EMU Considering Policy On Gay Relationships

School Administrators To Hear All Opinions

Posted: November 21, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Whether Eastern Mennonite University will hire people in same-sex relationships is now in the hands of university administrators, who will embark on a six-month listening process approved by the university’s board of trustees Saturday.

The board unanimously authorized EMU President Loren Swartzendruber and his Cabinet “to design and oversee” the process, which will begin in January and wrap in June, when the findings will be presented.

EMU’s willingness to openly discuss both sides of the issue is not surprising given conversations happening in the wider Mennonite Church and within other Christian denominations. Media reports include a wide range of opinions and stories that detail membership and leadership issues, including Mennonite churches changing denominations or pastors coming under fire for officiating same-sex marriages.

Swartzendruber said EMU’s conversation about same-sex relationships, which has been ongoing for many years, is particularly timely at this point.

“I think some of the changes in the larger culture have encouraged students and faculty and staff to continue wrestling with these questions. That simply means that we have to keep debating the issues, and from time to time it’s always appropriate for a board of trustees to review all of our policies,” Swartzendruber said Tuesday.

It has been 12 years since the university updated its community lifestyle commitment, a document that all faculty and staff are encouraged to review and sign prior to joining the university community. While EMU does not have a policy specifically stating that it does not hire individuals in same-sex relationships, the community lifestyle commitment is one document that touches on the topic broadly.

The document reads, “I recognize my responsibility as a member of the community to refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.”

That statement applies to straight and homosexual couples equally.

For monogamous homosexual couples, however, marriage is not legal in Virginia. Therefore, a homosexual couple living together could be seen as disobeying that commitment.

In July 2003, EMU fired two gay faculty members for homosexual behavior.

Also, the university, as stated on its website, subscribes to the Mennonite Church USA’s philosophy that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.”

The motion passed by the board of trustees Saturday approving the listening process says that the board “reaffirms EMU’s relationship with Mennonite Church USA and its practice of biblical discernment in community, and EMU’s Academic Freedom Policy.”

“We take very seriously our relationship to Mennonite Church USA [and] they will be a partner in our conversations,” Swartzendruber said. “We [also] are an academic institution and that means we must provide opportunity for faculty and staff to express personal opinions that might be at variance with what Mennonite Church USA would say through the confession of faith.”

Specifics of the listening process are still being determined, but all opinions will be reviewed in a variety of ways, Swartzendruber said.

“[The process] will include opportunities for individual conversations, focus groups and surveys, but the details of each of those have not yet been worked out,” he said.

Deanna Durham, adviser for Safe Space, a group for LGBT students and employees and their allies, said she was pleased the trustees addressed the topic.

“We’re very encouraged,” Durham said. “I think we’ve been in a holding pattern for a number of years, so this feels like one more step toward having just healthy, real dialogue.”

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com

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