Controversy and Conflict in Northwest
By Stephen W. Angell
[Editor’s Note: In Issue #24, we reported on a two-sided struggle that had appeared in Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM). On one side, there emerged a visible support group for LGBT students, staff and alumni at the Newberg. Oregon campus of NWYM’s academic offspring, George Fox University. On the other, controversy came into view over the yearly meeting’s strongly anti-homosexual statements in its Faith & Practice. And this controversy was not only over text: a Northwest YM meeting had declared itself open and welcoming to LGBT persons, in defiance of the official strictures. Its status in NWYM was then called into question, We called That 2014 report “Chapter One” of what was likely to be an ongoing story. This report can be considered Chapter Two. And it is not the end.]
Part I: Housing a Transgender Student at a Quaker Christian College
Experience at FAHE
At a Friday afternoon workshop on “Gender Diversity in Higher Education,” at the 2015 conference of the Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) at George Fox University (GFU) in Newberg, Oregon, attention turned to the host institution’s handling of a dispute concerning housing with a transgender student, Jayce M. Representatives of GFU presented a defense of their university’s handling of the matter. They spoke with great respect and empathy for Jayce, but were considerably more critical of Jayce’s attorney and the role of the news media.
Their accounts went unchallenged, but as the workshop came to an end, there was much tension in the air, as some participants present felt that they had heard only a one-sided version of these events. Wess Daniels, then pastor at Camas Friends Meeting in Washington, and now Director of the Friends Center at Guilford College, remarked to me, “If they had handled this situation so brilliantly, why did they have to fire a faculty member because of it?” (As we shall see, Wess was referring to his own experience with GFU.)
The subject was not raised again directly in any FAHE workshop or session, but it also was not far from many Friends’ minds. In the closing worship, a Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) Friend (NWYM is GFU’s parent body, appointing several trustees to its board) who works at a nearby university spoke warmly of his support and assistance to a transgender student at that university. No explicit comparison was drawn to GFU’s travails, but undoubtedly the implicit connection was evident to many. Afterward, a GFU faculty member lamented that GFU faculty and staff had been threatened with termination of employment if they spoke out in opposition to the university’s handling of Jayce’s case.
It soon became clear that if an honest accounting of the university’s actions were to be made, it would have to be written by someone who was not a university employee. As an outsider, I felt led by the Light of Christ to attempt this task.
The Case of Jayce
Jayce is an African American “trans man” (i.e., a female-to-male transgendered individual) from nearby Portland, Oregon. With his family, he attended a Lutheran Church in Portland, where the pastor and congregation have been very supportive. Although Jayce identifies as “spiritual but not religious,” he clearly comes out of a deeply Christian background, and a small Christian college like George Fox University seemed like a good fit. Even with all of the travails that will be detailed below, it still does seem to him as a good fit. He found “a supportive community at George Fox, including my friends, faculty members, and the students who are part of the unofficial LGBT & Allies club on campus called Common Ground. I’m also not the only trans student on campus. I love the people at George Fox University.” (Borgen, 4/4/2014)
During his freshman and sophomore years at GFU, he was housed in a women’s dormitory, according to the gender assigned him at birth. By the time he entered GFU, he was already transitioning to the male gender, a transition that continued during his first two years at GFU. By April 2014, at the end of his sophomore year, he completed a legal change of gender, including a change of gender on his driver’s license.
He did not find living in a woman’s dormitory to be a good fit for him. He is sexually attracted to women, and he reflected on the challenges of living in a women’s dorm while experiencing hormonal therapy. “Living in a female dorm means that each day, the first thoughts I have are about my struggles living in a body that never felt right to me. . . . I’ve got the libido of a 14-year-old boy, and I’m living with a bunch of young women. It’s not a good recipe for promoting the kind of behavior that a Christian university expects from its students.” (Hunt and Pérez-Peña, 7/24/2014)
Accordingly, in December 2013, he approached the GFU Department of Student Life with a request that he be permitted to live in an on-campus suite with several male friends in his coming junior year (2014-2015).
The initial response of the University, communicated in a meeting with Dean of Community Life Mark Pothoff on Feb. 12, 2014, was to insist on the status quo. Jayce would have to continue to live with female students.
After hearing Jayce’s perspective, Pothoff consulted GFU Vice President for Student Life Brad Lau and presented Jayce with two other options in a Feb. 24 letter. He tentatively offered a single room to Jayce. Or Jayce would be permitted to live off campus with male friends, provided that Jayce “legally change his name and gender, with specific documentation on his driver’s license and Social Security card; that Pothoff meet with his prospective roommates to affirm they were comfortable with his situation; and that they all abide by the GFU lifestyle standards and policies. The letter also requested that Jayce change the gender on his birth certificate and that his roommates inform their parent of the situation, essentially ‘outing’ him to them, but both provisions were later dropped.” (Gordon, 4/11/2014)
Pothoff and GFU administrators were worried about mixed cisgender and transgender use of bathrooms and showers in student dormitories. (The definition of “cisgender” is someone whose current gender identity is the same as the one that they were assigned at birth.) In any case, they would not favor “gender neutral” housing, if that might mean men and women living together in a same suite, given that the university’s policy was that sexual intimacy was appropriate only in the context of a marriage between one man and one woman.
In March 2014, Jayce hired an attorney, Paul Southwick, a highly regarded lawyer and 2005 GFU graduate who was also a founder of OneGeorgeFox. (We attempted to contact Southwick for this publication, to no avail; all quotations from Southwick and Jayce in this article are from published news sources.) OneGeorgeFox, formed in 2012, is an organization of GFU alumni, both LGBT and allies, who advocate strongly for the university to become truly welcoming and affirming. Its open letter to GFU administrators and others now has more than 400 signatories. (Fager and Souza 2014, 105-106; Gordon, 4/11/2014) Some GFU faculty and administration lament Jayce’s hiring of Southwick, and wonder if it was necessary to introduce an adversarial element into their conversations with Jayce. (Anderson, 7/24/2015; Conniry, 8/17/2015)
There was a flurry of activity in the last week of March and the first week of April 2014. An internal appeal had been made to GFU President Robin Baker, again requesting that Jayce be allowed to live in a suite on campus with his male friends; Baker denied Jayce’s appeal on March 27. Jayce’s mom, Janice, started a change.org petition on behalf of her son on April 3; Janice’s petition is still active, with more than 25,000 signatures as of July 22, 2015. And on April 4, Southwick filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. These events were covered by numerous news organizations, including PQ Monthly, the Portland Tribune, and KGW TV.
Faced with a resolute GFU, Jayce made housing plans for the fall, choosing to rent an off-campus apartment with three other African American male students at GFU. (As of 2012, 71.4% of GFU students were White; 2.3% – 44 in absolute numbers – were African American; 6.9% were Hispanic; 4% were Asian; and the rest were international students, unknown, Native Americans or Pacific Islanders, or two or more races.)
But the GFU administration, by denying Jayce’s original request, had provided no alternative option acceptable to Jayce. Both the GFU Administration and Jayce conceded that Jayce living in an apartment by himself would not be an ideal option, especially with the high rates of depression to which transgender people are often subject. (Borgen, 10/15/2014; Gordon, 4/11/2014; GFU 2012) A statement by Oregon’s minority bar associations emphasized the negative effects of the “separate but equal” treatment Jayce would receive from GFU, given the isolating effect of a single apartment:
“We recognize that GFU has offered Jayce his own apartment on campus, but that offer is a sword that incises into Jayce’s psyche the fact that GFU does not, in fact, accept him for who he is. Setting Jayce aside in his own housing would deny his identity, degrade his self-worth, deny other students the benefit of his company, and so isolate Jayce as to drive home day in and day out the pain of difference.” (Borgen, 10/15/2014)
Jayce will continue to live off campus with his current set of housemates during the 2015-2016 school year. (Anderson, 7/24/2015; 8/18/2015)
Theory and Practice(s) of Housing
At this point, it would be well to discuss briefly what is known about housing transgender students in a college and university setting. There is, of course, a strong tradition of single gender housing in American colleges and universities, but, in that setting, it is unclear where transgender students should be housed. Jayce already has succinctly stated the case against housing trans men with cisgendered women, even if their genital anatomies might bear some similarity. But, in the cases of dorm housing and bathroom use, many are concerned if there are perceived genital differences between those housed in the same dorm room or suite or using the same bathroom. Such is the case for the administration and many faculty, staff, and students at George Fox University, and we will need to return to this perspective for more in-depth exploration.
Let’s sketch out alternatives. Advocates for transgender students argue on behalf of “gender neutral” housing and bathrooms for college and university students. This should not be seen only as a courteous way of making transgender students welcome on campus, but a legal requirement “where state or municipal laws … ban discrimination against people because of their gender identity or expression.” (Beemyn et al. 2005, 52) During the Obama Administration, it has also been asserted that Title IX of the 1972 Education Acts Amendments covered transgender persons, so arguably it is also a legal requirement nationwide. That, at least, was the basis of the legal claim that Southwick was making on behalf of his client Jayce.
This requirement could be handled “on a case-by-case basis,” as Jayce was attempting at GFU. For instance, “The policy of the University of California, Riverside, emphasizes the principle of ‘reasonable accommodations,’” when the University is notified in a timely manner, and other colleges and universities have similar ad hoc policies. Given the relative rarity of such transgender applications, the ad hoc approach is perfectly reasonable.
But other colleges have adopted a more systematic approach. Some have abolished the binary classification of male and female when it comes to housing, allowing housing applicants to fill in a blank. If “buildings or floors [in campus dormitories] included theme housing,” it is possible, but not guaranteed, that “transgender students would … gain acceptance and feel part of these communities.”
But some colleges and universities “are beginning to offer a gender-neutral housing option, either to all students or just to upper-class students. In gender-neutral housing, room assignments are made without regard to the individuals’ biological gender, so residents may request a roommate of any gender.” Altogether, “student affairs professionals should recognize transgender students’ needs, just as they would try to understand and address the concerns of members of other underrepresented communities.” (Beemyn et al. 2005, 52-54)
More than 160 colleges and universities now offer a gender-neutral housing option. This constitutes considerable growth over the past two decades, but this list still includes less than 4% of the more than 4000 colleges and universities nationwide. Two Quaker colleges, Haverford and Swarthmore, on the opposite coast from GFU and considerably more liberal, are included on this list. Guilford, a Quaker college in North Carolina, also has a “gender inclusive” housing policy. In Oregon, there are six institutions of higher education that offer gender-inclusive housing: Lewis and Clark College, Oregon State University, Reed College, Southern Oregon University, University of Oregon, and Willamette University. (http://old.campuspride.org/tpc-gih/) Large state universities are disproportionately represented on this list, as are liberal arts colleges of a generally liberal bent.
Christian colleges such as GFU have been missing from this list, and that is not an accident. It is not that GFU and other Christian colleges have not experienced considerable pressure from gay and lesbian constituencies. We have already reported on the OneGeorgeFox movement, founded in 2012 and a crucial support movement for Jayce in his attempt to gain a suitable housing accommodation from GFU. (Fager and Souza 2014) So far Christian colleges have been resistant.
It would appear that Jayce’s claim had caught GFU somewhat off guard, but GFU administrators have been busy, and have worked hard to come up with a clear policy in relation to housing transgender students. At first, they indicated that campus housing would be provided to all students only on the basis of “biological birth sex.” (Borgen, 4/4/2014) A slightly later formulation that amounts to the same thing was that “common residence halls are single-sex, defined anatomically.” This formulation had a number of problems, including the fact that not all transgender persons desire, or are able, to have sex reassignment surgery. (Zack Ford, 7/21/2014)
GFU’s current formulation is that the student may be housed in shared living space on campus in accordance with that “student’s legally-recognized gender, provided housemates / apartment mates have agreed to such an arrangement.” This would appear to allow Jayce to have his wish, as Jayce is now legally recognized as a man.
One should note that these shifting policies have all been attempts to protect GFU’s bottom line: “Since the university’s founding, our convictions around sexual purity and modesty have led us to provide separate housing for each sex.”
“Sexual purity,” a major concern for American evangelical Christians, connotes, among other things, abstinence from sexual intercourse until marrying a person of the opposite sex, as encapsulated in the slogan, “true love waits.” This standard has been subject to a variety of critiques, notably from evangelical Christian feminists like Rachel Held Evans, who decries “a shame-based purity culture that treats women (and men) who have had sex before marriage as ‘damaged goods.’” (Evans, 5/6/2013)
Analyzing evangelicals’ culture of sexual purity is out of the scope of this essay, but more pertinent is the way the existence of transgender persons threatens the strict bifurcation between male and female that seems necessary to support the ideology of sexual purity. Evangelical theologian John Piper, responding to an evangelical Christian worried about her transgender father, acknowledges that the transgender experience is not directly addressed in the Bible, but claims that there are Biblical principles that address the issue:
God loves male and female. He made us male and female, and he delights in it. Anything in our culture that confuses male and female is going to probably lead away from the value that God put upon that difference and that distinction.
So that would be one way to think about why what he is doing is unbiblical. Because that’s what he needs to be persuaded of, that, “Daddy, when you do this you call into question the beauty of the distinctions God has made.” …
So there is a category of behavior in the Christian life which doesn’t have a sentence in the book that says, “Transgendering is a sin.” Rather, there’s a category that asks, “Is it fitting? Is it becoming? Is it helpful? Is it coherent with all the other things that the Bible says?” And I would simply say that that kind of use of your sexuality is probably–not probably–is out of step with what is seemly for a Christian. (Piper, 5/8/2009)
The extremely awkward syntax aside, Piper absolutizes and hardens the distinctions between the sexes/genders in passages such as Genesis 1:27 and 2:21-25 in a way that precludes discussion of any set of human experiences, such as intersex or transgender, that would tend to blur these distinctions. By way of contrast, some other evangelical Christians, such as Mark Yarhouse (see below), are at least open to the existence of more than two gender options. GFU’s statements relating to housing transgender students are similar, if less blatant, to Piper’s.
In its Undergraduate Manual, GFU presents its “lifestyle standards and values” this way:
We urge each member to become the kind of person and live the kind of life that Jesus taught and modeled. We believe such a life is described by the ‘fruit of the spirit’ as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. These fruits include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
We believe the Bible teaches that all persons are created in God’s image and that God actively seeks renewed relationships with every individual. We are bound therefore to regard each person with love and respect. (Romans 12:9-21, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4:32). So we avoid discrimination, abusive or manipulative actions, and gossip or mean-spirited behaviors. We seek actively to honor each person, loving and serving one another as Jesus taught us.
Our lifestyle excludes immoral practices and calls us to transformed living as we ‘offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices’ to God (Romans 12:1-2). In regard to sexual morality, we believe that only marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intention for the joyful fulfillment of sexual intimacy. This should always be in the context of mutual compassion, love and fidelity. Sexual behaviors outside of this context are inconsistent with God’s teaching.
We recognize these principles may conflict with the practice and opinion of some within the larger culture. We are convinced that this is God’s design for providing the most loving guidance and practice for individuals and our community. (GFU, undated)
This statement of lifestyle standards is not open to change, according to multiple sources at GFU. Further, while GFU professors ostensibly have academic freedom to address controversial issues, they are not permitted to challenge these lifestyle standards. This tends to create a balancing test for GFU employees that may constrain them, when it comes to their speaking their own minds about many issues relating to human sexuality, while engaged in teaching, scholarship, or student advising.
The Undergraduate Manual does not specifically address transgender students, but by April 2014, when Jayce’s complaint was filed with the Department of Education, GFU had this to say about its transgender student(s):
Both religious and non-religious universities are struggling with appropriate ways to support their transgender students. Over the past several months, George Fox Student Life staff has spent many hours with this student hearing his story and offering support. Out of respect for the student’s wishes, university staff refers to the student using the male pronoun. At this time, the student has not legally changed genders.
On many occasions, the student has expressed to Student Life staff that he has felt safe, listened to, supported and cared for at George Fox – by students, faculty and Student Life staff. He has acknowledged that this is why he has chosen to remain at the university.
George Fox strives to be a Christ-centered community and our residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitments. The student’s request to switch from female-only on-campus housing to male-only on-campus housing is one that many institutions would struggle with. (Borgen, 4/4/2014)
GFU’s claim to empathetic interaction with Jayce has some demonstrable support. It is true, for example, that GFU staff refer to Jayce with male pronouns. But one controversial aspect of this statement was the statement that the university’s “residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitments.” When this statement was written, no explanation of GFU’s theological commitments on this matter was in existence. Nor did, or does, GFU’s parent body, Northwest Yearly Meeting, have a statement relating to transgender persons.
GFU more recently came up with a transgender policy, which includes a theological statement. The theological statement, however, is not entirely clear. It appeals to the notion that God has designed an ideal gender experience for every human being:
“God created humans in the Divine image: male and female. (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:21-25; Gen. 5:2; Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) As a result of the fall, complete physical and emotional wholeness will never fully occur on earth. (Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 5:12-21) Humans’ experience of sex and gender … may not always be as the Creator originally designed. God cares deeply about every person, including their pain and suffering. Hope and contentment in life rely on the knowledge of God’s love, compassion and redemption. Our full identities are found in God alone. (Matt. 22:36-40; Gal. 2:20; Gal 5:22-25; Col. 1:15-20; Jude 1:24-25).” (www.georgefox.edu/transgender)
While this kind of statement acknowledges the reality of transgender experiences, it simultaneously seems to imply that they are a divergence from God’s original intentions. The analysis by Mark Yarhouse, a professor of “Christian Thought in Mental Health Practice” at Regent University, who is touted by Christianity Today as “the leading Christian scholar on transgender issues,” proceeds mostly along these lines. Yarhouse seems to understand the condition of transgender persons “as a reflection of a fallen world in which the condition itself is not a moral choice,” and he cautions against a misunderstanding of “gender identity conflicts [as resulting from] willful disobedience or sinful choice.”
In a more positive vein, drawing more on anthropology than Christian Scriptures, Yarhouse suggests that Christians might also regard transgender persons as providing welcome diversity, and celebrate the desire of transgender persons “to be accepted and to find purpose in their lives.” While he describes it as a more radical option than the usual evangelical resistance to transgender claims, he concedes that one can truly be an evangelical Christian and also be open to deconstructing gender norms. (Yarhouse, July/August 2015) Paul Anderson, Professor of Religion and Quaker Studies at GFU, agrees with Yarhouse that transgender persons offer welcome diversity in our communities. (Anderson, 7/24/2015)
According to Yarhouse, those drawn to this lens of diversity “cite historical examples in which departures from a clear male-or-female presentation have been held in high esteem, such as the Fa’afafine of Samoan Polynesian Culture.” Of course, there are many examples of cultures in which people do not see gender as a strict male/female duality. (Yarhouse 2015, 49; Schmidt)
While proclaiming that “each and every one of us struggles with brokenness,” Yarhouse’s tentative nod toward a more radical option notwithstanding, this kind of analysis usually sets up a strict dual caste system whereby cisgender heterosexual persons at least have the possibility of complying with God’s intentions for them through the marriage of a cisgender man and a cisgender woman, whereas the implication is that the lives of LGBT persons will always be characterized by brokenness. (We note here that “brokenness” is a very vague and ambiguous term, which perhaps bears on its frequent appearance in discussions like this. We have found “definitions” of the term ranging from psychological/physical disability, personal misfortune, the effects of sin, sin itself, the general human condition, and God’s efforts to bring low human pride; and this sample is not exhaustive. Most uses, however euphemized, are strongly redolent of the “damaged goods” connotation mentioned above by RAchel Held Evans.).
We have run into this kind of theology before in the witness of the Evangelical Quaker-founded group, Where Grace Abounds, (The name is taken from Romans 5:20 – “But the law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”; this passage is also cited by GFU in its transgender policy) a Christian organization in Colorado that is popular among many Evangelical Quakers. (Angell 2010-2011, 3).
Jayce has stated clearly that the GFU administration has subjected him to a system of “separate but equal” treatment; (Roth, 2/23/2015) in the background of his remark, one must always recall the unanimous decision on Brown v. Board of Education by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, that separate is always inherently unequal. The same is true here. Transgender persons, under the particular kind of Christian theology endorsed by the GFU administration, have a higher mountain to climb to seek God’s favor than do cisgender heterosexuals. In this discriminatory context, to proclaim that “grace abounds” is but faint consolation.
Citing Paul’s letter to the Galatians, however, GFU proclaims a Christian theological principle around which all Christians can unite:
Understanding that one’s gender identity might not conform to his or her birth sex, we want all students to feel embraced within our faith-imbued community of learning. Believing also that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free person, male nor female, we believe that God does not show favoritism between persons or genders. God loves all persons equally and calls us to do the same. (www.georgefox.edu/transgender)
Many Quakers, including some members of Northwest Yearly Meeting, wonder why this stirring proclamation, based on Galatians 3:28, does not serve as the foundation for GFU’s theological analysis, rather than merely one element of it. Wess Daniels, former pastor of Camas Friends Church, in an interview with Amelia Templeton of Oregon Public Broadcasting, also pointed to this verse from Galatians as a persuasive basis for treating Jayce equally by providing him with appropriate on-campus housing.
“Paul says there’s neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female. All are one in Christ Jesus. At the core of the Quaker tradition is this equality of all humans.” Daniels differs from GFU officials specifically on whether there is a basis for a definitive statement from evangelical Friends on transgender issues: “We don’t have a statement on transgender folks.” At the present time, he noted, “our yearly meeting has been doing a lot of work and discernment around human sexuality, and we have people from all different perspectives trying to stay together at the table.” (Templeton, 7/17/2014)
Darleen Ortega, a GFU graduate, an Oregon judge, and a OneGeorgeFox supporter, states, “As a person of faith and a Quaker myself, I see nothing in Scripture or Friends’ theology that justifies or even supports the university’s position. What I find in Scripture, instead, are calls for compassion and kindness for everyone. And I don’t understand how one can deal ethically with someone in Jayce’s situation without working to understand his circumstances and come alongside him.” (Borgen, 7/11/2014)
God loves everyone equally. Scripture calls for compassion and kindness for all. Perhaps this set of theological statements could provide a basis for common ground among all Friends, and for a more understanding approach toward the life situations of transgender persons such as Jayce.
Intervention by the US Department of Education
Early in July 2014, the U.S. Department of Education “closed (and ostensibly denied) Jayce’s complaint” against GFU. Their rationale was that GFU was to be granted a religious exemption from the Title IX provisions of the 1972 Education Amendments. (Borgen, 7/11/2014)
GFU had applied for its religious exemption on March 29, during the hectic week that included the university’s denial of Jayce’s final internal appeal by President Baker, and Southwick’s April 4 filing of a complaint with the Department of Education. They applied for this exemption without giving notice to Southwick or Jayce that they were proceeding along that course. According to GFU, the exemption was granted on May 23, but Jayce and his attorney did not learn about this until July, when Jayce’s complaint was closed.
According to Seth Gordon, Southwick faulted GFU for its “lack of transparency.… While we were going through [the internal negotiations] process, they continued to try to get more information out of me saying, ‘What exactly are your legal concerns? Tell us more.’ We were very upfront with them. We told them we thought there were possible violations of Title IX, the Fair Housing Act, and other things.” (Gordon, 7/16/2014) Southwick also noted that the granting of the religious exemption to GFU was unusually quick. Usually, such applications are considered for years. Southwick planned an appeal on Jayce’s behalf; he maintained that since GFU receives federal funds, it should be required to abide by the nondiscrimination policies mandated by Title IX. (Tracy, 7/15/2014)
During this process, GFU officials also “consulted” with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization of evangelical Christians that has actively opposed transgender students’ use of what those students see as sex-appropriate restrooms. (Hunt and Pérez-Peña, 7/24/2014) (It is worth noting that GFU does not oppose single-user gender-neutral bathrooms that transgender people may use, and, in fact, some buildings on campus, now under construction, will include such bathrooms.) (Anderson, 8/18/2015) There was a previous connection between GFU and the ADF; Gregory S. Baylor, a member of the Advisory Board of the GFU Politics Department, is Senior Counsel for the ADF. (George Fox University, “Politics Department: Advisory Board”)
The ADF has been called “the 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right.” (Israel, 5/1/2014) It is a huge, well-funded operation supporting a very large number of anti-LGBT court suits and legislation, both within the United States and abroad. (Human Rights Campaign, undated) In regard to transgender individuals, their policy is to advocate that
“student restrooms, locker rooms and showers that are designated for one biological sex shall only be used by members of that biological sex. . . . Students that exclusively and consistently assert at school that their gender is different from their biological sex shall be provided with the best available accommodation that meets their needs, but in no event shall that access to the school restroom, locker room, or shower of the opposite biological sex.” (Alliance Defending Freedom, undated) They are backing legislative attempts in several states to make it illegal for transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. A Texas bill supported by the ADF, for example, would outlaw entering “a public restroom, shower or changing room for the sex different from the ‘gender established by the individual’s chromosomes.’” (Brodey and Lurie, 3/9/2015)
[Parenthetically, some states, such as New York, have established quite different policies for transgender students’ bathroom use than that proposed in Texas. New York State allows transgender students to use the bathroom that correspond with their gender identity. Carlos Ball, a Rutgers University professor who has studied such issues, states that he has found “absolutely no empirical evidence” for widely-voiced concerns relating to transgender individuals using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, but “on the other hand, there is a plethora of reports of transgender people being physically assaulted, verbally abused and harassed for being quote-unquote in the wrong bathroom.” (New York Times, 7/27/2015; Harris, 7/20/2015)]
It should be noted that not only Christian college administrations defending their handling of complaints from transgender students, but also students and alumni from Christian colleges seeking a welcoming and affirming approach to LGBT students on their campuses, have formed alliances. We have previously noted (In QT #26) the nearly simultaneous inception of LGBT-supportive groups such as OneWheaton and OneGordon at other colleges with strong evangelical Christian connections. So OneGeorgeFox has allies in its quest to introduce a degree of change in evangelical Christian college culture, (Fager and Souza 2014, 106; Francis and Longhurst 7/23/2014) as broad alliances on both sides collide over these momentous issues. Chuck Conniry states that Paul Southwick’s advocacy for Jayce is “one piece of a much larger agenda;” (Conniry, 8/17/2015) but, if that is true about Southwick, it may also be true about the GFU administration. For both parties, this controversy is a piece of a larger agenda, and it is one with numerous alliances in play.
GFU Professor Paul Anderson unconvincingly contests that there is, in this respect, any similarity between GFU, on the one hand, and Paul Southwick and OneGeorgeFox, on the other. Anderson states that GFU “is not seeking to launch a national campaign in favor of its sexual mores; it is seeking to be faithful to its longstanding commitments on sexual behavior, and is therefore, not levying a national campaign against activists’ groups.” (Anderson, 8/18/2015)
Anderson protests too much. By accepting assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom, GFU indeed associates with such a national campaign against LGBT activists.
Some legal scholars have worried that religious exemptions from education law were too easy to obtain in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, but it is also true that certain exemptions granted to Christian colleges in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision fell short of the breadth of the latter. (Kingkade, 7/28/2014; Jaschik, 7/25/2014) Another Christian college, Spring Arbor University, that was granted a Title IX exemption around the same time as GFU, had requested a broader exemption, one that would allow it “to terminate or deny enrollment” to cross dressers and transgender persons. GFU never requested as sweeping an exemption from federal law as this. (Jaschik, 7/25/2014)
In that context, the mutual decisions by GFU and Jayce to continue engagement, neither seeking to sever the relationship between the two, despite enduring, strongly-held disagreements, looks moderate in the Christian college world. (Roth, 2/23/2015) Paul Anderson asserts that many people see GFU as “the most liberal of evangelical institutions.” (Anderson, 8/18/2015)
Nonetheless, journalist Daniel Borgen reported, “Jayce is simply baffled the college he know and loves has dug in like this. ‘I’m shocked and disappointed that the federal government has given George Fox permission to discriminate against me and is allowing it to do so with federal funds,’ he says. ‘But I’m not giving up. I deserve to be treated like other men on campus. Apparently, the university disagrees, as they have made clear by forcing me to live off-campus. The university is operating under the doctrine of “separate but equal,” and the religious exemption they received now gives the government’s stamp of approval to what they are doing. My own tax dollars will fund the university’s discrimination against me. I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is fair.’” (Borgen, 7/11/2014) [George Fox University benefits from federal funding for some purposes – Pell Grants, for instance. (George Fox University: Financial Aid)]
Despite all of the struggles, Jayce has great affection for GFU: “I still love being a student at George Fox. My friends and professors are great. I’ve also become one of the leaders of Common Ground, the unofficial LGBTQ student group on campus. And I’m really busy with classes and work.” (Borgen, 10/15/2014)
Southwick reached out via conference call to C. Wess Daniels, then pastor of Camas Friends, and Mike Huber, pastor of West Hill Friends in Portland, to ask if, in fact, the kind of discrimination for which GFU was seeking a religious exemption was grounded in Friends’ principles. Daniels recalls combing through the NWYM Faith and Practice one afternoon, finding nothing in that book that commented on issues facing transgender individuals. “What made me respond was that the Yearly Meeting was being used as a shield for the University.” (Daniels, 7/29/2015)
Both Daniels and Huber had already taken stands on behalf of LGBT persons, with the backing of their congregations, as we reported in previous coverage of NWYM. (Fager and Souza 2014) There is more on West Hills Friends below.
In the aftermath of the news of GFU’s receiving a religious exemption, they decided that they could not remain silent. Daniels recalls GFU’s receiving a religious exemption “at the tail end of the Hobby Lobby decision” as being a motivating factor for taking action at that time. He admits that he was “irritated with Christians getting religious exemptions, that Christians could not take care of their own business without the involvement of the government.” For Daniels, the decision to speak out was a clear one. “If you see an injustice taking place, you let people know.”
Nevertheless, in both the OPB interview and a letter in PQ Monthly, Daniels tried to put the Yearly Meeting in a good light. NWYM “has good statements about gender,” he observes. He also wanted to avoid bashing GFU, but rather to “call it to its better self.” (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Paul Anderson notes that the Oregon Public Broadcasting interview, which aired shortly before the 2014 yearly meeting sessions, “signaled potential division in the Yearly Meeting over discipline revisions on human sexuality.” For Anderson and many other NWYM Friends, “that was terribly hurtful.” (Templeton, 7/17/2014; Anderson, 8/18/2015)
Huber and Daniels quickly released a letter chastising GFU for (in their view) misrepresenting the position of NWYM Friends. Their letter was published in the PQ Monthly, embedded in Daniel Borgen’s reporting:
“As pastors in NW Yearly Meeting, we urge George Fox University to provide safe housing for Jayce M,” they write. “It is our understanding that our ‘Faith and Practice’ provides no theological grounds whatsoever for excluding transgender students from housing consistent with their gender identity. As Quakers, the biblical teaching that men and women are created in the image of God convicts us that ‘… all persons have equal value and are created in the image of God’ (Vision, Mission and Values: 1). The theological framework of our Faith & Practice affirms the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of their gender identity:
We witness to the dignity and worth of all persons before God. We repudiate and seek to remove discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, or class. We deplore the use of selfish ends to gain unfair advantage, and we urge political, economic, and social justice for all peoples. We consider civil order most just when conscience is free and religious faith uncoerced (Faith Expressed through Witness: 11).
The same Faith & Practice urges us to consider: Do you speak out for justice and morality, and against oppression, exploitation, and public wrong? Do you recognize the equality of persons regardless of race, gender, or economic status (The Queries #18: 13)?
Based upon these theological convictions, we ask George Fox University to honor the housing requests of its transgender students. Let us follow the example of Jesus Christ, and extend hospitality to those who might otherwise be unsafe and unwelcome in our communities.” (quoted in Borgen, 7/11/2014)
Thus, in their view Jayce’s situation does not pose an issue of sexual morality, or “sexual purity,” but rather one of human justice. In seeking a framework of interpretation for Jayce’s request of GFU, rather than engaging in an Augustinian meditation on sin, human fallenness, and sinners’ need for God’s grace, as had GFU’s transgender housing statement, Daniels and Huber focused on the theme of the radical hospitality of Jesus, the one who welcomed lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and Roman centurions into the beloved community. Their quotation from NWYM’s Faith and Practice, calling on Friends to speak out against oppression, is in accord with Jesus’s witness in his home synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:18) where he read aloud the exhortation from Isaiah 61 to let the oppressed go free.
GFU Professor Paul Anderson disputes that this justice frame is applicable to Jayce’s situation at GFU, when the university had been doing its very best to ensure the best possible housing arrangement for Jayce. (Anderson, 7/24/2015) Still, many see the Daniels-Huber letter as a clarion call to the GFU administration, and to Friends of NWYM, to break out of a conventional, safe, middle-class mode of response to the requests from transgender persons in their midst.
And GFU may well be beginning to break out of its previous model of response. In March 2015, the GFU Board appointed a committee “to review and revise [GFU’s] stance on gender identity issues.” The committee’s charge is “to provide ‘safe and appropriate housing for transgender students;’ to seek to preserve the dignity and worth of each person; to ‘seek to foster a healthy and life-producing community, rooted in loving concern for one another and seeking to live in ways pleasing to God as informed by Scripture and wisdom’; [to build on the Apostle Paul’s insight that] ‘in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free person, male nor female, [and] we believe that God does not show favoritism between persons and genders.’”
Thus, in dealing with gender identity issues, they now bring Friends’ testimony of equality to the forefront. This is to be done, of course, within GFU’s existing lifestyle standards:
“Our convictions around sexual purity and modesty have led us to provide separate housing for each sex. We intend to maintain our same-sex housing, although the realities of transgender processes may require special considerations. To ensure the privacy and well being of all George Fox students, housing units with private restrooms and living spaces will be provided for students identifying as transgender where possible. With approval and consistent with housing policy, this may include living in a room in a shared house (or appropriate apartment) on campus with a student’s legally-recognized gender, provided housemates/apartment mates have agreed to such an arrangement. A guiding consideration will always be ensuring that students remain connected to community.”
Not Fired? Severing Connections
with an Adjunct Professor
If preserving connections with Jayce was a priority for the GFU administration (a priority which Jayce reciprocated), GFU did sever connections with another member of its academic community, as a result of a disagreement about his prophetic ministry. It turns out that Wess Daniels, one of the two pastors who authored the letter challenging GFU on its treatment of Jayce, was also an adjunct professor at Fox. Daniels has an impressive resume. In addition to being pastor of Camas Friends Church at the time, Daniels also held a Ph.D. degree in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. His dissertation, A convergent theology of renewal: remixing the Quaker tradition in a participatory culture, has been recently published by Wipf and Stock, and reviewed in this journal. He has also been the author, or co-author, of other books and articles, and an adjunct instructor at Earlham School of Religion.
In his letter critical of GFU’s treatment of Jayce, Daniels identified himself solely as pastor of Camas Friends. He did not mention to the press that he had sometimes taught courses at GFU. He in fact contacted a supervisory employee at the seminary before he was interviewed by OPB and his letter appeared in the PQ Monthly, informing her as a courtesy that he would be speaking out in the press on this matter.
According to Daniels, she listened, expressing neither approval nor disapproval. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Chuck Conniry, dean of George Fox Evangelical Seminary (GFES), however, says that she advised him that he should consult with Student Life about this, prior to going public. (Conniry, 8/17/2015) For weeks after his interview aired and the letter that he and Huber wrote was published, he heard nothing from the Seminary or anyone else at GFU.
He happened not to be teaching a course in Fall, 2014, but he was scheduled to teach a course on “Cultures and Systems Change” for the GFES in the Spring of 2015, as he had each of the three years previously. But, in the midst of the controversy caused by the letter that he and Huber had wrote criticizing the University, his occasional relationship with the University was suddenly put in doubt.
Late in September, after he had already begun to work on his syllabus for his course, Daniels was called by the same seminary employee, who left a phone message that the seminary was going to “let [Daniels] go.” (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Chuck Conniry followed up on this cryptic message during a lunch meeting with Daniels. Conniry says that Daniels’ interviews with Oregon Public Broadcasting and PQ Monthly had raised concerns among senior administration figures at GFU about the procedures that ought to be followed if an adjunct professor disagreed with university policy. Essentially, they wanted the same level of consultation from an adjunct professor about university policies that they would expect from a full-time university employee. (Conniry, 8/17/2015)
According to Daniels, Conniry offered Daniels his job back, but only if he would agree to refrain from criticizing the University in public in the future. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Conniry’s recollection of the conversation is subtly different. While emphasizing his admiration for Daniels and his teaching, he said that Daniels could teach his course, if Daniels would observe protocols of consulting with knowledgeable university officials (in the case of Jayce, the Student Life office) before openly criticizing the university. (Conniry, 8/17/2015)
Whatever precisely the offer he was presented, both sides are clear that Daniels refused it, knowing that by so doing he would not be permitted to teach at GFU in the upcoming academic term. Daniels’ other employment – most notably, his pastorate at Camas – was not affected by this severing of relationship with GFU.
Ironically, Daniels has not spoken publically about GFU’s housing of transgender students, after this conversation with Conniry. But, as Daniels saw it, the principle that he be free to speak on this issue was what he sought to preserve, even to the extent of losing his adjunct professor position at GFES. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) According to Conniry, Daniels said, “I don’t want to worry about whether my next blog post will get me in trouble.” (Conniry, 8/17/2015)
By all accounts, the lunch conversation with Conniry was entirely cordial. But it felt to Daniels like being fired. Adjunct professors have few or no job protections, and Daniels was not interested in contesting GFU’s decision. Conniry is clear that Daniels was not fired, but he still keenly felt the loss, both because of his very high regard for Daniels (a high regard Daniels reciprocates toward Conniry) and because the students loved and respected Daniels so much. “It was our loss.”
In an October 24 Facebook post on the OneGeorgeFox site, Daniels wrote: “In other words, Mike and I both have worked hard to be respectful, to not villainize the school, and to call it to more openness and hospitality. I am currently fond of the term ‘loyal opposition.’
“I am disappointed to lose my job at the seminary. . . . I have many friends on faculty and in administration there, and many students whom I care deeply about. I am far more disappointed that this is how the school is choosing to handle all of this.
“I was offered my job back so long as I was willing no longer to speak publically about the matter, of which I am not at all interested. I have no regrets about what I did and would do it again – thus it was probably a good idea to say no anywaysཀ . . .
“I am not interested in getting my job back. I am happy to have a church that supports me and my family and has been very supportive of me through this situation as well.
“Finally, I am not personally interested in inciting more anger towards the school. I do not believe that villainizing or creating an ‘us and them’ will get us anywhere. In fact, it will only be using the tools of empire to try to bring about change. I believe that we all must continue to build deeper and stronger networks and continue to point the school in the direction we know that it must move: towards building up the beloved community.
“Oscar Romero once wrote: ‘I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.’” (OneGeorgeFox, 10/24/2014)
In response to an expression of concern to him from Searainya Bond, GFU President Robin Baker responded to her in a private communication, also on October 24,
“These conversations developed at our Seminary and at the moment I do not know of its details. A normal process for a faculty member would have been to appeal the decision of the dean to our Provost and then to the President for additional discussion and resolution. It appears that in this particular case that did not happen. I do know that we do not have a commitment to silence complexity or dissent. There are many cases over the past two years where faculty took alternative views to the administration or other faculty and they are free to express those views. In the case of Dr. Daniels, it was my understanding that the discussion revolved around managing conflict and how an institution like GFU honors the prophetic voice while still remaining civil. Mr. Daniels did not have a contract, was not fired in that sense – the discussion was about a course he would teach in the spring. I am looking further into this discussion and I would hope to speak with Dr. Daniels at some point in the near future.” (Private communication from Robin Baker to Searainya Bond, 10/24/2014, copied out and posted as a comment to the OneGeorgeFox website, 9:58 PM; Quotation verified as accurate by Rob Felton, 7/23/2015)
According to Daniels, Baker never attempted to contact him, but Daniels also admits that he never attempted to contact Baker, either. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) The process Baker outlined here is not entirely dissimilar to what would be expected at other Quaker seminaries, should a faculty member wish to criticize publically some aspect of his or her seminary’s policies. Professors are asked to discuss disagreements relating to policies at their employing institutions with their administrators, prior to going public with criticisms, so that their co-workers are not blindsided by objections that they had not realized were there.
Daniels has since resigned his pastorate at Camas in order to become the new William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center at Guilford College in North Carolina, and thus has relocated thousands of miles to the east. He deserves congratulations, and he also will be able to gain some distance from his conflict with GFU.
George Fox University is unquestionably a moderately conservative institution, but also one that faces considerable pressures to change, especially in its practice of grounding education so thoroughly on such principles as “sexual purity,” a fact that undoubtedly reassures some constituents while perplexing or outraging others. GFU has a divided constituency, including hundreds who back the LGBT-friendly OneGeorgeFox movement and the unofficial organization, Common Ground, which provides an on-campus presence for a gay-straight alliance. It has a close relationship with its parent Quaker body, Northwest Yearly Meeting, which is actively discussing these same issues, and is also deeply divided over what to do about them.
GFU continues to assert that its lifestyle standards are unchallengeable, thereby discouraging internal dissent. Still, it does not appear that GFU is immovable. There seem to be significant pressures toward repressing any opposition, but others toward conciliation. It is too soon to predict the end result.The courage of Jayce and his many supporters is to be greatly applauded, as they have fearlessly and most appropriately highlighted significant shortcomings in the housing policies of George Fox (and, it must be said, other Christian colleges), and have forced some movement, however gradual that change may be at the present.
One conclusion to this essay will hearten anyone who loves the subject area of this journal:
Theology matters. As one examines both the Scriptures and individual and collective religious experience, it matters a great deal if the principal interpretive frame for viewing transgender people is “sexual purity” in its pre-twenty-first-century version, or if the primary interpretive frame is one of human justice and equality. To the extent that Quaker and Christian administrators, faculty, students, and other college constituencies embrace the latter as their principal frame, the quicker we will progress toward the “beloved community” in which all people – whatever their sexual orientation – are welcomed and affirmed.