Earlier this week, Goshen College employee Tabi Berkey resigned from her job explaining that as a lesbian she often worried she would be found in violation of the school’s requirement that employees only engage in heterosexual monogamous sexual relationships.
In an open letter posted on Facebook, Berkey asked college administrators to “please...end this discrimination.”
Here are the answers to five questions about the issue:
1. What is Goshen College’s stance on employing LGBTQ people?
Because the college is part of Mennonite Church USA, all employees are required to agree to a document called the “commitment to community standards” at the time they are hired, according to Jodi Beyeler, interim communications director for Goshen College.
These standards say, in part, that sex should be between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship.
However, Beyeler said, these standards do not prevent the college from hiring someone who is attracted to people of their same sex.
“Our expectation is that the person would remain celibate,” she said.
2. Is that legal?
According to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, yes.
Brad Meadows, deputy director of external affairs for ICRC, said there’s no Indiana or federal law that prevents an employer from hiring someone — or not hiring them — based on their sexual orientation or preferences.
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that an employer can’t make hiring decisions based solely on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Indiana law says an employer can’t discriminate based on disability (physical or mental), national origin, ancestry, race, color, religion or gender.
“These are the only classes protected under the law,” Meadows explained. “I hesitate to say that...but under the law, that’s the way it is.”
Meadows said his office gets occasional complaints of LGBTQ employment discrimination, but “at this time, we are not able to provide any resources.”
3. Could Goshen College’s board change the hiring policy independently of the Mennonite Church?
Goshen College’s board reports to the Mennonite Education Agency, which serves as something of a middleman between Mennonite schools and the Mennonite church as a whole.
Carlos Romero, executive director of the Mennonite Education Agency, said Goshen College would only change its hiring policy in partnership with the church.
When asked if the college could leave the Mennonite church and change the policy on its own, Romero said “That is just not who we are...it’s not how we operate; it’s not how we work.”
He pointed out that core Mennonite beliefs include peacekeeping and working together to come up with solutions to challenging issues.
“If the time comes when the Goshen College board would change their hiring policy, they would be doing that as part of a larger process of communication and conversation with the denomination,” he said.
4. If Goshen College left the Mennonite church over this issue, would there be a financial impact?
Goshen College gets most of its funding from individual donations, according to Jim Caskey, vice president of institutional advancement for the school.
Many of those donors are members of Mennonite churches, so there could be some financial impact on the school if it was no longer affiliated with the church, he said.
But the school’s largest source of income (about two-thirds of the overall budget) comes from tuition, room and board from students.
“If we left the church and kids didn't come (to the school) because of that, that would be a greater impact than anything,” he said.
But Romero, who’s with the Mennonite Education Agency, said this issue of changing the hiring policy isn't about money.
“We have not fundamentally focused these questions around same-gender issues as an issue of funding,” he said. “It’s really focused on theological understanding and interpretations of scripture.“
5. Does this issue impact other Mennonite schools?
Eastern Mennonite University, located in Harrisonburg, Va., is considering a change to its hiring policy regarding LGBTQ people.
The school’s board started a “listening process” in January and will come up with a decision by June.
Romero, who’s with the Mennonite Education Agency, said he’s been part of many conversations and meetings influencing EMU’s decision.
He said many Mennonite organizations are watching the process with great interest. But he doesn't know of any plan for Goshen College’s board to start a similar process.