Seattle Pacific University prohibits unmarried students from having sexual relations of any kind and has stood nonaffirming on LGBTQIA+ talking points among students and staff. These policies have been protested by students and faculty across the community for moral and theological reasons.
“If you want to hurt someone the most, this is what you do to them,” Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers said. “You shame them sexually from their earliest memories and then throw God on top of it, and you will have now made it nearly impossible for them to believe there is a God who loves them.”
Sellers is a licensed sex therapist, former SPU professor and author of the book “Sex, God and the Conservative Chuch.” Sellers is a major critic of purity culture, something SPU actively advocates for with their policies. She thinks institutions with policies and ideologies like SPU’s are actively causing trauma among young people.
“It amplifies the sexual shame; it amplifies that I am a bad person, and it says that [sex], that even when it is in a loving, consensual relationship, this thing we want to do because we love and care for each other… It’s bad. Something is fundamentally bad about it because I could pay a fine, I could get expelled or whatever,” Sellers explained.
Sellers views SPU’s stance on heterosexual marriage as the benchmark for when a couple can have a cohabitating or sexual relationship as potentially troublesome.
“Is there a switch you flip when you get married? I can tell you there is not,” Sellers explained. “People are set up to have the first decade of their marriages be really hard and for a lot of these people, all those years of fear, all those years of shame and all those years of being caught causes erectile dysfunction, early ejaculation, pelvic floor issues…their body did that because of the impact of this shame.”
The other side of SPU’s sex policies is their continuing stance of non-affirmation toward LGBTQIA+ individuals practicing their sexuality. This controversy has been a hot-button topic throughout the community since last January when adjunct professor Jeaux Rinedhal announced he was suing the university for sexual orientation discrimination.
At the beginning of the 2022 calendar year, SPU’s Associated Students of Seattle Pacific and the graduate psychology department launched a survey called Campus Voices, which asked students about their opinions on the statement of human sexuality, SPU’s employment policies, lifestyle expectations and campus experience.
The results showed that a majority of the 618 students surveyed disagree with SPU’s policies regarding sex, and believe that LGBTQIA+ individuals’ well-being at SPU is valued lower than those of their cisgender-heterosexual peers.
“Based on the data, compared to their counterparts, our LGBTQIA+ students are not only less satisfied, but you could argue they are experiencing harm,” Lynette Bikos, a psychology professor who helped facilitate the poll, explained. “We created a microaggression scale and every single item on that scale was fully endorsed by LGBT students who said that it happens to them multiple times a week. When you look at those items, they are really hurtful items… It makes me sick to my stomach.”
In response to the Campus Voices data and criticism of the university’s policies, SPU Dean of Students for Community Life Chuck Strawn gave the following statement.
“It breaks my heart, personally, when I see survey data or have a conversation one on one with a student about their experience, I want all of our students to feel valued and welcomed and safe in this community,” Strawn said. “The survey talked about how students that are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community have a lower sense of wellbeing in spaces, and that is distinct but not unique to SPU. Unfortunately we know that in current culture, particularly in America at least because that’s where we are living, that is true for campuses all across the country.”
As part of the Campus Voices data collection, 44% of LGBTQIA+ students who were surveyed said they have had religion, God and the Bible weaponized against them. Some students reported being called “sodomites” by peers. Since this data was reported, SPU has still not changed any of its policies, something ASSP Executive Vice President Ciarra Choe is frustrated by.
“As a student leader, it’s my job to work with admin, to hear students and work with students, but the fact that we, even before the data, all knew this policy, at least in my sense, morally and I would even say theologically is not okay, so now that we have this data, here is some real objective, less politicized stuff,” Choe said. “I know things take time but we can’t keep prayerfully considering; actions are very important.”
Choe thinks that SPU’s unwillingness to side with their students and faculty on these issues is hurting the college experience of those currently attending SPU and leaving negative impacts on alumni.
“People are ashamed to go here, whether that is related to the policies or not, but I know the policies contribute,” Choe explained. “I know when everything picked up last year, an article came out, and people were saying in job interviews people would ask them, ‘Hey I heard you go to SPU, isn’t that place homophobic?’ The fact that comes up, that’s not ok. If anything, a university should positively impact your job search.”
Choe believes that if SPU does not change its policies, the university will continue down a negative path.
“It would be a detrimental decision to uphold these policies after the last two, three years,” Choe said. “I think SPU is having an identity crisis quite frankly. I think we don’t know what it means to be Christian, and if we don’t figure out what that looks like, and that holistic identity doesn’t include being inclusive and seeing the whole person and everyone made in the image of God, SPU will fall apart.”