University - suspension caused widespread hurt

Pastor suspended for officiating same-sex wedding

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North Park University, a Christian institution in Chicago, has suspended its campus pastor after the school's affiliated church removed her credentials for performing a same-sex wedding ceremony, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The university operates under the auspices of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which prohibits its clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings.

In a Dec. 28 statement, university officials announced, "Campus Pastor Judy Peterson, having had her ordination credential suspended by the denomination for non-compliance of an instruction of the ordered ministry, will enter the new year on paid sabbatical leave from her role as Campus Pastor. … North Park's requirement for its campus pastor is that they hold an ordination credential in good standing."

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for January, when Peterson's status will likely be resolved.

The advocacy organization Mission Friends for Inclusion, which works on behalf of LGBT Evangelical Covenant members, published a letter from Peterson on Dec. 27 wherein she explained that she had indeed performed a same-sex wedding in April 2017 on behalf of a former North Park student and colleague, and was aware of the risks involved.

"This was not a flippant decision done with disregard for religious rules, but rather a discerned decision to stand with my brothers in the same way Jesus has stood with me; in everything and at all times, no matter what," Peterson wrote. "Or to say it in a different way, I made my decision with the conviction that, 'If I'm going to die on a hill, I'm not going to die on the hill of exclusion, but on the hill of inclusion, because this is the hill Jesus died on for us.'

A subsequent Jan. 4 statement from university officials acknowledged widespread hurt caused by the suspension and mapped out a number of steps the school would take to mitigate bad feelings from Peterson's suspension.

Among the steps were "Hosting a campus wide conversation presenting a variety of perspectives on faith, scripture and sexuality in order to advance and model a faithful dialogue; creating space for personal story-telling sessions for students and listening sessions for the administration to fully hear the concerns of the student body; forming a joint task force with representatives from Student Government and the Queers and Allies student organization to review university policy on bias to ensure LGBTQ students are properly protected and supported; developing through the Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a set of recommendations for additional programmatic ways to care for LGBTQ students; [and] immediately expanding our student care work to ensure high quality counseling services to all students to help them grow into their full potential in an environment free from judgment and shame."

Founded in 1891 by the Evangelical Covenant Church, North Park University is located on Chicago’s north side and enrolls 3,200 students from around the world.