SPU Board Members Seek Dismissal of Lawsuit Over LGBTQ Exclusion

By Alejandra Molina
seattle pacific SPU hiring exclusion
Students walk on the campus of Seattle Pacific University in Seattle on Sept. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Chris Grygiel)

Members of Seattle Pacific University’s board of trustees are asking a Washington state court to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the body by a group of students and faculty at the school, arguing that the suit is an effort to “intimidate and punish leaders of a religious institution for the exercise of protected First Amendment rights.”

Seattle Pacific is a 130-year-old private Christian university associated with the Free Methodist Church, which teaches that “homosexual behavior cannot be seen as part of God’s intended role for human sexual expression, regardless of a person’s attraction, and which does not accept marriage between people of the same sex.”

The faculty and students sued the board in September in Washington’s superior court for continuing to uphold a policy that bars people in same-sex relationships from being hired to full-time positions at the school. The plaintiffs claim the policy threatens to harm SPU’s reputation and worsen an already shrinking enrollment. By possibly jeopardizing the school’s future, they argue, the board is breaching its fiduciary duty.

The board members said the lawsuit constitutes nothing more than an attempt to punish them for exercising their duties as trustees, which includes “assembling and speaking about institutional religious beliefs, policies, and church affiliations.”

They noted that three board members are volunteers “with clear statutory immunity.” The fourth, the school’s interim president, Pete Menjares, is a former volunteer “who accepted the call to lead SPU as interim president during a difficult season.”

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“For their service, they are being targeted for litigation to punish them for the ‘wrong’ religious beliefs and to send a message to other potential volunteers: the wrong religious beliefs will get you sued,” they said in their filing.

Meanwhile, a collective of students, alumni, faculty and staff known as Seattle Pacific LGBTQ+ Protest, are continuing to raise money to fund the lawsuit.

So far, more than $75,000 has been raised, with funds going to the alumni-organized Our Community LLC that was created to pay legal fees for this case, according to the GoFundMe site

“This began as a community protest, and we have to keep it going as a community. That means that we are all fighting for queer rights, together,” the group said. 

The motion for dismissal was filed Nov. 28 by board members Matthew Whitehead, Mark Mason, Dean Kato and Menjares. A court date has been set for Feb. 17.

alejandra molinaAlejandra Molina is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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26 thoughts on “SPU Board Members Seek Dismissal of Lawsuit Over LGBTQ Exclusion”

  1. The students and faculty who want to approve and practice same-sex sexual activity should leave and find an institution that aligns with their outlook, of which there are many. But we see once again that this is not just about the right to live as and believe as they wish, but also about the desire to force others to sanction and give approval to what they do, and to squash all dissent.

  2. i am so impressed with this student led movement, calling their leadership into account and demanding that their institution follow the way of Jesus in loving all and excluding none.

    1. The way of Jesus does not involve giving approval to sinful behavior and disordered desires. Love takes on pleasure in evil but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor 13:6).

      1. Gay relationships are neither sinful or evil. I encourage you to dig deeper into scripture, as your understanding doesn’t line up with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus did not come to gatekeep salvation, but to offer it to all comers. The strongest critique he had were for religious gatekeepers- calling them to know more love, more acceptance, more life.

        1. In response to the claim of gay relationships being neither sinful or evil, I would encourage you to read Romans 1:18-32 as well as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. And should it be mentioned in response that Jesus never mentioned about such relationships being neither sinful or evil, all of the truth of Scripture isn’t limited strictly to what Jesus said (2 Timothy 3:16-17 should also be read relating to this as well). The good news for people that are caught up in such sin, just like with any other sin, is that they can find salvation and forgiveness in Jesus Christ by understanding that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sin and was later resurrected from the dead, placing their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and turning away from sin and following Jesus. When that happens, he/she becomes a child of God, saved from his/her sins and assured of going to heaven when having passed from this life.

        2. Sorry, but you’re just wrong. Not only does the clear teaching of scripture (all of which is the word of Jesus) stand against you, but the entirety of church history. As for Jesus teaching while on earth, not only did Jesus speak strongly about sin, he also reaffirmed the Genesis pattern for sexuality and marriage in Matthew 19.

        3. So, does Love Win?

          What does digging deeper into scripture mean?

          How do you know someone’s understanding doesn’t line up with Jesus teaching?

          Are you not then, the arbiter of- the gatekeeper – of interpretation?

          Where in scripture do we find Jesus calling us, “ to know more love, more acceptance, more life”?

          If Jesus said, in John 14:6 (ESV): “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”, what does this mean?

          How does one come to Jesus? What is the basis for our salvation?

    2. While I want people know that I love them, in whatever condition, lately James 5:20 keeps pressing on my heart: “you may be sure that whoever brings a sinner back from his wrong path will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

      1. it is misinterpretation of scripture to declare gay relationships “sin”. In helping you see that, I am helping you off the wrong path of judging your christian neighbor instead of loving them (because do not be mistaken, the people fighting for gay equality at SPU ARE christians), and hoping to save your soul from death, and cover over a multitude of sins.

        1. You may have convinced yourself this is true because it’s what you want to be true, but it’s false, and manipulative threats that twist the scriptures will not make it otherwise.

  3. I just hate how THIS is the sin we obsess over.
    As this site shows, the church body – and its leadership – is rife with greed, hypocrisy, idolatry, adultery, abuse, racism, sexism, factions, discord, and manipulation; we will twist, deflect, downplay, and “what about” those away. But nothing gets us riled up more than same sex marriage.
    Fix it, Jesus.

    1. Riled up? Most of the church is asleep with regard to all sexual sin, not just homosexuality.

      The Old and New Testament are clear in the call to how we are to live sexually pure lives if we know Christ. From Genesis to Jesus to 2000 years of church history, marriage has been between one man and one woman. And sexual relations are reserved for that marriage relationship. Anything else is sexual sin. (Gen 2, Matt 19, Mark 10, 1 Cor 5-7, Eph 5 and more).

      1 Thes 4: 3-8 “For this is God’s will, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God…. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit.”

      I pray to God that His people become cut to the heart to turn from their sins and embrace the truth.

      SPU board members: Thank you for not rejecting God. Continue to stand. Do not give way to fear. If SPU falls to this error, do not let it be because of you. The Lord is near.

      1. Karen –

        I agree that the church is asleep to sexual sin. But what’s the one that gets the most reaction? It’s not the “hooking up” that is becoming more rampant in teen and singles ministries. We are quiet about that. It’s not the adultery rate among Christians, which as of 2017, is on par with non-Christians. Don’t say much about that. Oh and we made excuses for a certain President’s adulterous behavior that had him on his third marriage and caught on a hot mic saying atrocious things about women. All that mattered is he is a fellow Republican.
        But same sex marriage? Whip out the scriptures! Remind folks it opens the gates of hell!

        The church needs to wake up to ALL sexual sin, not focus it’s energy on one.

    2. I don’t agree with you. It’s the culture that’s obsessed with homosexuality, with normalizing it and promoting it all over the place to the point that even the students and faculty of a Christian school like this one are suing the school for being faithful to Christian teaching. Other sins certainly need to be confronted and preached against in the church, but we rarely, if ever, see people marching in parades, or dedicating entire months of the year, or suing their Christian employer in an attempt to normalize and celebrate greed, hypocrisy, idolatry, adultery, abuse, racism, sexism, etc. It’s a strange response to say that Christians who are addressing one of the prevailing areas where the teaching of our faith are currently under aggressive attack are “obsessed.” The truth is that most of us would much rather think about other things, but this is one of the places where faithfulness is under attack in our time and it has to be addressed.

      1. Gordon –

        I don’t see a culture obsessed with homosexuality. And I don’t know what it means to “promote homosexuality.” Are there some “hey, try being gay!” ads I missed?
        What DO I see? I see a sex-driven culture PERIOD. All types of sex. Our culture will use sex to sell a hamburger. It’s sad and is breeding all sorts of awful consequences (body insecurity, STD’s, etc.)
        But we as a church only pay attention and get riled up when it’s same sex. We say very little about how “shacking up” (living together outside of marriage) and having babies out of wedlock BOTH continue to be on the rise year after year, even among professing Christians. Tell me, when was the last time you heard that preached against in the pulpit? But we see a rainbow flag and are screaming fire and brimstone from the pulpit. So yeah, we look obsessed about ONE sin in particular.
        It’s why we look hateful. “You can shack up….have multiple baby daddies or baby mamas…and we love you. But gay?! Out of my sight!”

        1. I don’t disagree that we are a sex driven culture in general, nor that among Christians there is a general lack of holiness, but I confess that I’m astounded that you cannot see the cultural tide which of pro-homosexual sentiment which is now everywhere.

          This article itself, in which we have students and faculty of an ostensibly Christian institution suing the institution for adhering to basic Christian moral teaching on homosexual behavior is exhibit A. A vast number of shows on Netflix now foreground gay characters, some even include gay sex scenes (ie 1899). And, yes, I have seen commercials with gay characters as well, including commercials forgrounding or encouraging homosexual behavior for years now on streaming services like Hulu (my membership level features commercials). Aside from those things, we’ve had Christian businesses being sued for refusing to use their artistic talents to print messages celebrating homosexual behavior, we’ve had the legalization of same-sex marriage, so called, the tide of transgender insanity sweeping our nation, numerous mainline churches splitting (or dying) because the denominational leadership has accepted (and even promoted) homosexual behavior, and even the infiltration of much of the evangelical church with pro-homosexual sentiment. We also now have an entire month of the year devoted to celebrating and encouraging homosexual identity and behavior, and yet you say you cannot see the cultural obsession with promoting homosexual identity and behavior. I confess I’m flabbergasted.

          1. Gordon –

            I think the difference is in what you define as “promoting homosexual identity and behavior”. When I see an ad or movie that features a gay couple, I don’t cscream “Oh no! They are promoting homosexuality and encouraging me to be gay!” I simply see representation: an ad or movie that chooses to acknowledge and reflect that there are gay people in the world. And like it or not, there are!
            I don’t see representation of gay people in media as “pro” gay or “encouraging” homosexuality any more than featuring a single mom is “pro” fornication or “encouraging” sex outside of marriage; likewise, featuring a Black character does not suddenly make something “pro” Black Lives Matter or “pro” Black culture. (And none of the above make something “woke” – for all of the misuse of that word).
            In the case of this Christian university; it is private and its beliefs are openly stated and posted. So forcing them to go against those beliefs is wrong. Students, faculty and staff who disagree should exercise their choice to go elsewhere.
            And when it comes to legalization of same sex marriage, I am a “live and let live” Christian who believes my faith is a CHOICE, and not to determine the laws of the land. Who I marry is not the government’s business. I personally disagree with it, so…I won’t marry another woman. Who am I to tell you what to do?

          2. Thanks for sharing your perspective more in detail Marin. I don’t agree with it, but it’s helpful to have it explained and understand where you’re coming from. Peace.

          3. I appreciate your willingness to understand my side.
            And for what it’s worth, if seeing a gay couple or rainbow flag in an ad or film “causes” or “influences” anyone into pursuing a homosexual relationship, I think there are FAR deeper issues going on. That goes for many sins we see in media (murder, adultery ,etc.) Blaming the media for showing it is an easy way out.
            When we are truly rooted in scripture (and raise children who are also), we are able to “be in the world but not of it.” We can acknowledge others are choosing to live their lives in a way we disagree with (and point that out to children using scripture references) without demanding we be kept in a bubble or self-righteously demand others be cast out of our presence.
            We are able to “love the sinner and hate the sin”.

  4. Marin,

    Would your live-and-let-live philosophy about marriage also apply to not making laws to regulate polygamy or marrying an animal?

    1. Mark –

      The reasons polygamy and beastiality are illegal are not confined to religious beliefs (e.g., an animal cannot enter into a legal contract). If these practices were illegal solely “to enforce my religion”, I would have an issue with it.

      We tend to forget ALL have freedom of religion. Just as I can practice my Christian faith as I believe, those who are non-Christians also have the same right. We seem to hate that latter part, and want to do all we can (including expand the domain of government, which is NOT conservative) to force nonbelievers to do what we believe rather than win hearts and minds to submission to Christ.

      1. Marin, I don’t understand if or how your faith informs laws you would want to be made. It seems you would support a law legalizing polygamy in the USA, as some other religions and world views would agree with. Is that correct?

        Or what about laws regulating distributing and viewing pornographic materials, killing babies through abortion/infanticide, euthanasia/assisted suicide, the death penalty, guns, immigration, using and distributing heroin/cocaine, transgender drugs/surgeries for minors, federal funds to support these things, or the virtually limitless other examples that could be given of laws about which people of different religions and world views disagree?

        After all, in your live-and-let-live world, “Who am I to tell you what to do?”

        1. Mark –

          My faith informs how I live my life. If I don’t believe in it, I don’t do it. I don’t demand YOU also can’t do it.
          Our faith is a choice – scripture speaks to this. So we come to Him and respond to His call by choice, not by mandate.
          That is why I believe in religious freedom and small government. I thought that’s what made me conservative, but I have learned in recent years that today’s conservatives want the government to uphold and enforce THEIR faith on all citizens. That is not freedom. That is government overreach.
          It’s fine if that’s what you believe, but own it.

          Our government is to protect us from harming one another. Much of what you mention above can harm others, so I understand there being government interventions or regulations.

          Question I have for you: why do you feel you have the right to tell someone else – who may not have the same faith as you – what to do? How would you feel if they felt the same way about telling YOU how to live?

          1. Mark –

            Forgot to add: in Jewish faith, life begins at birth, not conception. Many synagogues have pro choice signs explaining this.
            So what do you tell them about abortion? Why should they abide by your faith instead of their own? Is that hindering on their religious freedom?
            That’s why I keep saying none of this is simple.

          2. Marin, Still wondering about your view regarding legalizing polygamy, yes or no. But, for someone who embraces gay “marriage” in society, polygamy should be no big deal either. It would seem you should have been advocating for permitting gay “marriage” decades ago, as well as for allowing polygamy, in order to overturn your perceived governmental overreach.

            You do allow for people, through government, telling others what to do “to protect us from harming one another,” and a major difference in our views seems to be how this principle works itself out practically. Many of the issues I raised that some may view as private matters that should not be regulated do in fact have (potentially harmful) effects on others in society. Additionally, as Christians of course our calling is to not just do no harm, but to actively do good.

            The topic of abortion, which you also raised below, is a matter of life and death. Abortion kills. Jewish people differ widely on their views about abortion, using many extra-biblical teachings as well, so that even among themselves they disagree about what religious freedom permits. I’ll join with pro-life Jews on this. The concerns you raised about limiting religious freedom could also be applied to some religions and philosophers that have argued for human sacrifices, infanticide, wife-burning (Sati), revenge killings, slaying infidels and apostates, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, etc..

            Thanks for helping me understand your views. Blessings to you…

          3. Mark –
            There is a legal reason for polygamy to be illegal – and that has to do with who can enter into a marriage contract. Just as an animal cannot do so, a minor cannot do so, only a certain number of parties (two) can do so.
            I don’t want this to turn into a legal essay, but the same can be said for animal and human sacrifices, wife burnings, slaying infidels, and the like that you mention.
            So as I said before, I struggle with legalities being rooted solely in “because my faith says so”. This has been reinforced through my time overseas – including the heavily-Muslim UAE. Trust me, enforcing religion through laws is NOT where we want to go. Freedom of religion is very precious. I think we take it for granted because of the strong Christian overtones of the US. But what if those overtones were Muslim? Or Jewish? Or Bahai?

            I also encourage you to go talk to some Christian ob/gyns. Many have stories on how medical abortions have saved lives (e.g. treating a septic uterus, etc). Or go read about Aretha Franklin, who had to give birth at 11 years old to child born out of molestation. IMO there are valid concerns about the new restrictions of some rather extreme legislation (e.g., “no abortions under any circumstances” being pushed in Iowa and other very conservative states) that will put lives at risk. But instead of being heard, they are met with “so you support killing babies?” arguments that are little more than moral grandstanding.
            (And to be clear, I also dislike when liberal believers say “so you support cutting aid to poor moms and their children?” Those are setups.)

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