Fuller Theological Seminary is currently facing a lawsuit and receiving backlash for their conduct from two expelled students, engaged in same-sex marriage.
When people hear about Fuller Theological Seminary, some associate it with its academics, its current financial struggles or its conservative, Christian approach to seminary. However, when discovering its connection to LGBT discrimination, critics were furious.
Paul Southwick, the lawyer representing the two plaintiffs, said in an interview with Pasadena Star News, “What Fuller has created is a community of diverse religious backgrounds. Unfortunately, there are a few administrators … who have taken this hard line action against them.”
Some students at John Brown University shared this critique of Fuller Theological Seminary for its conduct and perceived discriminatory actions. Abby Gonzales, freshman family and human services and Spanish double major, is enraged by this issue
Gonzales said, “As a Christian myself, I believe that our faith calls us to love everyone, and I don’t think that sexual orientation has any importance with their academic performance or potential.”
For other students, the lawsuit brings up the topic of religious practices complying with anti-discrimination laws. Sam Keele, sophomore elementary education major, described it as “a multiple factor situation,” stating, “There is no happy ending [for either side].”
Some arguments derive from faith-based institutions being asked to bend their practices to accommodate for what is considered “sinful” in their mentalities. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Fuller, stated that it “would be harmful to religious groups of all backgrounds,” especially if the educational institution receives federal funding.
In November 2019, Joanna Maxon filed the original lawsuit which was later amended to add Nathan Brittson on Dec. 31, 2019 over similar discrimination experiences. The suit asks for more than $1 million in compensation for the students.
The administration expelled Maxon in 2018 when it discovered that her wife was filed on her tax return forms. Maxon, who took online courses, was in her last semester at Fuller when she received the bad news.
During his freshman year of 2017, Brittson received a dismissal letter from the dean which stated that the seminary was aware of his same-sex marriage because of Brittson’s last name request. However, according to Christianity Today, the administration knew this because he was affiliated with an LGBT church, and he disclosed that information to another dean and a professor.
This case is one of the first of its kind and described by Christianity Today to “have wider implications for Christian colleges or universities who receive federal funding.” If the court found favor in the plaintiff, it would enact Title IX, which bars federally funded educational institutions from discrimination based on sex. Yet, many believe that the court will dismiss this lawsuit.
The lawsuit’s main argument centers on Fuller’s Sexual Standards Policy, which states the “covenant union between one man and one woman,” and emphasizes “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Fuller’s attorneys counter that it is “unlikely that courts would accept these kinds of arguments because they’re weak claims.” It is predicted that Fuller will ask for the court case to be dismissed during trial.
Students informed about Fuller’s actions emphasized their disappointment toward the institution. Gonzales said, “I don’t think faith has anything to do with doing the right thing.”
Sarah Yoon, freshman elementary education major, said, “I hope Fuller gets their stuff together … They see what the repercussions might be [as] an example they are setting for other universities and seminaries.”