SEATTLE — The ever-expanding societal struggle over gay rights has hit one of the Northwest’s leading evangelical Christian universities with full force.
Seventy-two percent of the faculty at Seattle Pacific University — 213 out of 236 — on April 19 voted no confidence in the school’s board of trustees because the board won’t change its policy prohibiting the hiring of LGBTQ people.
Faculty and students also are calling for the university to drop its statement on human sexuality, which declares marriage between a man and a woman as the only permitted expression of human sexuality.
The board issued a statement saying it would not change its hiring policy, which prohibits LGBTQ people from full-time positions.
“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,” read the statement. “We pray that as we live within the tension of this issue, we can be in dialogue with the SPU community.”
The board also seeks to maintain SPU’s historic ties to the Free Methodist Church, a conservative de-nomination with eight affiliated educational institutions.
The faculty’s position is backed by a sizable segment of the student body. In the week before the faculty vote, about 200 students held a vigil to protest what they consider discriminatory practices toward LGBTQ people and to outline a series of demands.
As reported by Religion News Service, Kevin Neuhouser, a professor of sociology at SPU who is also faculty advisor to an LGBTQ student club on campus, said the board is the “last remaining group that has not yet recognized” LGBTQ individuals can be faithful Christians and would be a positive influence at SPU if hired.
SPU’s hiring policy has been in the news since January, when former adjunct faculty member Jeaux Rinedahl sued the university in King County Superior Court after he learned he would not be given a full-time teaching position in the nursing program. Rinedahl claimed discrimination against him based on his sexual orientation. He is now teaching at Tacoma Community College.
After the lawsuit be-came known publicly early this year, a “Letter of Lament” was sent to the board in February, supporting all LGBTQ staff. The letter bore at least 1,400 signatures, with more names added since then.
Rinedahl told news media he hoped the support from faculty and students might spark changes in the university policy.
One senior female student who identifies as gay said students and alumni plan a campaign to discourage donations to the school, cut its ties to community organizations and work to decrease enrollment at SPU.