Frequently Asked Questions about Listening Process

Published January 2, 2014

WHAT ACTION DID THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES TAKE IN NOVEMBER 2013?

The board delegated to the President’s Cabinet the responsibility to design and implement a listening process. The full text of the action can be seen on the Listening Project home page.

WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERMCOVENANTED RELATIONSHIP?”

The term “covenanted relationships” refers to couples in monogamous relationships pledged for life and recognized by civil and/or religious authorities.

WHAT IS THE TIME FRAME FOR THE LISTENING PROCESS?

The formal listening process approved by the EMU Board of Trustees is from January through June 2014. The president, in consultation with the President’s Cabinet, will report to the board in its June 2014 meeting. The board may accept, modify, or choose not to approve any recommendations that are submitted by the president.

WHAT WILL THE PROCESS LOOK LIKE?

The listening process will include interviews with individuals, focus group conversations, and surveys. The president will be meeting with a number of denominational and church leadership groups throughout the January-June period.

WHO ESTABLISHES HIRING POLICIES FOR THE INSTITUTION?

The Board of Trustees has the authority to set any policy it wishes to adopt for the institution. Many human resource practices and policies are set by the administration. The particular question being addressed now, whether GLBT individuals in long term covenanted relationships may be hired by the institution, is within the purview of the board.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT PROCESS FOR HIRING FACULTY MEMBERS AND SENIOR ADMINISTRATORS?

Finalist candidates for tenure track positions (faculty members expected to be employed with multiple year contracts) are interviewed by the president. They have written a faith statement and have been asked to read the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. The president regularly asks candidates to identify any articles of the COF with which they are unfamiliar and/or for which they have a different perspective. An increasing number of prospective and current faculty members have been expressing a variety of opinions concerning Article 19, which states, in part, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.”

In addition to writing a faith statement, most faculty and staff (and all undergraduate students) are asked to sign the Community Lifestyle Commitment which includes the following, “…I recognize my responsibility as a member of the community to refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage…” EMU does not currently have a specific human resources policy prohibiting the employment of individuals in same-sex relationships but the practice of signing the CLC effectively acts as a hiring policy.

There are other articles in the COF on which we do not have consensus and for which the university has made exceptions to be more inclusive. Some faculty and staff have not experienced adult baptism. Some do not espouse the historic peace position of Anabaptists and the Mennonite Church. For many years we have allowed for divorced and remarried people to be employed at EMU though the COF clearly states “marriage is for life.”

The university is tightly linked to Mennonite Church USA and will remain so. At the same time our student body, faculty, and staff reflect a wide range of denominational and theological perspectives. It would be impossible to gain complete affirmation for every article in the COF (and a lack of integrity to claim otherwise) as a condition of employment at EMU or any Mennonite institution.

It is also important to underscore that a university linked to a denomination does not function as a congregation. Our roles are different. Accreditation agencies are increasingly concerned about policies that are perceived to be discriminatory.

WOULD EMU BE THE FIRST CHRISTIAN COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY TO HIRE PERSONS IN SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS IF THE POLICY IS CHANGED?

No. Many colleges in the Catholic and mainline Protestant Christian traditions allow for same-sex persons to be employed. In addition, some colleges have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” practice, including some who are members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.

WHY IS THIS QUESTION BEING ADDRESSED NOW?

The Mennonite Church USA, and virtually all denominations, has been struggling with these questions for many years. We are sharply divided in our opinions. While we are entering a more formal process to gather feedback from EMU stakeholders, the fact is that we have been listening for many years. We acknowledge that we will not come to consensus internally or externally at the end of a six month listening process.

A growing number of EMU students (gay and straight), like young adults in the larger culture, do not see the matter of same-sex relationships as a significant issue. Our students, for the most part, want to participate in the church and some do not think that persons in same-sex relationships should be barred from church membership or from employment in church colleges.

The president has frequently said, “As a church college we will debate every issue the church is, or should be, debating.” For any congregation or college to claim this question has been settled is to deny reality. In any group of any size, families are facing these questions; some choose to remain silent or to leave if they do not feel they can be honest.

WILL THE INSTITUTION EXPERIENCE CONFLICT DURING THIS LISTENING PROCESS?

Yes. There is no way to avoid significant conflict. Doing nothing will not avoid conflict. We desire to bathe the process in prayer, engage each other with respect and civility, and maintain relationships so far as that is humanly possible.

WHO LEADS ON THESE QUESTIONS, THE CHURCH OR THE UNIVERSITY?

The Mennonite Church is a confessional, not a creedal, church. We have never had complete agreement on every article of faith in our confessions of faith. Historically, changes in practice have almost always preceded changes in official statements, e.g., prayer veiling for women, attitudes toward slavery, women in leadership, divorce and remarriage.

WHAT ABOUT THE PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE THAT SEEM SO CLEAR ON HOMOSEXUALITY?

Scriptural and theological study are ongoing disciplines at EMU. During this listening process, it is not our desire to enter into theological debate when some of the most respected theologians and church leaders do not agree on interpretation. Rather, it is our desire to focus on relationships and prayer in a way that reflects the life and love of Christ in the midst of deeply held beliefs and values.