The faculty of a 130-year-old Christian university in Washington state cast a vote of “no confidence” this week in its board of trustees after the latter stood by the school’s hiring practice and affirmed the biblical teaching on sexuality.
Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of faculty at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) voted in favor of the “no confidence” proposal, while 22 percent voted against it, according to The Seattle Times. About 90 percent of faculty took part in the vote.
The employee handbook says faculty are “expected to refrain from … sexually immoral behavior that is inconsistent with Biblical standards, including cohabitation and extramarital sexual activity,” according to the newspaper. A university “Statement on Human Sexuality” says, “We affirm that sexual experience is intended between a man and a woman.”
The university, located in Seattle, was founded in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church and has about 3,600 students. Its mission statement says, in part, that it is a “Christian university fully committed to engaging the culture.”
“We believe this is the ancient and historic teaching of Christian scriptures and tradition, including the teaching of Seattle Pacific’s founding denomination, the Free Methodist Church,” the Statement on Human Sexuality says.
The controversy was sparked in January when Jéaux Rinedah, an adjunct nursing professor, alleged in a lawsuit that he was denied a full-time teaching position because he is gay.
The faculty Senate said in a Monday statement, “The Board’s decision to maintain SPU’s discriminatory hiring policy related to human sexuality, as well as its manner of delivering that decision, have regrettably compelled the faculty of SPU to pass a vote of no confidence in the SPU Board of Trustees.”
Last week, the Board of Trustees said it would not change the employee handbook or the hiring practices. Cedric Davis, the chair of the Board of Trustees, said the board is “cognizant of historic orthodoxy and the Wesleyan and evangelical tradition in SPU’s 130-year history and in SPU’s Statement of Faith.”
“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,” he said, according to The Times. “We pray that as we live within the tension of this issue, we can be in dialogue with the SPU community.”
The controversy has drawn nationwide attention, especially within the faith-based academic community. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said on his podcast Friday that the controversy could have been avoided if the university required its faculty and students to affirm its beliefs. Mohler questioned why the university would allow an adjunct professor to be gay but not a full-time professor.
“If we do not operate in every dimension of our operations in a way that is consistent with our convictions, then eventually we are all going to face this kind of crisis. The only way to prevent this is to admit only students who actually hold to our own faith commitments, to our own doctrine and our own teachings,” Mohler said on The Briefing podcast. “That's the only way this will work. But even more fundamentally, this only works if you only hire faculty who are in agreement with, totally acknowledge and eagerly affirm the doctoral and behavioral teachings of the institution. If you do not follow those principles, if you base the entire institution on a great inconsistency, then this kind of chaos and controversy will inevitably follow.
“... The institutions that continue to operate on Christian terms,” he added, “are going to have to be the institutions that hire only on Christian terms and admit students only on Christian terms and whose accountability to Christian churches is absolutely clear.”
Photo courtesy: Delia Giandeini/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.