Andy Dula, chair of the trustees, is shown speaking while President Loren Swartzendruber listens. Photo by Jon Styer

Listening process ends, waiting period continues

After a six-month listening process that engaged a broad range of stakeholders, including Mennonite Church USA, the board of trustees of EMU postponed formal action regarding its hiring policy pertaining to individuals in covenanted same-sex relationships.

The November 2013 board decision to suspend personnel actions related to the current hiring policy remains in effect as discernment continues.

In offering his public appreciation to President Loren Swartzendruber ’76, MDiv ’79, DMin, and his leadership team, Andy Dula ’91, chair of the EMU board of trustees, said, “I am proud to be part of EMU, a university where contentious issues can be engaged with mutual respect and with Christian discernment and compassion. We are extremely grateful for President Swartzendruber’s leadership during this challenging time.”

Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency – which liaisons with six Mennonite higher education institutions – said: “The process was consistent with how the church engages in discernment around difficult issues.”

The president’s cabinet invited a wide range of constituents – including students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and church leaders – to fill out survey forms giving their views on EMU’s hiring policy, which to date restricts hiring to those who are single and celibate or those in recognized marriages. More than 7,000 people participated in the survey.

In addition, 20 “dialogue sessions” were held on campus, encompassing about 300 individuals. At least one president’s cabinet member was present at each session to listen and report perspectives without attribution to the rest of the cabinet. The president and cabinet members also engaged leaders across the church.

“The listening process was extremely valuable in enabling the president’s cabinet to gain a deeper understanding of the range of feelings, hopes and fears about extending university employment to persons in same-sex covenanted relationships,” said Dula.

“Based on this feedback, we acknowledge that the church is currently engaged in extensive discernment over human sexuality. We wish to honor our relationship with the church by not taking a final action now on changing EMU’s hiring policy.”

Swartzendruber emphasized that the listening process was never viewed as a “democratic process” with the outcome determined by the most votes, but rather “as a way of hearing from those who care deeply about EMU.”

Swartzendruber confirmed that views proved to be highly divergent and often passionate, regardless of the stance. “We never expected to see consensus on this matter,” said Swartzendruber. “We were hoping for respectful dialogue, and indeed this is what we saw within our university community. Internally there was a consistent theme of wanting to maintain unity in spite of our diversity on these and other important issues.

“EMU’s role as a university is to grapple with the difficult questions of our time,” he added. “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.”

Dula said the board has no definite timetable for making a final hiring policy decision. “We’ll consider what emerges in the wider church in making our plans,” he said.

The board’s official statement, passed by a strong majority vote on June 20, 2014, reads in part:

We reaffirm EMU’s mission—to prepare students to serve and lead in a diverse global society—and EMU’s role as a university that fully engages the difficult questions of our time and welcomes diverse perspectives and experiences into the conversation. Out of respect for EMU’s relationship with Mennonite Church USA and its ongoing discernment of human sexuality, we defer action on formally changing EMU’s policy on hiring employees in covenanted same-sex relationships.