A Christian college in upstate New York is facing blowback from mainstream media after two former employees claimed they were fired for sharing their preferred pronouns in their email signatures.
Wayne Lewis, Jr., president of Houghton University, a liberal arts college affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, spoke with CBN’s Faithwire about the two ex-staffers’ allegations, calling the characterization of the situation “untrue.”
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Now-former residence hall directors Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot said during a recent interview with The New York Times that it was specifically their decision to include their preferred pronouns — “she/her” and “he/him,” respectively — in their electronic signatures at the bottom of their emails that led to their terminations from the Christian university.
On April 19, Zelaya took to her personal Facebook page to share what appears to be a picture of her termination letter. While the letter referenced her intention to resign, it further stated that, “as a result of your refusal to remove pronouns in your email signature in violation of institutional policy … you are being relieved of your duties effective immediately.”
Lewis explained, however, that Houghton has never fired an employee “solely based on” the “use of preferred pronouns in their email signature,” noting that, roughly a year ago, the college established a “much more standardized approach” for how faculty and staff ought to identify themselves in correspondence, including changes like removing departmental or meeting links and even Bible passages and quotes from email signatures.
The policy also prohibits faculty and staff from placing their preferred pronouns in signatures.
“The reason we did that is we find it very important to be absolutely transparent with our students, with our families, with our prospective students and families, and our partners about who we are,” the Houghton president said. “We all have different ideas, perspectives, causes that we hold dear. But as an employee of the university, when you’re representing Houghton University, the things that you include in an email signature along with your name need to be in alignment with the positions, the beliefs, the doctrine of the institution. Those things that are not in alignment with the institution should not be there.”
Lewis argued the recently instituted policy comes from a place of compassion for those who might hold to different beliefs, particularly when it comes to issues pertaining to a biblical understanding of sexuality and gender.
“Including preferred pronouns in an email signature or including it with video conferencing sends a message — whether the person intends to or not — that the institution and/or the person is open to or potentially accepting of a position about sex and gender that is not in alignment with the views, the positions, the beliefs, the doctrine of Houghton University and our sponsoring denomination, the Wesleyan Church,” he said.
The teaching of the Wesleyan Church, it should be noted, is that “gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition.”
Lewis went on to assert that breaking school policy on preferred pronouns could do a “great disservice to” current and potential students by potentially misleading them to believe Houghton holds to theological and ideological perspectives it does not, in fact, embrace.
“You’re saying to a prospective student who’s not yet on campus, ‘Come to Houghton, we believe this about sex and gender,’ and then they get there, only to find that that’s not the case,” the president explained. “It’s imperative that we be very transparent about who we are and who we are not.”
As an academic leader preparing Christian college students to step into the professional world, he admitted culture is, in many ways, “openly hostile” toward those who hold a biblical perspective on issues like sexuality.
With that in mind, Lewis said Houghton University encouraged students to be “fearless,” not with, as he called it, “an inflated sense of self,” but as a result of “how great we know God to be and understanding that God is always with us, that the God who we serve and the God who lives within us is greater than any obstacle, any barrier, or even any hostility that we’re going to face in this world.”
“We are called, even in this day, in this time, in this moment to preach and teach the Gospel and make disciples of men and women,” Lewis continued, noting that, although culture has shifted its morality on a whole host of issues, “God has not changed what He has to say about one’s sex and one’s gender.”
The Christian view, he said, is not “based on popular opinion, based on polling.” Rather, he said believers’ understanding of the world should be based “on the Word of God, which is unchanging.”
You can watch our full conversation with Lewis in the video above. In it, he explains how Christians can engage non-believers in thoughtful and compassionate conversations about biblical values and shares some of his personal faith story.
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