With the termination of Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) junior Zebulun Knuteson’s employment at the university, the campus has been working through difficult conversations about faith and sexuality.
According to Knuteson’s statement on Instagram, he had been working as an assistant resident director on campus for several weeks before the new university vice president, Mark DeMichael, dismissed Knuteson. The notice of termination, he said, came after he had inquired about how much he could share about his sexuality with others.
Knuteson wrote that he had been willing to suppress sharing his personal views, but that DeMichael said Knuteson would be unable to uphold the Wesleyan Church’s core beliefs against homosexuality.
Knuteson also wrote in the post that DeMichael said the conflicting views had not been addressed during the hiring process. However, Knuteson said he had been forthright with his direct supervisors, who were the previous university vice president, the dean of residential living and his resident director. They had told him that his sexual identity would not pose an issue in his role if he was not pursuing relationships, which were the same guidelines given in his previous role as a resident assistant, Knuteson wrote in the post.
Although Knuteson said he had tried to communicate with administration, he said they were unresponsive to the issue. Consequently, he published a 700+ word statement on Instagram describing the situation.
“I am not upset that I was fired, I am not upset that I was discriminated against for my sexuality,” Knuteson wrote. “I am upset that a school claims to uphold the teachings of Christ has been blatantly hypocritical and hateful to a student for who they love.”
Since being posted, the statement has accrued nearly 5,000 likes and 500 comments ranging in reactions.
Those in support of Knuteson students painted the campus’ spirit rock with the LGBTQ pride flag. Later, it was painted with the transgender flag.
However, there were also many who supported the university’s decision. After the spirit rock was painted rainbow, it was spray-painted with phrases “It‘s never too late,” “Come back to the truth” and “Romans 6:23,” which reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ our Lord.”
Although the IWU administration has responded, they did not discuss any specific action. In a video sent to the campus, President David Wright said they were reviewing the situation to make sure their non-discriminatory practices were followed and looking to restore the relationship.
As stated in their statement of faith and community lifestyle statement, homosexuality is a sin according to scripture and is prohibited on campus. As stated in their non-discrimination policy, IWU will not discriminate based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or veteran, but is permitted exemptions by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for faith discrimination.
During his video to the campus, Wright directly addressed the university’s policy on homosexuality.
“Among other requests, I’ve been specifically asked to change the university’s core theological position on sexual ethics,” Wright said. “Let me clearly say that IWU is, and will continue to be, committed to the biblical sexual ethic outlined in the official teachings of the Wesleyan Church.”
Wright continued to say that IWU does not require students to be a part of the Wesleyan Church or agree with Wesleyan theology. However, he said he wants to continue learning how to exemplify a Christ-centered academic community with a new task force led by President of Wesley Seminary Colleen Derr and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Diane McDaniel.
However, some campus groups were left desiring more than Wright’s response.
“He didn’t really address the situation,” IWU senior Kay Fletcher said.
“Similar situations have happened before and people have been silenced,” IWU junior Shiloh Cabeller said. “They will continue to unless there is real action.”
Fletcher and Cabeller are respectively the president and vice president of IWU’s new Gender and Sexuality Alliance group, which organized a protest on Sept. 4.
According to Fletcher, 70 students, community members and staff walked across campus in rainbow order to deliver a letter to the administration.
The Gender and Sexuality Alliance group meets weekly for those identifying as part of the LGBTQ community, some of whom travel from neighboring Taylor University.
One of these students is sophomore Caleb Goins, who recently started an Instagram page for an unsanctioned Taylor Gay-Straight Alliance. Goins wants to raise awareness and create a safe space for LGBTQ-identifying people on campus.
“Starting the (Gay-Straight Alliance) is something that I’ve been praying about, and then I saw what IWU was doing and thought that this is something our campus needs as well,’” Goins said.
Taylor expresses their stance toward sexuality and gender in both the Life Together Covenant (LTC) and Statement on Human Sexuality. Officially, Taylor distinguishes a struggle with same-sex attraction from homosexual behavior as two seperate issues.
“I have friends who laugh at that phrase ‘homosexual behavior’ because if you are homosexual, then everything you do is homosexual behavior,” senior Miranda Streitman said. “The language in the LTC and statements of Faith are confusing enough that I have never been certain on whether or not if I was completely out or super vocal if I could be kicked out or not. That’s a really frustrating place to be.”
Streitman was a part of Taylor’s Colleague College in the fall of 2020, where she sat with a panel of LGTBQ students and alumni that answered questions for present faculty. She has also been an active member of Choros, a group that exists to have conversations about sexuality, gender and faith. The impetus of their group is to bring a variety of beliefs and views for thoughtful discussion.
While she said these are encouraging things to be a part of, Streitman wants to see more conversations about faith and sexuality on campus outside of the group.
President of Choros, senior Abby Wilson, also encouraged Taylor students to consider how they partake in these conversations, especially in light of IWU’s current conversation.
“I feel like sometimes at Taylor people like to act like there isn’t anyone who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community here — and that is statistically highly unlikely first of all,” Wilson said. “It’s just right now they don’t feel safe enough to say anything publicly. I think if that continues to be the case it could get to a point where the discontent is so high it just explodes.”
DeMichael and Knuteson did not respond to comment about the situation.