I recently received my Alumni News from Seattle Pacific University. Glaringly absent was any mention of the ground-shifting, faculty and staff vote of “no confidence” in the Board of Trustees earlier in that week (“Seattle Pacific University faculty votes ‘no confidence’ in leadership after board upholds discriminatory hiring policy,” April 21, Northwest). Lack of transparency, however, is unsurprising: SPU maintains its retrograde policy of discrimination against LGBTQ students, staff and faculty and expects silence of the countless LGBTQ people it enrolls and hires.
In my four years at SPU (Class of ’84), the university’s restrictions against dancing had a more public focus. The Free Methodists to which the school is leashed believed dancing would lead to other verboten behaviors, so best nip that in the bud. It goes without saying that any discussion, let alone practice, of sexuality that fell outside the school’s narrowly prescribed policy was taboo, though there were scads of gay and lesbian students. The drama and music schools, fine arts and fashion were bursting with teens-to-twenties bodies of God’s beautiful rainbow covenant, a promise that “never again will all life be destroyed” (Genesis 9:11).
While beaming faces of evangelical love shone on every corridor of my college — often for more than the love of Jesus – there were no models, no approval, no discussion, no possibility for LGBTQ students to be true to themselves. We were taught to live a lie, which is St. Augustine’s definition of sin. The school was our teacher. Its policies and culture formed dishonesty insisting we lie to ourselves and to the world. Still insists.
On college nights and weekends, my best friend, James, and I shared our learnings from our Greek classes and philosophy over spanakopita and retsina (shh!) at the local Greek restaurant. I would wax on about my religious studies, and he would open my mind to the philosophy of aesthetics and design. We were going to change the world but never spoke about our sexualities. While in our later years of college we both ditched the religion that brought us to SPU in favor of the form and freedom of the Episcopal Church, it wasn’t until, degrees in hand and, for him, in extremis, that we broke the taboo. James, on the verge of suicide, confessed, “I think I’m gay” (something I’d known since the day I met him). I replied, “I think I am, too” (something I’d known, on some level, since the day I met me).
I had wonderful faculty support for my academic and vocational development at SPU. Once free of the university, I had the support to explore my sexuality, the therapeutic help to unravel the trauma of denial, and religious mentoring to recover from the sin of living a lie and to engage a wholesome life.
That was 35 years ago. It is now 2021. Institutions that support true university and enlightened consciousness have long transformed their policies on human sexuality, even the U.S. military. We know that college-age youth are living through formative, make-or-break years, and those whose sexuality falls outside of mainstream parameters (that’s most of us) need their resiliency supported, not their psyche’s bullied. And yet in 2021, the SPU Board of Trustees demands that the school continue a charade of living in a false world, the spiritual malpractice of silencing sexuality behind Cheshire smiles, and the destruction of souls with policy borne of perverse biblical interpretation.
So, big news, alumni of Seattle Pacific University: The university’s Board of Trustees (spu.edu/university-leadership/board-of-trustees) is at a crossroads, a moment for reflection, repentance and renewal of life. SPU has a chance on life. The board can choose life and not continue to destroy.