PHOENIX (Christian Examiner) – An Arizona newspaper is calling attention to "discrimination" at Grand Canyon University because the school has yet to adopt policies extending benefits to employees involved in a same-sex marriage.
Editorial writer E.J. Montini, who frequently rights on gay rights issues at the Arizona Republic, called the university a "great rags-to-riches story," but a blight on the name "Christian" because it wasn't living out the directive to "love your neighbor as yourself."
The school, which has 16,000 students enrolled both online and on campus, naturally describes itself as a "Christian university," and it is. It also says it "encourages students to find their purpose in Christ, with an emphasis on applying Christian values and ethics to their studies and to the workplace."
It also has as part of its doctrinal statement a statement that the "message of salvation proclaimed by Christ's Church is an indictment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, denouncing evil and injustice wherever it exists by lovingly ushering in the good news that Jesus Christ reconciled the world to Himself."
Such a statement, written long before the significant cultural and legal changes brought about by the gay rights movement, might seem to imply that the university has already taken a position on same-sex marriage.
The school does have a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring.
But in its human resources policies, Montini writes, Grand Canyon University defines a spouse as someone "who is lawfully married to an employee and who is a man or woman who is not the same sex as the employee. Same sex spouses and domestic partners are not covered under this policy."
"Like any large educational institution Grand Canyon employs a wide variety of individuals. Some of them are gay. And some of those gay individuals are married. Legally," Montini writes. "According to the latest ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court a spouse is a spouse."
Montini writes he believes he knows what "Christian" means, and it doesn't mean prohibiting benefits to same-sex married couples.
"We should be long past this particular prejudice, as we are with interracial marriage (which also was once illegal)," he writes.
According to Montini, he reached out to GCU's Office of Communications and Public Affairs to demand answers.
Bob Romantic, executive director of the office, responded with a statement that the university is "currently evaluating" marital benefits to same-sex partners after the Supreme Court ruling in June and the more recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruling extending Title VII federal non-discrimination protections to homosexuals.
"We have had the good fortune of creating 2,500 new jobs in the West Valley in the last five years. We have also been able to provide an employer-funded comprehensive benefits package for our employees and have not cut those benefits in recent years despite rising costs. We are also proud of our record with regards to the diversity of both our student body and our employee base. To this point, like many employers, we have not provided marital benefits to same-sex partners," Romantic said.
GCU, however, is not alone. Many companies that offer self-insured plans (they do not use the services of an independent insurance company) have still not made insurance benefits available to same-sex spouses.
Even the behemoth Walmart was slow to extend its health insurance benefits. Under pressure from gay rights groups, the retailer began covering same-sex spouses in states that had legalized same-sex marriage beginning last year. Still, it is currently being sued by a former employee who alleges she was damaged under the company's old policy which did not allow coverage of her same-sex spouse.
Walmart, however, is not a Christian organization or a denominationally-affiliated university. Most have held firm to their Christian convictions and are waiting for the government to force the issue.
Others, such as Hope College and even the Catholic Norte Dame University, are already offering benefits to same-sex spouses while claiming they still hold to a biblical definition of marriage and human sexuality.
Earlier this month, however, Union University withdrew from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities over the group's stance toward two member colleges that changed their hiring policies for those in same-sex marriages. Union's leaders believe extending benefits to same-sex spouses redefines "family" in the biblcal sense, so it has not changed its benefits policy.
That may cost Union and other Christian universities, but Union's president has called for courage as the school faces the challenges that lie ahead.
In his convocation address Aug. 21, Union University President Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver said "it doesn't require a Ph.D. in political science or socially to see that there's an almost inevitable collision developing between Christian Orthodoxy and the social movements of the day."
"At one time, being a Christian was a relatively easy thing. It was beneficial for one's reputation," Oliver said. "But for the most part, that easy, cheap grace, cultural Christianity is going to die on the vine."
Montini concludes in his column an unwillingness to budge theologically may mean that the young – Milliennials – will need to wrestle to reins of leadership on gay rights issues away from "the old." He also claims GCU needs to help its students realize that people are different and should be appreciated and accepted for their differences.