EMU updated their policies the weekend of July 17-18, just two weeks after delegates at MC USA’s national convention passed a resolution to maintain the traditional stance of the Mennonite church as stated in the Mennonite Confession of Faith, which identifies marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman.

On July 20, MEA issued a response noting that EMU and Goshen College, in taking actions that moved away from that position, put those institutions at variance with MEA and MC USA. However, MEA and MC USA will continue to extend grace to EMU and Goshen in keeping with another resolution passed by delegates at the convention, which calls MC USA to offer “grace, love, and forbearance” towards conferences and congregations within MC USA who may “seek to be faithful” in “different ways” regarding same-sex marriage.

At both schools, large portions of their communities have demonstrated great joy at this decision. Goshen senior Lynelle Leinbach says, “the student outcry was overwhelmingly positive, thankful and joyful.” Leinbach attributes the immense amount of student support for the decision in large part to the fact that “many students have witnessed discrimination against their GLBTQ family members, friends, and church members.” But though this joyful reaction was widespread, it was not unanimous. EMU junior Tyler Denlinger notes that while “overwhelming support and immense joy” have been demonstrated in public forums, more conservative students have “often times shied away from conversation despite being disgruntled about the direction of the initiative.” Denlinger reports that “ultimately, not everyone is ecstatic about this change.”

Though they are certainly not the first Christian schools to welcome same-sex married faculty, Goshen and EMU are the first and only schools in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to do so. The CCCU is an association of 181 Christian higher education institutions, including Eastern University, “whose missions are rooted in the historic Christian faith and are informed by deeply held Christian thought, belief and practice.” On July 28, the CCCU issued a statement affirming its commitment to undergoing a “deliberate and consultative process” before making any decisions. But for some CCCU members, the process is too lengthy, and the right decision is obvious. Union University in Jackson, Tn. withdrew from the CCCU when EMU and Goshen’s memberships were not immediately revoked, and Union’s president, Samuel Oliver, predicts 40 more members will leave if EMU and Goshen maintain membership.

This recent whirlwind only intensifies questions that have already been posed: How will Eastern’s community engage with and respond to issues of sexual orientation and activity? And even more importantly, how can we continue to listen well and respond with love to all of our siblings in Christ?

Sources:

www.emu.edu

www.goshen.edu

www.mennoniteusa.org

www.mennoniteeducation.org

www.cccu.org

www.christianitytoday.com

Image courtesy of  Creative Commons / The Waltonian

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