(RNS) – The Calvin University board of trustees has authorized a group of faculty members to object to a clause in a confession of faith that considers sex outside of heterosexual marriage a sin, allowing them to continue working in the Christian school while respecting their convictions.
The board’s vote on Friday (October 28), to accept each of the faculty’s denominational hardship statements, means they can remain in good standing at the school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is 100% owned by the Christian Church. Reformed, a Dutch Calvinist denomination of approximately 200,000 members. The school did not release the names or number of teachers who dissented, saying they were confidential.
The declaration of denominational difficulty, sometimes also called “gravamen”, was necessary after the annual synod of the Reformed Christian Church voted this summer to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the rank of confession or statement of faith.
Professors hired by Calvin University must sign a document stating that their beliefs align with a set of historical Christian beliefs and denominations, such as the Nicene Creed and the Heidelberg Catechism. The faculty manual says they must “teach, speak and write in harmony with the denominations”.
But many teachers at the 146-year-old school no longer argue that sex outside heterosexual marriage is a sin. And they want to support LGBTQ students on campus.
“It’s a question of integrity,” said Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a history professor at Calvin, who was among the original group of faculty members who asked permission to oppose the CRC’s position. on sex. “I felt it was necessary to register my dissent so that I could clearly know if this was a space where I could continue to work or if I no longer corresponded to the mission of the community.”
The university is known in the world of Christian higher education for its supportive and pastoral approach to LGBTQ students. It allows a group of students, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, to operate on campus and in the 2020-21 academic year, the university did not contest a openly gay student chairman of the body.
The university, however, does not allow students to have sex before marriage and defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Those rules will not change, a university spokesperson said.
This year Calvin did not renew two-year appointment of a professor after agreeing to officiate a same-sex marriage. This marriage also led the university to sever ties with its long-standing research center, the Center for Social Research, where one of the marriage partners worked.
In a statement, Calvin board chairman Bruce Los said the university benefits from having “diverse perspectives among its faculty while remaining committed to upholding the denominational standards of the CRC.”
He also said the council had received support from the church’s synod in granting teachers the right to speak out on the issue.
However, the question is not resolved. Granting the faculty’s wishes, the board said it would revise guidelines for faculty on how to continue their work in a way that respects the authority of the denomination but also protects their academic freedom.
Revised guidelines are expected in the coming weeks.
“Our desire is for Calvin to be a place where even our disagreements are characterized by love, charity and grace,” Provost Noah Toly said in an email. “We hope this process and outcome can serve as a model for others as we continue to grapple with important issues.”
A university spokesperson said applicants for faculty positions will be asked to affirm Calvin’s denominational standards. If they cannot, they will have to submit a gravamen to the Professional Status Committee and the Board of Directors before being hired.
The Reverend Zachary King, general secretary of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, said Calvin had a long history of denominational commitment and academic freedom.
The university, King said, “enables dialogue and research on a range of issues affecting theology and doctrine. ”
When asked how she felt after the board’s decision, Benita Wolters-Fredlund, dean of the School of Humanities, wrote in an email to Religion News Service that she had many reactions. including “relief that my job was spared, as well as the jobs of other band members that I care about deeply” and “gratitude to the board for a response that emphasized unity rather than on discord”.
“I hope this decision will allow us to focus on the common work of equipping students to be agents of Christ’s renewal,” Wolters-Fredlund wrote.