For the first time, PLNU has established a Community Life Covenant that presents the university’s shared beliefs, corporate practices and defines expected Christ-like character for staff and faculty.
“While we respect and welcome people from a variety of Christian traditions, it is our hope and expectation that all in our community will respect the theological commitments of the Wesleyan tradition and the Church of the Nazarene,” states the Community Life Covenant obtained by The Point Weekly.
The covenant, according to Dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry Ron Benefiel, who chaired the committee which wrote the document, is a clarification of much of what is already outlined in the Church of the Nazarene manual, but is more specific to the university itself.
“What we have written in this covenant is certainly consistent with the manual of the church of the Nazarene, it’s just more specific,” said Benefiel. “So it doesn’t cite everything that’s in the manual of the church of the Nazarene, it just makes a statement that is specific to ethical standards, beliefs, practices, that relate to Point Loma Nazarene University.”
Staff and faculty were sent the document with their new employment contracts.
“Our contracts and handbooks that contain contractual elements tended to reference documents of the Church of the Nazarene that, on the whole, were written for a different purpose and much of it did not apply to our setting,” said Kerry Fulcher, provost and chief academic officer. “From an accreditation stand point, it is preferred to reference our own internal documents that we have control over rather than documents that are not our own.”
Fulcher and Benefiel also mentioned that this document could be beneficial if a legal case was ever to arise regarding faculty conduct.
“Any document that is referenced in contracts becomes a document with legal ramifications,” said Fulcher. “This is why the process also involved a review of the document by legal counsel.”
Benefiel said PLNU is ahead of most of the other Nazarene colleges in establishing this type of document, but that they consulted faculty handbooks and similar documents by other denominational colleges.
A committee established by President Bob Brower, made up of five faculty members and two staff members whose names weren’t disclosed by Fulcher, started working on the document last fall and presented it to the Board of Trustees during their fall meeting to present to the faculty in the spring.
Before the agreement was implemented, faculty members were able to give their feedback. This was especially relevant to the members of faculty who aren’t Nazarene.
“The Church of the Nazarene is a young and small denomination that is in its third and fourth generation growing pains,” said history professor Rick Kennedy via email. Kennedy affiliates with the Presbyterian Church. “Faculty like me who are not Nazarene are sometimes adversely affected by squabbles within the denomination between its church leadership and our college leadership. There is a lot of ‘inside baseball’ as to whether we [PLNU] are Nazarene, Wesleyan and/or Evangelical.”
Some of the issues outlined in the covenant were how to handle interpersonal relationships, maturity and discretion, diversity, gender equity, health of mind and body and human sexuality. Under the “human sexuality” clause, it states, “consistent with the historic teaching of Christian scripture and tradition, we believe that God has provided the context for the full expression of sexual intimacy in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.”
“The section we rewrote, which was also a section we gave a lot of time and attention to was the section of human sexuality,” Benefiel said. “And that is, as everyone knows, one of the hot potato issues these days and so how we would talk about that in the document was really important. We got some really good feedback from the faculty and that then took us back to making some substantial changes from the first time.”
Another change was the alcohol policy outlined in the “Health of Mind and Body” portion. According to the Nazarene manual, it is encouraged that “in light of the findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence from all intoxicants.”
The new agreement states that the university encourages its faculty and staff to “abstain from the use or possession of alcoholic beverages and tobacco and the practice of gambling on the PLNU campus, its branch campuses, or at any activities sanctioned or sponsored by the university or where students are present.” It does not, however, mention total abstinence like the Nazarene Manual does.
“The way to look at this is that we are an alcohol-free campus and we have a general commitment to model that position of abstinence especially when we’re in the presence of students,” said Benefiel. “But the administration isn’t going to be checking out peoples’ refrigerators. And there is certainly room for personal discretion on the matter.”
The covenant is meant to be more descriptive than prescriptive, according to Benefiel. Robert Gailey, PLNU Business professor and ordained Nazarene Minister said that PLNU’s openness to hire non-Nazarene faculty and staff enriches the PLNU community in ways that some other Christian schools who only hire people from within their own denominations don’t experience.
“I hope PLNU students, faculty, and staff appreciate the diversity of churches and denominations represented in our community – for it does add a richness to our community,” Gailey said. “If providing a community life covenant helps non-Nazarenes in our midst better understand our corporate expectations of all representatives of PLNU, it also can provide a road-map for areas where the community welcomes their diverse and varied contributions to our community.”
Abby Hamblin contributed to this report.