Eastern Mennonite University could be the first Mennonite institution to formally reverse its policy that prohibits tenure-track faculty from engaging in same-sex relationships. Currently, openly gay professors in same-sex relationships are not eligible for employment. If they want to work at the university, they must keep their relationship statuses a secret.
That may be changing.
University President Loren Swartzendruber announced a six-month “listening period” to review the policy beginning in January. During the review process, faculty will not be penalized for “violating the policy” (a.k.a. being themselves).
“As a Christian university it is our responsibility to engage in community discussion and discernment over issues that Mennonite congregations – indeed almost all denominations in the United States today – are wrestling with,” Swartzendruber said during a forum for faculty and staff.
Although faculty members and students have been advocating for a policy reversal for years, Swartzendruber said a formal study will help the university gauge the extent of support for the change. Given the faith’s focus on social justice on one hand and its commitment to biblical values on the other, he said, there’s still “tension” over homosexuality.
The six-month listening period will grant students, faculty, staff, and administration an opportunity to engage in an open dialog, free of judgement or consequences. It will include focus groups, surveys, and interviews conducted by the president and his cabinet.
The ultimate goal, Swartzendruber said, will be “to find ways to be in conversation with each other without denigrating the other person’s faith, how important they think the Bible is, and all that.”
Evolution is a slow process, but at least the university is taking a step in the right direction. We’re willing to give the folks at Eastern Mennonite University a thumbs up for now, but no high fives until the policy is officially reversed for good.