The God We Serve – Adam Ackley, Azusa Pacific University, and EEWC

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money close upThe Salon.com headline reads, “Veteran theology professor asked to leave Christian college after coming out as transgender.”  The theology professor, Heath Adam Ackley, is quoted as having said that the people from Azusa Pacific University who asked for his resignation didn’t seem to have a problem with his transgender identity, but their concern was that “donors, parents and churches connected to the university” just might.

Let’s translate that.  “We don’t have a problem with you, it’s those other people we’re worried about. You know, the ones with the money.”  Apparently in the view of the administration, allowing Ackley to stay on at Azusa Pacific would be a terrible business move.

More than 25 years ago, during a conference of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC, now known as EEWC-CFT) in Fresno, CA, a resolution was brought before the membership and passed.  The resolution  acknowledged the lesbian minority within our organization, and after considerable soul-searching and discussion, a majority of members present at the conference  took “a firm stand in favor of civil rights protection for homosexual persons.” You can read what Nancy Hardesty has written about it here.   And here’s how the Los Angeles Times covered it.

From an organizational and economic standpoint, passing that resolution was crazy.  It cost hundreds of members and, thousands of dollars in future contributions. But most disastrously, approving the resolution left EWC, an evangelical Christian organization, with very little biblical credibility in the evangelical world.  To say it was a terrible business move is the understatement of the year. But passing that resolution was a righteous and just thing to do.

Christians are called to do what is righteous and just, not called to operate in the world with incredible business savvy.  And make no mistake, doing what is righteous and just sometimes requires that one make extremely poor business decisions.  In our culture, business and justice are often at odds.

There’s something I noticed a while ago that few people seem willing to acknowledge.  Here in America there is one god worshiped above all others. That god’s name is capitalism.  The worship of capitalism is obvious, but we just don’t want to see it.  Consider how we have been stubbornly ignoring business practices that contribute to the rising inequality in America and the vast numbers of people now living in poverty.  Consider how studies show that we admire the rich, and despise the poor.  Consider how we permit businesses and the military to operate in ways that defile Divinity’s sacred creation.  Putting capitalistic considerations above all other concerns is, sadly, the American way.  Over and over we prove that as a society we prefer “good business decisions” to decisions that are right and just.

So, it is no surprise to me that Azusa Pacific University has asked Heath Adam Ackley to go away.  And it is no surprise to me that the people who asked him to do so were apparently not concerned about the justice or righteousness of the request.  As is usual, capitalistic considerations trumped all others.  I do wonder, though, if they realize that in making their request they have clearly illuminated which god their “Christian” university serves.  And I can’t help but hope more than a few people will notice.

What does still surprise me is when any group of Christian people decide to move against the grain of capitalism, and act in a just and righteous manner.  And it is profoundly moving to know that EWC did exactly that, way back in 1986.  By their righteous and just action, this group of women and men clearly illuminated which God they serve.  And I am delighted that the time has come for more than a few people to notice.

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Related material:

A Christian University, a Transgender Professor, and Employment Justice: Conflict in the Law by Julia Stronks
To Revere the Image of God in Every Person by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Two more reading suggestions from recent editions of our Link of the Day feature:
A supportive parent writes about God’s gift of a gender-nonconforming child
How do conservative Christians regard transgender people?

Change.org is hosting a petition to be presented to Azusa Pacific University Administration saying simply, “Create safety for transgender students and faculty.”  Please sign it.

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Marg, for calling attention to the “god of capitalism” when dealing with these ethical issues. Many of us Americans probably don’t even realize how much we compromise ourselves to this god.

    I might add a couple more groups who have confronted the same issue as EWC and made the same decision.

    Daughters of Sarah magazine began dealing with the issue of lesbians in 1987, trying to provide a range of attitudes that we felt were compassionate, even if they didn’t all agree on details. As a result, a number of readers canceled their subscriptions, a risk we felt it was important to take at that time. I have no regrets.

    More recently, my church congregation, Community Mennonite, voted last winter 2013 to be a welcoming and affirming church for LGBT people. The vote was 87%, but some of the dissenters were apparently among the most generous (and wealthy) contributors. They either left the church or (worse) still come but are not contributing financially. As a consequence, we’ve had a budget crisis and our 2014 budget has been trimmed considerably, while the rest of us are asked to contribute more.

    In addition, since we are the largest congregation in Mennonite Church USA to make this decision, and the only one so far in Virginia Conference, it remains to be seen what other sacrifices will have to be made.

    On another topic, our ongoing issue that is unresolved is the tension of having to pay for military taxes when our denomination is opposed to violent means of solving problems. For years conscientious objectors to war have lobbied for a Peace Tax Fund, where we/they can contribute their share of taxes to be used to work for peaceful solutions to conflict. Can you imagine a bill like that being approved by the House of Representatives?

  2. Thanks Jann, Anne, and Virginia. You all know first hand the sacrifices one has to make to do what it right and just. You three are incredible women who live your lives promoting justice, inclusion, and equality in the world. I hope to live into the courageous examples you have provided me.

  3. Marg, thank you with all my heart for confronting the issue of money-grubbing at institutions that claim to be Christian yet base their decisions on protecting their income. The National Council of Churches denied full membership to the Metropolitan Community Church for fear of membership loss (i.e., loss of income from more conservative member-churches). And I frequently heard similar reasoning when I was teaching at fundamentalist colleges. Your description of EEWC’s embracing justice rather than income filled me with joy.

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