Since at least the 1990s, Seattle Pacific University has struggled both internally and publicly with the question of how Christians should engage issues of human sexuality and gender identity. These struggles came to a head in January 2021 when an adjunct instructor filed suit against SPU, alleging that he was denied the opportunity to apply for a full-time tenure-track position because he is gay.
The suit reignited past campus debates about SPU’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” and thrust into the spotlight the university’s Employee Lifestyle Expectation policy that regards same-sex sexual activity as grounds for dismissal. The ensuing theological and cultural disagreements among students, faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees revealed, perhaps more starkly than ever before, divergent conceptions about some fundamental aspects of SPU’s identity, including how we approach the interpretation of scripture; how we understand the diversity of student experiences and needs on campus; what we see as SPU’s mission within its geographical context; and what we think the relationship between a Christian university, the Christian church, and secular culture should be.
This site provides primary documents, timelines, historical context, and rationale for statements made and actions taken by SPU faculty since 2021 in response to campus controversies and Board actions related to human sexuality.
The site is intended to serve as
- a historical reference for current, former, and prospective SPU faculty, staff, students, administrators and trustees. To avoid the mistakes–and to build on the successes–of the past, we must have a thorough understanding of SPU’s institutional history and how human sexuality has figured uneasily in its mission and faith commitments;
- a living document, recording in real time how the campus continues to wrestle with issues of human sexuality and gender identity;
- an academic resource for other Christian higher ed institutions grappling with LGBTQ+ issues on their campuses, as well as for scholars and journalists investigating this topic. We hope to join with other Christian colleges and universities in a robust network of learning that can help us all draw nearer to godly wisdom.
SPU Faculty Action is maintained by SPU’s Faculty Council. The selection and description of events and documents strive to be inclusive, factual, and objective. The Third Way essay is written from a particular faculty perspective that nevertheless discusses multiple viewpoints in depth. The collective faculty perspective on human sexuality and gender identity at SPU is not monolithic, nor is it simply binary; rather, it contains a multidimensional matrix of conservative and progressive views. Such a matrix of perspectives helps keep a university vital and accountable as it continually seeks to investigate and understand God’s created world. In the midst of these diverging opinions, SPU faculty are united in our concern and love for students, our desire to invite and foster diversity of thought, and our commitment to living out our faith in Christ with as much integrity and authenticity as possible. However, we still have much work ahead in defining how to live up to these ideals in a way that is constructive and life-affirming for everyone.
The extended essay on the Third Way page outlines and advocates the vision of SPU recommended to the Board in April 2022 by SPU’s LGBTQIA+ Work Group (a shared governance group consisting of faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees). This vision focuses on SPU’s purpose as a Christian institution of higher learning, one which enables the community to welcome and thoroughly explore diverse perspectives on LGBTQIA+ issues by declining to take an official position in the ongoing church debates and allowing all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to be eligible for employment at SPU.
The site contains two Timelines: the main timeline records the events that transpired on SPU’s campus after the news of Jéaux Rinedahl’s lawsuit broke in January 2021. The pre-2021 timeline focuses primarily on the efforts of students to establish an LGBTQ+ campus club and to change the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality.” Both timelines contain links to relevant documents.
The Action Documents section provides statements and actions of the faculty, board, shared governance groups, and students in regard to various LGBTQ+ issues on campus. The Institutional Statements & Policies subsection highlights the documents that have been most frequently employed (and contested) in the current debates, providing historical context for their origin and evolution. The history of SPU’s Statement on Human Sexuality is of particular interest regarding the current controversies.
Members of the SPU community who wish to add content or report factual errors should contact the current Faculty Chair. Faculty at other Christian institutions seeking connection with SPU faculty on LGBTQ issues are also welcome to contact the Chair.