Oh my! It appears that we have an actual reference to a doctrinal “covenant” in a Religion News Service report about a First Amendment battle between the leaders of a private Christian university and the pro-LGBTQ members of their faculty, student body and alumni.
Journalists almost always ignore the role of “lifestyle” or “doctrinal” covenants in defining the boundaries of the life and work of private schools, which are voluntary associations. It’s always important to ask if faculty, staff and students are asked to sign these covenants, in which they (the details vary) agree to support the doctrinal foundations of the school or, at the very least, not to attack them.
This is an issue your GetReligionistas have written about 100+ times or more during the past 20 years.
The fact that this latest fight is happening at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego will not surprise anyone familiar with the recent history of denominational life in the Church of the Nazarene. But that’s another story for another day. The reality is that there are hidden schisms in the faculties of many Christian colleges and universities, when it comes to issues of centuries of Christian moral theology.
Thus, back to the RNS report: “LGBTQ group condemns Point Loma Nazarene University for theology dean’s dismissal.” The subhead is also important: “The university denies charges by Lauren Cazares, founder of Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition, that the dean of the school of theology was terminated for ‘anything related to the LGBTQIA+ community.’ “
There is next to nothing surprising in this report. RNS editors included zero comments from insiders or experts who disagree with the viewpoints voiced over and over by the LGBTQIA+ activists who provided material for this “news” report. There is one quote from a university spokesperson who notes that the administration, due to privacy laws, cannot discuss the dismissal of a faculty member.
But, hey, there is one reference to “doctrine” in this story! Let’s start with the overture:
A coalition of LGBTQ alumni of Point Loma Nazarene University — a private Christian liberal arts college in San Diego — is protesting the firing of the dean of the university’s school of theology, who they say was dismissed for siding with an adjunct professor who was let go due to her own public support for the LGBTQ community.
Mark Maddix, the dean for the school of theology and Christian ministry, was fired on March 15 by the university’s chief academic officer, Kerry Fulcher, according to an April 5 statement released by alumna Lauren Cazares, who founded Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition earlier this year.
“With no previous disciplinary actions or concerns, Dr. Mark Maddix was fired due to what the provost claims as ‘insubordination’ for his support of former adjunct professor and minister Melissa Tucker,” Cazares said. Instead, the statement charges, Maddix was fired “for not standing by the homophobic and discriminatory decision,” to remove Tucker from her adjunct position.
With that as a backdrop, let’s jump down to the crucial material in this story:
… Tucker released a statement, acknowledging that she was “blocked from teaching because of my belief.” Tucker learned in January that she would no longer be allowed to teach at PLNU because of her “progressive views on human sexuality.”
As adjunct, Tucker said she respected the covenant of the school, which contains a statement rejecting sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage, by not explicitly sharing her views with students in the classroom, “which is consistent with my pedagogical practice regardless of subject matter.”
Tucker also detailed her March 2020 decision to leave her associate pastor role at San Diego First Church of the Nazarene, as she grew increasingly discontent with the tension between the church’s position on human sexuality and her own convictions. She relinquished her ordination credentials in 2021 and accepted a pastoral position at Normal Heights United Methodist Church.
The key: This adjunct “respected” the doctrinal covenant, but readers are not told whether she was required or asked to sign it. It is important, of course, that she has — for doctrinal reasons — chosen to leave the Church of the Nazarene.
There is no question that full-time employees are asked to sign this document (background here). My question is whether this is true for adjuncts.
Meanwhile, would it help readers to hear from ANYONE who affirms the teachings of the denomination that built and operates this university. How about a quote from the covenant itself? It isn’t hard to find the faculty handbook online (.pdf here).
It would also be interesting to know if there are traditional Nazarene voices — not limited by the laws affecting the administrators — who could comment on these crucial words from Tucker in which she claims that she refrained from “explicitly sharing her views with students in the classroom.” Would anyone disagree? Also, would her former church have recordings of any sermons or forums?
Here’s another question: How have these disputes affected the ties that bind PLNU to its denominational leaders? Have there been tensions, actions or discussions at the national level?
The bottom line is that the heart of this story is a schism INSIDE the PLNU community. By it’s very nature, a schism is painful and tends to create a three-way split in the community.
Three-way? Yes, there are (1) those who oppose the doctrines in question, those who (2) are willing to openly support the doctrinal covenant and those who (3) want to keep the whole dispute private, hoping that it will simply go away.
The problem is that reporters tend to call leaders in group (3) for comments and, of course, they decline to do so. Reporters rarely seek out members of group (2) because, frankly, most journalists do not want to talk to them — since they are clearly wrong and their wrong-think might offend the newspaper’s remaining readers. Reporters build their stories on leaders in group (1) because that’s who called the newsroom in the first place.
In other words, there isn’t a single sentence in this report that could not have been dictated, word for word, by the leaders of the LGBTQIA+ coalition at Point Loma Nazarene. That’s the new normal.
Did I miss something that breaks the public-relations framework of this story?
The final quote states the obvious: The goal here is to change the teachings of the host denomination. Clearly, that would be for the greater good that is supported by the leaders of the newsroom.
Marshela Salgado-Solorio, who graduated from PLNU and is now an associate Disciples of Christ minister in San Diego at University Christian Church, said Maddix’s firing illustrates why she left the Church of the Nazarene.
“If there is anything that Mark is guilty of in this situation, it’s loving as God loves — radically and inclusively, and it goes against the principles of top leaders at PLNU,” she said in a Facebook statement.
Again, what did I miss in this RNS report?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from ABC Channel 10 feature on LGBTQ activists at Point Loma Nazarene University.
MAIN IMAGE: Feature art at “Loma 5k LGBTQ Team: PLNU Queer Alumni Demand Visibility” feature at the LomaBeat.com website.