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Grand Canyon University statement on same-sex marriage employee benefits

As part of its annual review process of HR policies, Grand Canyon University has made changes to the benefits offered to partners of lawfully married same-sex couples. The University issued the following statement outlining the reasons behind that decision:

Since its inception in 1949, Grand Canyon University has been founded upon strong Christian principles and a commitment to the full inspiration of Scripture as the infallible, true and authoritative Word of God. Those Christian values and tenets exist throughout the University, including its stated mission to prepare learners to become global citizens, critical thinkers, effective communicators and responsible leaders by providing an academically challenging, values-based curriculum from the context of its Christian heritage.

As such, GCU’s sincerely held religious belief is that the Bible is clear about marriage being a sacred union between a man and a woman, which will continue to be espoused throughout the University’s curriculum and classrooms. This belief is not negotiable from a biblical perspective because Scripture grounds the institution of marriage in the created order (Genesis 2:18-25), which was established by God, and describes marriage as a reflection of the union between Jesus Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Our federal and state governments, however, have recently changed their long-held definition of marriage and now recognize same-sex marriage as lawful. As a result, notwithstanding GCU’s sincerely held religious beliefs regarding marriage, we have recently been confronted with the issue of whether GCU will extend benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples. For the reasons articulated in this statement, in this specific instance, GCU is making a conscious choice to maintain its religious beliefs, while respecting and honoring its neighbors, as well as the system of government and laws that exist today, by extending employee benefits to spouses of lawfully married same-sex couples. To be clear, though, the University’s decision in this instance, and the recent changes, or any future changes, in the government’s definition of marriage, do not, and will not, change GCU’s sincerely held religious belief that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.

The University’s decision to extend benefits has been made freely and without compulsion by the state. The University has voluntarily chosen to extend benefits as a way of demonstrating grace and compassion toward individuals and families that are affected by our decision. This decision should be interpreted as an act of good faith toward employees and their families whom the University does not view as pawns in the current cultural conflict. Rather, they are human beings who are loved by their Creator and worthy of the same value and dignity that we extend to others regardless of their personal values and convictions.

Some may judge GCU harshly for its decision to remain firmly rooted in traditional Christian convictions and steadfast in its commitment to the biblical view of marriage. Others may chastise the University for extending benefits to same-sex spouses because the decision can be misperceived as an implicit endorsement of non-Christian views. Both responses would fail to comprehend GCU’s position adequately. The decision to remain consistently Christian and profoundly biblical remains a legitimate, constitutionally-protected position. This position is neither intrinsically harsh nor unloving, no matter how unpopular it has become in some circles. Furthermore, the decision is accompanied by an explicit endorsement of traditional, biblical views which should jettison all concerns about potential misunderstanding (Romans 14:1-23).

Regardless of criticism, GCU will remain steadfast in its commitment to follow the example of Jesus who consistently showed kindness and compassion to all, regardless of worldview or lifestyle, while speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). At some points Christ infuriated religious leaders and at other points He drew the wrath of secular authorities, yet He continued to minister to all without fail. If providing benefits to all who are legally married enables the University to continue ministering to its employees and their families within an increasingly complex cultural context, then we will gladly provide benefits. We hope that in doing so we will be permitted to withdraw from fruitless culture wars that tend to yield more heat than light and more hostility than genuine cultural engagement.

There are a variety of social issues, including same-sex marriage, that have generated a great deal of debate throughout our society and even within the Christian community. Rather than letting it divide us, it is our hope — as a Christian university — that we might welcome and encourage open discussion and thoughtful, respectful dialogue. At GCU, our beliefs are openly expressed and reflected in the curriculum we teach. Yet, when an opposing view is presented, we recognize that critical thought, open dialogue and a fair presentation of all major views is vital to higher education. As a missional institution, GCU invites students from all walks of life to seek truth and to find their purpose within a context marked by Christian charity and compassion. We welcome all who genuinely seek truth to join the conversation, but the University does not require students to personally embrace the Christian worldview. As a matter of loving others as we love ourselves, GCU intentionally cultivates an environment characterized by respect and sensitivity in all matters, but especially in matters of faith and conscience.

In all respects the University is committed to fostering a loving environment of respect, tolerance, and acceptance of all persons but it does not and indeed cannot affirm all perspectives on these matters. Yet this commitment must not become a “one-way street” in which Christians are expected to tolerate and respect non-Christian views while Christian views are met with intolerance and disregard. In order to maintain the peace, all members of this increasingly pluralistic society must adhere to the principles summarized in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). It is only through these understandings that people become better educated and more respectful of different viewpoints, and that we work to find solutions rather than dwell on problems.

It would be a tragedy if Christian organizations were forced to stop being salt and light in the world because of issues that divide us (Matthew 5:13-16). When GCU welcomes high school students onto campus to receive free tutoring from our students, we don’t first ask if they are Christians. When we go out into the community alongside Habitat for Humanity and volunteer our time and resources to renovate people’s homes, we don’t inquire about homeowners’ sexual orientation. When we reach out to the many refugees in our community to help them learn English and get acclimated to life in America, we don’t care about their ethnic origin or faith background. We are involved because that is who we are as a Christian university.

Students routinely tell us they are attracted to GCU because of its 1) Affordability, 2) Community atmosphere on campus, 3) Quality education taught from a Christian worldview perspective, and 4) The chance to live out their Christian mission in real and meaningful ways through outreach efforts in the community. The latter cannot be understated. GCU remains firmly committed to its Christian values, and the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Of that we will not be deterred.

Regardless of our position in this particular instance, we want to be clear in our support for our constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom, which protects not only the right to hold particular beliefs, but also the right to freely exercise those beliefs. This protection guarantees the free exercise of religion both when the teachings of the religion are popular and when they are unpopular. GCU believes that religious liberty is an essential mark of any free state and aligns with the theological principle that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Although religious freedom is under siege in our day, liberty of belief and the free exercise of religion were purchased at a high price by our forebears and should never be restricted or revoked without carefully calculating the cost. Those who are willing to encroach upon others’ liberties today in order to advance their ideologies may find their own freedom limited in days to come as the culture continues to change and political power shifts. In this moment, GCU enjoys the freedom necessary to operate in accord with its deeply held religious convictions. It is our sincere hope that this freedom remains intact for Christians and non-Christians alike.

GCU strives to present and practice the Christian faith in ways that are winsome and persuasive, but we renounce all forms of coercion in matters of faith and conscience. Loving others as we love ourselves requires the cultivation of respectful dialogue and charity in all matters, but especially in spiritual and moral matters. We simply ask that others extend similar consideration to GCU in order to facilitate continued partnership with the government and its citizens. The University is committed to serving the community and contributing to the public good in coordination with civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7). We believe this commitment provides a strong basis for cooperation and common ground for all who genuinely seek to further the common good. In summary, as much as possible, so far as it depends on us, we will strive to live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18) in hopes that we may continue to share the love of Christ with those who embrace the Christian worldview as well as those who do not.

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