A student’s response to Dr. Duffett’s controversial letter-signing
Flipping through my Facebook feed back in June, I was not expecting to become instantly angry, disappointed, and saddened by one post, detailing a specific letter signed by our president, Dr. Duffett. I also did not expect to feel an odd sense of relief as I see the ripple effect of this event on the Eastern community.
Allow me to explain: On June 25, 2014, a letter from the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance was sent to President Obama asking for religious exemption to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which provides basic job protection for LGBTQ employees. Many members of religious institutions that feel this policy denies the separation of church and state by forcing churches, religious universities and organizations to hire LGBTQ individuals signed this letter. Among the signatures was Eastern’s president, Robert G. Duffett.
I am not angry that Dr. Duffett and the other signees wish for the separation of church and state. This is an important part of our rights as United States citizens. What I am angry about is that the letter specifically targeted the LGBTQ community. I am angry that Eastern University, though perhaps not Dr. Duffett’s intention, is now associated with many other religious organizations on the letter that deny rights to the LGBTQ community, which I find in opposition to the gospel’s message. I am angry that the signing of this letter associates my future diploma with discrimination in the eyes of many outside of this university, and I was not asked or warned.
In response to the outcry of many in the Eastern community, Dr. Duffett issued a statement about his reasoning for signing the letter, including this phrase: “Our position has not changed; Eastern University will not discriminate against students or employees based on sexual orientation.” However, Eastern does discriminate against LGBTQ employees, as evidenced by the faculty handbook that clearly states that one of the “adequate causes” for termination of employment is “homosexual conduct” (81-82, Eastern University Faculty Handbook).
However, despite my anger, I also feel some amount of relief. The floodgates have opened, and Eastern is now in the midst of this discussion. I am thankful to see support for my LGBTQ friends from students, faculty and alum. I have heard people ask questions that they might not have ventured to ask before. I am impressed with Dr. Duffett’s willingness to meet with students and discuss their experiences with Eastern’s policies; I was likewise impressed that he delivered a speech to faculty and staff at the Fall Gathering in August, apologizing for the pain that he unintentionally caused by signing the letter (see page 2 to read Dr. Duffett’s speech). In this speech, Dr. Duffett also announced that a task force is being organized to discuss gender and sexuality on Eastern’s campus.
So this is my question now: How can we dialogue in love about the intersection of Christianity and the LGBTQ community, keeping at the center of everything our commitment to Christ? This letter has given us an opportunity, and I understand that there will be disagreements and discomfort. I am not calling for a unanimous agreement on the status of LGBTQ students and faculty on Eastern’s campus because I do not think that is realistic at the moment. I am, however, calling for a continuing discussion in which people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, political beliefs and religious convictions are welcomed to the table.