2013-15 Listening Process regarding Hiring Policy of Personnel in Covenanted Same-Sex Relationships

Why consider a policy change?

On November 16, 2013, the EMU Board of Trustees acknowledged that significant concerns had been raised in the EMU community regarding its hiring policy excluding people in same-sex covenanted relationships from employment.

The Board authorized then-president Loren Swartzendruber and his cabinet to design and oversee a six-month listening process to determine whether changes should be made to hiring policy and practices concerning individuals in covenanted same-sex relationships (monogamous, pledged for life and recognized by civil and/or religious authorities). The board also suspended personnel actions related to the hiring policy until a decision had been made.

Hiring practices for members of the Mennonite Education Agency are left to individual institutions. EMU did not have a specific policy prohibiting the employment of individuals in same-sex relationships, however, sections both EMU’s Community Lifestyle Commitment and the Mennonite Church USA Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective provided basis for discrimination. At that time, faculty, staff and students were required to sign the CLC, and tenure track faculty applicants discuss differences of belief with the Confession of Faith with the president.

To consider a larger context, the Mennonite Church USA (and virtually all other denominations) has been struggling with the question of church participation, membership, and ordination for those in same-sex relationships for many years. Some Catholic and Protestant Christian colleges openly allow such employment, while others have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” practice. Debate over same-sex relationships exists among the most respected theologians and church leaders of our time.


The listening process took place from January to June 2014. No decisions were to be made simply on the basis of responses, but President Swartzendruber, in consultation with the president’s cabinet, would present a recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The listening process was comprised of:

  • A survey, which revealed a wide variety of opinions from 7,000 responses. Faculty, staff and students were most supportive of hiring individuals in same-sex relationships, parents were least supportive, and alumni, donors and community members were about evenly split. Younger and more educated individuals were more likely to support hiring those in same-sex relationships.
  • On-campus discussions (both on-campus circle processes and student-led processes) involved about 300 people in 20 sessions. Participants highlighted the repercussions for all demographics involved, concern for EMU’s relationship with the church, and desire for continued dialogue after a decision was made.
  • Hundreds of personal conversations with alumni, donors and church leaders.

The complete final report from the listening process is available for reference in the library. On June 20, 2014, the Board of Trustees voted to defer formal action in regards to the hiring policy. The previous decision to suspend personnel actions related to the current hiring policy remained in effect until the non-discrimination update was made in 2015.

“EMU’s role as a university is to grapple with the difficult questions of our time,” Swartzendruber said. “From the beginning, we bathed this process in prayer, seeking God’s guidance. We also received encouragement from numerous church leaders and members to stay engaged with the Mennonite Church as we wrestle with these questions.”

On July 16, 2015, the EMU Board of Trustees passed, by majority vote, an update to EMU’s non-discrimination statement. The following, which was expanded to include employees in same-sex marriages concerning hiring practices and benefits, is part of official university policy.

EMU does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or any legally protected status. As a religious institution,EMU expressly reserves its rights, its understandings of, and its commitments to the historic Anabaptist identity and the teachings of Mennonite Church USA, and reserves the legal right to hire and employ individuals who support the values of the university.

“As always, EMU’s hiring processes will continue to focus on hiring individuals who are the best fit for the position for which EMU is recruiting, and who are committed to EMU’s mission and core values,” said Kay Brenneman Nussbaum, board chair at the time. “This decision is in keeping with our commitment to non-discrimination and our mission as a Christ-centered, liberal arts academic institution,” continued Nussbaum. “Our education is grounded in Mennonite/Anabaptist values, and we believe people in same-sex covenanted relationships are valued members of our learning community with equal rights to standard benefits.”

Then-President Loren Swartzendruber assured EMU employees at a July 20 gathering: “In making this decision, the board affirmed EMU’s strong commitment to our relationship with Mennonite Church USA even while the denomination continues its discernment.”

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