Harrisonburg’s Eastern Mennonite University expands non-discrimination policy to include married LGBTQs
Two American Mennonite universities, one of which sits in the foot hills of Harrisonburg, have updated their non-discrimination policy to include same-sex couples and transgender folks.
In an email sent out to all students today, Kay Nussbaum, Chair of Eastern Mennonite University’s Board of Trustees, and Loren Swartzendruber, EMU’s University President, said the policy change came after months of listening sessions with input from students, alumni and employees.
“… as we affirm the goodness of singleness, celibacy, and sexual intimacy within the context of a covenanted relationship (marriage) – our hiring practices and benefits will now expand to include employees in same-sex marriages,” read the email. ”The Board of Trustees and EMU leadership believe this is the right decision for Eastern Mennonite University as an institution at this time.”
Below is a copy of the updated hiring policy:
Eastern Mennonite University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or any legally protected status. As a religious institution, Eastern Mennonite University expressly reserves its rights, its understandings of, and its commitments to the historic Anabaptist identity and the teachings of Mennonite Church USA, and reserves the legal right to hire and employ individuals who support the values of the college.
In the early 90′s, an employment policy was in place barring the hiring of people in same-sex relationships at the private institution, a legal policy because, as a private institution, they have the right to deny employment based on unprotected classes like LGBTQs. But at a recent national Mennonite gathering held in Kansas City, MI, a new policy for the broader faith opened the doors to a more accepting hiring practice for the school, albeit at odds with some in the faith.
At the convention, faith leaders agreed to continue their policy prohibiting pastors from performing same-sex marriages, but they also issued a resolution of Forbearance “that recognizes the diversity of perspectives in our church, and calls on us “to live in grace, love and forbearance” with one another.”
Andrea Wenger, Director, Marketing and Communications for EMU, explained it as the faith being asked to stay united while the broader faith-population continues to wrestle over the LGBTQ acceptance.
“There were people on both sides of the issue who had been raising concerns to leadership for years,” she said.
But it’s not just those who oppose LGBTQ equality within the faith that EMU is bucking against, The Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), an umbrella organizing group for Mennonite schools, continues to have an employment policy lacking protections for those in a same-sex relationship.
“MEA does not set the policies for the colleges,” said Wenger, “And MEA would now say… EMU’s decision puts them at variance with the denominations guidelines. But because of forbearance, we’re staying part of the faith community.”
Wenger, a practicing Mennonite, said creating a policy like this is in line with the church’s tradition of “peace-building and welcoming people with diverse opinions to the table.”
Safe Space , an LGBTQ advocacy student group based on EMU campus, had members who spoke in support of the change. “They were part of raising visibility around the issue,” Wenger said.
Christian Parks (pictured below), former President of EMU’s Safe Space, who self-identified as a queer and Black practicing Mennonite, said his group was pivotal in starting the conversation around changing the schools policy years ago.
According to Parks, they held meetings with other LGBTQ and ally EMU students which eventually blossomed into campus-sanctioned listening sessions. These sessions went on for about 6 months, but it wasn’t until after the national conference that anything changed.
“On the one hand, they’re allowing institutions to be free to do what they need to do,” said Parks. “But on the other hand, when it comes to Mennonite identity and structure, we’re still keeping membership as one man-one woman marriage.”
This issue Parks wrestled with deeply, even while attending in the convention in Kansas.
“We have a dichotomy that allows for a spectrum… the door isn’t open enough for me yet,” he said, though he admitted he was happy to see the policy change, even if it came so late.
“Now there’s enough breath to have conversations as Mennonites… we are a church still trying to figure out how the hell to talk to each other.”
Top image via Michael Sheeler, Eastern Mennonite University
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