Fuller Seminary denies tenure to pro-homosexual professor

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
Fuller Theological Seminary's David Allan Hubbard Library, named for a longtime Fuller president and built with an ecologically sustainable design, opened in 2009. | fuller.edu

PASADENA, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – Fuller Theological Seminary will not consider for tenure New Testament Professor J. R. Daniel Kirk based on his theological beliefs and writings about homosexuality.

Kirk's book, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?, included a chapter about homosexuality that was endorsed by Fuller president Mark Labberton when Labberton was a professor.

According to Robert Gagnon of First Things, Kirk has said he believes the Golden Rule requires Christians to support the legalization of gay marriage and he is personally glad to see the law enacted.

Referencing Kirk's book, Gagnon wrote, "Already in 2011 Kirk stated that a good 'case can be made' for accepting homosexual unions as a work of the Holy Spirit and that Scripture 'might not' be 'the last word.'"

Labberton invited Kirk recently to participate in a panel about the Supreme Court's recent rulings, but debate and belief have different implications for the seminary.

Kirk wrote on his blog: "You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I left that panel on how to respond to SCOTUS and walked across campus to a meeting with a couple of senior colleagues who indicated that my writing on homosexuality was going to be a profound hindrance to their ability to support me should I apply for tenure."

His Fuller colleagues conveyed to Kirk the fundamental difference between his theological views and the seminary's, which would prevent Fuller from being able to endorse him as a tenured professor.

Writing with a respectful tone toward Fuller, Kirk said, "Fuller and I have chosen different paths in our pursuit of integrity as we stand in relationship to Christ, scripture, and the church. ... I will therefore be leaving at the end of the 2015-16 academic year."


On Facebook, Fuller released a statement which, though limited by legal restrictions on its ability to discuss specific employment situations, addressed the issue of its difference with Kirk.

There have been recent conversations taking place across social media surrounding Fuller Seminary's willingness to engage in genuine and scholarly conversations regarding serious issues of our day and with those who disagree with us on the issues that matter most.

Fuller Seminary has had a long history of leading and hosting discussions on issues of sexuality and a wide range of other theological, ethical, and cultural issues, all while trying to foster Christian civil discourse. We seek to remain committed to civil discourse on the most important topics of our day while training women and men for the manifold ministries of Christ and his Church.

According to its statement, Fuller welcomes conversation and even disagreement about homosexuality, gay marriage, and other sometimes divisive issues facing the church today; however, its path diverges from that of Kirk and other evangelicals who profess to support rather than merely discuss views that Fuller cannot condone.

Gagnon explained the potential ramifications for Fuller and other evangelical institutions who fail to make a clear stand against fundamentally differing theological positions among their representatives. "Had Fuller set a precedent of embracing faculty whose position toward sexual ethics was so at odds with Jesus's own, it would soon have ceased to be an evangelical institution."


Some evangelicals have not taken the news of Kirk's departure from Fuller as peaceably as Kirk appears to have done.

James F. McGrath of Patheos chastised Fuller for "driving out" Kirk: "Scholarship can only be called that if it is open to following evidence in unexpected directions. Dogmatic creedalism is diametrically opposed to that."

Christopher Skinner at Crux Sola agreed with McGrath. "I continue to be disappointed (though not surprised) by the high profile departures of evangelical scholars who, in my opinion, are ... genuinely committed to dialogue and living in the midst of theological tension," Skinner wrote.

McGrath called for organizations like AAR and SBL to petition for the revocation of accreditation for universities that allegedly punish scholars for "genuine scholarship."

Their opinions seem to imply that Fuller and other evangelical institutions resist research, scholarship, and dialogue, when neither Fuller nor Kirk has ever said this is the case.

What Fuller is standing against is the impending future for seminaries that do not accept the new legal definition of marriage. "They will be threatened with lawsuits and loss of accreditation," wrote Gagnon.

"This will happen for 'discriminating' not only against faculty supporters of 'gay marriage' but also against homosexually active job applicants," he added. "Eventually sanctions may be imposed even for permitting faculty to teach or write against homosexual practice."

Another prominent evangelical educator, David Gushee, a Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, a Baptist college and divinity school in Georgia previously affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, in 2014 announced he affirms same-sex relationships and wrote a book "Changing Our Mind: A Call From America's Leading Evangelicl Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church."

Gushee previously was a professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee from 1996 until 2007, and before that was an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. from 1993 until 1996.  

At the time of Gushee's announcement, he spoke about his sister's revelation in 2008 that she is a lesbian. 

"[T]raditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it," he said, according to an article in RNS

R. Albert Mohler Jr. president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2014 said he and Gushee had ongoing disagreements dating back to when Gushee was employed at Southern Seminary.

"It was clear early on that he and I, and he and Southern Seminary, were moving in different directions, and those who've been watching David's trajectory will see this as a logical conclusion," Mohler said in the RNS report. "He's now placed himself outside of employability at the previous instiutions where he taught."

At Fuller, Gagnon praised the seminary that in a culture of tolerance the institution has supported Jesus's rather than society's view of marriage.

"I am grateful for the courage of senior faculty at Fuller Seminary in asserting the importance of a stance on sexual ethics that Jesus clearly regarded as foundational," Gagnon said.