SPU Statement on Human Sexuality

The following history of SPU’s Statement on Human Sexuality (SoHS) has been reconstructed by members of the LGBTQIA+ Work Group and Faculty Council who have interviewed several current and past members of faculty and administration and also researched old handbooks, catalogs, meeting minutes, and archived email conversations among faculty and staff, particularly those regarding the Equality Ride visit and the formation of the student club Haven (2007-2011).


In the early 1990s, after a campus controversy over a course on human sexuality and in the midst of increasing LGBTQ activism in Seattle (which included some openly gay individuals applying for jobs at SPU), SPU’s President Curtis Martin asked Dennis Guernsey, director of family psychology programs at SPU, and a few other faculty to author a document that would outline the University’s stance on human sexuality matters and could serve as an administrative policy document for hiring managers.

The resulting Statement on Human Sexuality, completed in 1993, remained within the province of administration. The Board was advised of the existence of the policy, but they provided no input on the policy, nor did they hold any vote to formally approve the policy. There is also no record of faculty governance providing input, feedback, or official approval regarding the policy. Some official President’s Cabinet minutes show that a copy of the statement was distributed to all faculty and staff after it was approved by the administration. In 2005, the SoHS was lightly revised by administration with input from select faculty; the most substantive addition was a paragraph explicitly underscoring the Statement’s alignment with the teachings of the historic Christian church and the Free Methodist denomination.

A potential precursor to the 1993 SoHS is a brief paper written by an SPU theology professor in 1991 called “Homosexuality: A Discussion Paper.” The paper was written at the request of Sam Dunn, Vice President of Academic Affairs, in response to protests on and off campus regarding the health sciences course “HSC 2035 Human Sexuality.” In the spring of 1990, three SPU students (who had never enrolled in HSC 2035) lodged a complaint regarding the course’s content and its textbook, Our Sexuality, by Robert L. Crooks and Karla Baur; the controversy, which garnered local and even some national attention, caused the Board of Trustees to temporarily suspend the tenure process for one of the instructors of the course. According to the recollection of the 1991 paper’s author (who no longer possesses a copy), the paper asserted that the university should prohibit any kind of sexual practice that takes place outside of marriage, and it made a distinction between sexual identity and sexual practice. The author understood the paper to be helping to answer curricular and pedagogical questions about the teaching of sexuality, not to govern student or employee conduct.

Purpose & Use

As suggested by its own distinction between identity and practice, the 1993 SoHS was not intended to deny employment to applicants based on their sexual orientation but to deny it based on an applicant’s unwillingness to abide by certain conduct and behavior expectations. At least initially, the SoHS’s primary purpose was to defend to outsiders SPU’s religious right not to hire “practicing” gay and lesbian individuals, should questions about SPU’s employment practices arise. Inconspicuous and relatively inaccessible for long stretches of campus history, the SoHS was not originally designed to be an article of faith by which the SPU community would define itself. Nor was it a foundational document from which a hiring practice emerged; rather, it was developed to justify practices that were already operative but not articulated. Although the SoHS was distributed to faculty and staff, it was not thereafter highly or consistently visible; an administrative memo from 2001 notes that “there is no public information about [the SoHS’s] availability” and describes the institutional approach to LGBTQ issues as “don’t ask don’t tell.” The SoHS figured little if at all in campus ethos and conversation until students began LGBTQ advocacy efforts in concert with Equality Ride’s visit to SPU’s campus in 2007. It has never been prominently featured on SPU’s website, and it is still (as of 2022) difficult to find unless searched for by name.

The SoHS & Employee Lifestyle Expectations

Just as the connection between the SoHS and SPU’s institutional identity has been obscure, so too has been the connection between the SoHS and SPU’s employee policies. The Faculty Employment Handbook, which “contains the approved policies and procedures of the University concerning the terms and conditions of [faculty] employment,” has never explicitly mentioned the SoHS or any sexual conduct policy other than those regarding sexual harassment and amorous relationships with students. The employee conduct policies regarding extramarital sex and cohabitation are expressed only within the SPU Employee Handbook, which is accessible to SPU employees online behind a firewall (since 2021, the conduct policies have been made accessible to non-SPU employees). The Faculty Employment Handbook in fact made no mention even of the SPU Employee Handbook until the 2017-18 version, which added the following language to its preface: “Certain policies applying to all employees of the University are housed in the SPU Employee Handbook and the Employee Benefits Handbook, maintained by the Office of Human Resources.” Section 7.6 of the 2017-18 Faculty Handbook (and subsequent versions) also briefly mentions the Employee Handbook but only generically alludes to “sexual conduct policies” by which employees must abide.

Even within the Employee Handbook, the allusion to same-sex activity long remained oblique and inductive. Soon after the 1993 SoHS was written until at least 2004, the “Employee Lifestyle Expectations” section of the Employee Handbook read as follows regarding its sexual conduct policy:

[University employees are expected to refrain from] Sexually immoral behavior which is inconsistent with Biblical standards*

*For more information, see the University’s official statement on human sexuality (copies available in the Office of Human Resources).

Readers had to make an inferential leap across physically separated documents to understand what this policy prohibited. In 2007, email discussion among faculty on FacNet in anticipation of Equality Ride’s visit to campus suggests that the SoHS was still a hard-copy document that was not incorporated directly into the Employee Handbook nor available online. Some faculty expressed only foggy memories of it and some had no memory of it at all. President Eaton’s email to the community on March 14, 2007 did include a web link to the 2005 version SoHS (likely its online debut), as well as a link to “Community Expectations” for students taken from the online 2006-07 Undergraduate Catalog (which, unlike the faculty and employee Handbooks, explicitly forbids “homosexual sexual activities” but still directs students to the Office of Human Resources for a copy of the SoHS).

The 2017 online Employee Handbook added some specific language to the sexual conduct policy but still refrained from listing same-sex activity, including instead a hyperlink to the 2005 SoHS.

[University employees are expected to refrain from] Sexually immoral behavior which is inconsistent with Biblical standards, including cohabitation and extramarital sexual activity. (See the University’s Statement on Human Sexuality).

It was not until June 2021, after the Rinedahl suit, that the online Employee Handbook finally listed same-sex sexual activity as prohibited for employment.

[University employees are expected to refrain from] Sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University’s understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity. (See the University’s Statement on Human Sexuality).

The SOHS & The hiring Process

Because of the historical obscurity of both the conduct policy and the SoHS, the SoHS has not been a prominent part of the application and hiring process over the years.

Affirming SPU’s Statement of Faith has been an essential requirement for hiring all tenure-track faculty and staff for several decades. When President Eaton debuted the revamped Statement of Faith in 2004, he noted that it would be used as part of the hiring process, “just as we have done in the past.” According to Faculty Employee Handbook stipulations, faculty are required to write essays that engage the Statement of Faith not only at the point of hiring but also in every application for tenure and for promotion, expounding on how they understand the Statement of Faith in relation to their own faith tradition as well as to their pedagogy, research, and service.

But there has been no official policy or practice that has required employees, whether faculty or staff, to explicitly affirm the Statement on Human Sexuality. At the point of hiring, prospective employees have typically been asked to affirm that they have read and agree to abide by the conduct policies in the Employee Handbook, but as noted above, it was not until approximately 2007 that the SoHS was readily available online, and not until 2021 that the Employee Handbook explicitly referred to same-sex sexual activity. This helps explain why many long-term faculty expressed ignorance of the policy before the 2007 Equality Ride visit to SPU brought it to the fore, and also why it may have escaped the notice of faculty who were hired later, once Haven secured official club status in 2013 and campus discussions on LGBTQ questions subsided. In the last decade, there was a period of a few years when Human Resources personnel gave prospective employees (both faculty and staff) the impression that the Statement on Human Sexuality was equivalent to the Statement of Faith in importance and required a similar affirmation, but this practice ceased once it was discovered by administration, as it was not commensurate with the original purpose of the SoHS to regulate conduct, not belief.

There has historically been a great deal of confusion about when and how the sexual conduct policy, which is technically a firing-for-cause policy rather than a hiring policy, should be brought into the application and hiring process; in a Seattle Times op ed, former SPU faculty member Dyana Herron provides one account of how this policy focused on behavior could slip into identity discrimination if not properly handled. There has also been ongoing confusion as to whether adjunct faculty applicants must be (and have been consistently) held to same conduct standards as staff and full-time, tenure track faculty.

The SoHS & Student Conduct Expectations

From at least 2002 until 2014, the student lifestyle expectations for sexual behavior read as follows in the Undergraduate Catalog: “Behaviors for which students or student organizations are subject to disciplinary action include….3. Cohabitation and related forms of premarital, extramarital, or homosexual sexual activities. For more information on the subject of sexuality, refer to SPU’s Statement on Human Sexuality, available in the Office of Student Life.” (A hyperlink to the SoHS was provided beginning in 2007.)

Sometime in 2014, the Office of Student Life (in conjunction with the Provost, President Dan Martin, and SPU’s legal counsel) began developing proposals to revise the language of this policy. Discussions about these changes had been happening with senior leadership and board members serving on the academic sub-committee since approximately 2011.

One concern for the OSL was the term homosexual, which was outdated and had derogatory connotations. Another pressing issue was that cohabitation was not clearly defined and the cohabitation policy was causing inequities of enforcement. Students were complaining that students in gay or lesbian relationships were able to cohabitate with their amorous partner, while platonic mixed-gender roommates would be penalized. Furthermore, OSL was more invested in cultivating a “sex only within marriage” norm for students than in policing any and all non-heterosexual behavior, especially given that Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

In the 2015 student lifestyle expectations, cohabitation was more precisely defined as “unmarried students in an amorous relationship living together,” and the reference and hyperlink to SPU’s Statement on Human Sexuality moved to a more prominent position in the preamble to the Behavioral and Community Expectations section of the Student Handbook. In 2016, the outmoded phrase “Lifestyle Expectations” was changed to “Student Standards of Conduct,” and the sexual conduct policy was moved from rule #3 down to rule #8 in order to foreground academic integrity standards. In December 2018, OSL received administrative approval to eliminate the world homosexual from the student conduct standards, so that only extra-marital sexual activity and amorous cohabitation are prohibited. Around this time, the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (the student governance executive body) developed a petition to remove homosexual from standard #8, as well as replace the SoHS with a “Statement of Affirmation” and revise SPU’s nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity and gender orientation. Their petition was submitted to the Board in January 2019, after the changes to standard #8 had already been made. This removal of the prohibition against same-sex sexual activity for students ultimately received no objections from the Board of Trustees, although it went contrary to the “sexual purity” standards described in the Free Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.

President Eaton’s Message Re: Equality Ride, 2007

On March 14, 2007, President Eaton drew the campus’s attention to the existence of the Statement on Human Sexuality in anticipation of a visit from the LGBTQ activist group Equality Ride. Eaton says the SoHS expresses a position “long held” by SPU, but faculty email conversations from this time show that many were unaware the statement existed. Eaton also pointed to excerpts from the community standards for students in the 2006-07 Undergraduate Catalog, which prohibited “homosexual sexual activities.” These excerpts also acknowledge that two sources for the standards, “historic Christian tradition and the mission of the University” are “the most difficult to define because our community is diverse in its concerns over certain issues.”

SPU Guidelines for Equality Ride Visit, 2007

On March 14, 2007, SPU posted guidelines for hosting and engaging with Equality Ride during their visit on April 11, 2007.

SPU Statement on Human Sexuality 2005

The 2005 version of the SPU Statement on Human Sexuality available on SPU’s website (last accessed July 2022).

SPU Statement on Human Sexuality 2005, Revisions Highlighted

This copy of the 2005 version of the SoHS was found in the Office of Student Life in 2022. The green highlighting indicates the portions of the Statement that were revised from the 1993 version. The most substantive revision appears in the eighth paragraph, which explicitly underscores the Statement’s alignment with the teachings of the historic Christian church as well as of the Free Methodist denomination.

SPU Statement on Human Sexuality 1993

This copy of the 1993 version of the SoHS was found in the Office of Student Life in 2022. The yellow highlighting indicates the portions of the Statement that were revised for the 2005 version.