A few Christian colleges have moved in 2015 to change their rules to permit the hiring in some circumstances of gay and lesbian faculty members. Those colleges are in the distinct minority among evangelical colleges, most of which require faculty members, employees and students to abide by conduct codes that bar any sex except in heterosexual marriage.
At least one Christian institution in California, Biola University, has responded to shifts in public attitudes about sexuality and gender identity by twice in recent years making its rules more strict. While the university characterizes the changes as clarifications, some gay and lesbian employees have complained that the additions make it more difficult for them to sign a required statement that indicates their adherence to the college's rules.
Biola has long had a traditional statement of faith and code of conduct restricting sex to opposite-sex married couples, and new employees (faculty and staff members) must pledge their agreement to the statement when hired and then periodically. A new request to employees (not faculty members, who sign annually) resulted in some people seeing new language in the statements -- which they hadn't necessarily reviewed since being hired -- that made them fear for their jobs.
One statement, added in 2012, says: “Biblical marriage consists only of a faithful, heterosexual union between one genetic male and one genetic female, and biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship.” Biola officials say that this statement, while more clear than past statements, is consistent with what appeared in prior documents, and does not reflect an actual change or addition.
The other changes, made last year, state that “any act of sexual intimacy between two persons of the same sex” is immoral, and bar “the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one's birth sex” or “attempts to change one's given biological birth sex via medical intervention.”
Jenna Loumagne, a spokeswoman for the college, said via email that these statements were consistent with past statements by the college. But she acknowledged that these were new details, in part because of changes in society.
"Biola's Articles of Faith, Standards of Conduct and more particularly the theological distinctives on sanctity of life and traditional marriage are not new," she said. "They have been a part of Biola's religious convictions throughout its 100-plus years of existence and are in keeping with orthodox Christian thought for centuries. Because of the recent shifts in Western culture regarding abortion on demand, marriage and sexual ethics, the governing board of the university has responded by adopting specific language that reiterates Biola's sincerely held religious beliefs on these issues. The transgender statement was approved and added to the employee handbook in 2014. Again, this is not something new, but simply a further expression of Biola's longstanding and serious convictions on the sanctity of life and biblical marriage and sexual ethics. As Christians, we are called to love all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender and we as a community strive to do so while also affirming the core religious values of the university."
The changes in Biola's statements were first reported by The Advocate, which interviewed employees who -- anonymously -- expressed fear for their jobs if they did not sign the affirmations or indicated (as one can do) that they have reservations about parts of the policies.
"It’s not a conversation I want to have with my employer and I cannot risk my family’s financial well-being at this point in time," one of these employees told The Advocate.
Loumagne told Inside Higher Ed that failure to support all parts of the university's statements did not mean employees would automatically be fired. But she acknowledged that disagreeing would lead to a set of discussions.
"Disagreeing with the two theological distinctives does not de facto mean that an employee has a short-term employment future at Biola," she said. "What it may mean is that an administrator or another representative at Biola will process the employee’s concerns with them to understand the differences and to discern with the employee on their fit into this covenantal community over the long term. Biola is not a judgmental community. Biola desires to be as strong on grace as we are on truth."
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