Looking Deeper at EMU's Decision to Delay Hiring Policy Change

By: Carly Stephenson Email
By: Carly Stephenson Email
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- After six months of surveys, interviews, focus groups and prayer, Eastern Mennonite University delayed making a decision on hiring people in same-sex relationships.

In a broader sense, the gay marriage debate is something several Christian denominations are discussing.

"I think once people get to know a gay person or two and see that it is possible for them to be both gay and be living a Christian life, that idea of mutually-exclusive characteristics fades away," explained Darian Harnish, who graduated from EMU in 2013.

As a Mennonite alumnus who identifies as gay, he said his time on campus didn't involve bullying. Instead, he helped others become more open about their sexual orientation, which is something that may not have been welcomed 10 years ago.

"We've seen a lot more openness," continued Harnish.

In 2009, he helped re-start Safe Space, a campus group that supports the lesbian gay bi-sexual transgender community.

Although the group leaves a mark across campus, Erin Nafziger, a student leader with Safe Space, still worries about equality, "There are some professors that don't feel like they would be safe on this campus if we didn't have a non-discriminatory clause in our hiring policy."

The policy reads in part, "I recognize my responsibility as a member of the community to refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage."

Currently, that policy is suspended.

The board voted to respect their relationship with Mennonite Church USA as the church itself has not taken a definite stance on the issue.

Some advocates on campus are hopeful for a policy change, but others off campus question what a policy suspension will mean for the university right now.

Rev. John Sloop with the Valley Family Forum worries a suspension will mean hiring same-sex couples. He believes the suggested change was made by looking to culture, instead of the Bible, "They're not only in contempt of the doctrines and the policies and polities of the Mennonite Church, they're in contempt of the Word of God."

However, others see the policy suspension from another side. "We're not gonna fully accept you, but we're going to have it both ways, so it's a little half hearted," said Nafziger.

This is a debate not limited to the Mennonite Church. Other denominations, including Baptist, Church of the Brethren and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), struggle with how to handle same-sex couples.

"There are those who would like to see that change occur and there are those who are strongly opposed to that change," said Roy Martin, who works as the transitional presbyter for the Presbytery of Shenandoah, the group over Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Churches in West Virginia and Virginia.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted in June to allow churches to independently decide views on gay marriage.

"Even if the laws in West Virginia and Virginia were going to change regarding same-sex marriage, it is still up to the conscience of the individual pastors and of the churches involved as to whether or not they will perform same-sex marriages," continued Martin, "We do not dictate to our folks what they must believe regarding this issue."

They too are hoping time can produce answers. Members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have until next June to decide their stance on same-sex relationships.

EMU Associate Professor David Brubaker is open to change on campus. He helped organize on-campus group sessions allowing students to share their opinions.

"That is what most has changed me, is simply having those personal relationships with people who are Christian and who are gay or Lesbian, and realizing that we are all in this struggle together," said Brubaker, "If we would always cut off relationships with people with whom we disagree, we would have no relationships left."

Despite differing opinions about a policy change at EMU, Sloop said the argument isn't against a certain group.

"It's a very hypocritical, deceitful, position that they hold," said Sloop.

"Anywhere that people are being excluded based on other things besides their own merit is an example of a social injustice and this would fall under that," said Nafziger.

She hopes the same-sex couple debate ends with EMU being a university like no other where thy word is truth.

While we reached out to EMU President Loren Swartzendruber, but he was out of town during the interview process.

The next board meeting at EMU is scheduled for November.

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