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'Our humanity is intertwined'

Students, teachers leave King's Schools over perceived intolerance of LGBTQ+ people

 

Last updated 10/5/2019 at 5:09pm

Brian Soergel

CRISTA Ministries' main entrance is on Fremont Avenue in Shoreline.

King's Schools, an independent, interdenominational Christian school for students from preschool to grade 12 in Shoreline, is under fire from teachers and students who feel the school is not supportive of LGBTQ+ members and allies. Enrollment includes many students from Edmonds and Woodway.

Both faculty and students have left in protest.

Much of the protest focuses on the school's doubling down on its stance of gay marriage. Jacinta Tegman, who in January was named president and CEO of CRISTA Ministries, and the head of the school, Eric Rasmussen, cite biblical inerrancy.

In a letter to staff and faculty, Rasmussen wrote that "King's upholds the historical biblical standard of morality that sexual expression is confined within the marriage of one man and one woman."

Several King's students, in social media posts and conversations with the Beacon, said that – while acknowledging King's is a private Christian school not subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as public schools and employers – they feel its narrow-minded interpretation of religious principles isolates students and communicates an attitude of intolerance and exclusivity.

One student, who did not want to be identified because he is still enrolled at King's, said some teachers who support LGBTQ+ students on campus cried when hearing of the school's reinforced position on marriage equality.

"It's a stance that's harmful to LGBTQ+ students on campus," the student said.

Another, Jack R., said that "My heart goes out to anyone attending King's Schools in Shoreline. Despite students reaching out to the administration to plead for equal rights and protections as LGBTQ+ students, they were denied the simplest courtesy of signs indicating an LGBTQ+ safe space."

When KIng's appointed Tegman to her role, she became the first woman to lead the nonprofit organization whose ministries, in addition to King's Schools, include Christian Veterinary Mission, CRISTA Camps, CRISTA Media, CRISTA Senior Living, Seattle Urban Academy, and World Concern.

The Edmonds connection

Tegman's position on gay marriage shouldn't come as a surprise.

In 2006, two Republican senators from Spokane urged churches statewide to support Referendum 65, a ballot measure filed by $30 car-tab supporter Tim Eyman of Mukilteo.

It aimed to appeal a law passed earlier that year to add sexual orientation to other protected classes from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, and disability.

According to The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, organizers had scheduled "Referendum Sunday" for church members statewide to voice support for the ballot measure.

As part of that effort, a group called Sound the Alarm mailed a six-minute DVD to more than 5,000 churches statewide with the message that the new law was "part of a systematic effort to normalize homosexuality and to take us one dramatic step closer to same-sex marriage and the silencing of our pulpits."

Sound the Alarm was based in Edmonds. Tegman was the executive director.

The Rev. Alec Rowlands of Edmonds' Westgate Chapel founded the group in 2004 for the purpose of "calling to the pastors of Washington State to prayer and repentance for the purpose of revival," according to the church's website.

"My concern," Rowlands said on Sound the Alarm's now-defunct website, "is that all of the prohibitions on religious issues notwithstanding, that what this law will do when codified will open the door to what I believe will be a restriction of the freedom of the pulpit as has been the case in other nations in the world."

Referendum 65 ultimately did not pick up enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Rowlands is in his 31st year at Westgate Chapel and has a new name for his 2004 group.

"Church Awakening (formerly Sound the Alarm) is a ministry out of Westgate Chapel whose mission is calling pastors of the Northwest to prayer and spiritual awakening," Rowlands wrote in an email to the Edmonds Beacon. "In fact, we are hosting a conference in February on that very topic. Feel free to visit the website at churchawakening.com."

The Beacon asked Rowlands if LGBTQ+ people are discouraged at Westgate Chapel, and if he holds to a statement he made on the defunct website that read, "The initial motivation for forming the network was in response to the militant homosexual agenda being forced on our state through legislative and judicial activism. ..."

Rowlands released the following statement Sept. 12: "The mission of Church Awakening is the same today as it was under the name of Sound the Alarm, namely to call pastors and churches to return to their first love for God, which always results in personal transformation and a lifestyle of Biblical Christianity – the standard for the last 2,000 years. The reason for Church Awakening's existence, and the goal of our events, is to bring people back to a passionate love for God."

Lawyer departs King's

On Sept. 12, in light of a letter he said disavowed same-sex relationships sent to staff and families of students at King's High School from CRISTA, David Chen resigned as CRISTA's general counsel and released the following statement:

"Every person – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and religion – deserves equal rights and to be treated with dignity and respect. The letter sent by my former employer in July detailing their anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs made working for them untenable.

"The positions reflected in CRISTA's letter are wrong. This kind of discrimination by an organization that is supposed to support and educate students is completely unacceptable."

Chen is a candidate for Shoreline City Council Position 4.

"As the father of three young children, I'm proud to stand up for what I believe in and lead by example. On City Council, I will listen to and uplift the voices of underrepresented communities as I have through my work with the Dale Turner YMCA, Sounders RAVE Foundation, and Vision House. I stand with Shoreline's LGBTQ+ students, teachers, and families."

Same-sex marriage

It was the Seattle Times that first reported that, over the summer, several teachers were pushed out or voluntarily quit, and two students left due to what they perceived to be the school's stance on same-sex marriage and intolerance to gay students and their supporters.

In response to the Times' story, King's sent a letter to parents and guardians stating, in part: "We are unapologetically and decidedly a Christian school that teaches from a Christian Worldview with Biblical principles, values, and truths. We simply reaffirmed our long-standing commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also believe that we can love one another and not agree on all issues."

The letter continued: "We welcome all students and families, both current and prospective. Our admissions policies are unchanged. ... The support from our community regarding our core values has been overwhelmingly positive. We have connected with families that have raised concerns. We have listened, sought to understand, and reemphasized our love for students and families."

In response to an inquiry from the Beacon about King's stance on marriage equality – whether the Bible says marriage is for men and women only – the school repeated that it aligns with the biblical stance that sexual expression is indeed reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.

In Matthew 19:4-6, the school wrote, "Jesus answered, 'Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator "made them male and female" and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.'"

In many versions of the Bible, the passage – which centers on divorce – "let man not separate" is written as "let no one separate."

King's faculty are expected to sign a doctrinal statement that expresses CRISTA's stance that the Bible is inerrant and of final authority.

Students

Zoe Graff, 18, graduated from King's this year and is now attending Western Washington University in Bellingham. She was heavily involved in a social justice program her senior year. She says she is an ally of LGBTQ+ people.

"Advocating for social change in a conservative environment, which silences bigotry, racism, sexism, etcetera, was absolutely exhausting," she said. "I found myself in Principal Bob Ruhlman's office on a daily to weekly basis with things that my classmates would say, and what we were going to do about it. Time after time my school did nothing to address the acts of hate, hate speech, and exclusion."

Ruhlman confirmed that he met Graff in his office.

"As principal of King's High School, my door is always open," he said. "I met with Zoe, as I do many of my students, parents, and teachers about how to make our school the very best it can be. I strive to always offer an open heart and a listening ear. Our discipline philosophy is one based on accountability, redemption, and restoration.

"Our honor code is clear regarding our expectations surrounding bullying or any sort of discrimination. Our students are expected to treat all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, religion or orientation, with dignity and respect. Where students have not abided by our honor code, appropriate disciplinary measures have been taken."

For Women's History Month, Graff said, the advanced social justice class created a poster reading "WOMXN ARE. ..." During a social justice club meeting, students and faculty wrote down an adjective to describe women. Students in the social justice program also attended the Womxn's March earlier in the year in Seattle.

Students posted a picture of the poster and of the Womxn's March on the King's Social Justice Instagram page.

Said Graff: "My principal explained to my social justice teacher that many parents and students had complained about my sign that read, 'Nudity empowers some women. Modesty empowers some women. Different things empower different women. Feminism is their right to choose.'

"He then asked us to take down both Instagram posts, as they were not 'biblically correct.' Principal Ruhlman also said no to safe-space posters around that same time."

Ruhlman said he's always been collaborative with the school's social justice class.

"I simply and respectfully asked that they remove two posts on the King's High School Social Justice Instagram account that were not consistent with our social media guidelines, as is our standard practice."

Regarding the posters, Ruhlman said that "we fully convey to our students and parents that all students are welcome at King's. We are considering more broadened poster artwork that communicates this very message: Our school is safe for all students, reflecting our honor code statement of treating all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, or orientation, with dignity and respect."

Still, Graff said she felt that King's was censoring and silencing an entire group of people. So she began a letter-writing campaign that let current LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and alumni communicate their experiences at King's to the administration.

One of those letters came from Koko Morrill, who graduated from King's in 2016 and gave the Beacon permission to excerpt from her letter.

"Eventually, after researching on my own, I realized that being queer is not wrong," she wrote. "That we are all made in God's image. God calls us to love, not shame and ostracize ... Now, I have no doubt that I am loved by Him as I am. But feeling like two parts of me were at war was extremely exhausting. And while I do not doubt that God made me this way and that His image means ALL of me, I still struggle with connoting Christianity negatively for the internal phobia it gave me for years of my life.

"I can't help but think if I set foot into a church or Christian institution, that they will not accept me, and that I will feel alone and ostracized again. This is something other students don't have to go through.

"I hope for the current and future LGBTQ+ students at King's a supportive environment where they feel like they can grow holistically as people – in their knowledge of themselves, God, and the world around them."

After an overwhelming response to the number of letters written, Graff set up a meeting with Ruhlman to read the letters out loud to teachers, faculty, CRISTA's governing organization, and general administration.

"Even if my school didn't accept LGBTQ+ people, I was sure that they would at least want to prevent hurting within the school," Graff said. "But after a half-dozen meetings, the principal said no to reading the letters. Reporting this news to my teachers who supported me was interesting.

"They were deeply disturbed by the news, and my highly respected Bible teacher, Deri Kispert, ended up holding the letter-readings at her home. About eight teachers met at her house while we cried, lamented, and processed. Although Bob Ruhlman knew about this meeting, he did not attend and did not respond to any of Deri Kispert's emails."

Shortly after, Graff said, Ruhlman asked teachers Kispert and two others to quietly leave King's. More teachers are leaving on their own terms, Graff said.

"I read every single one of these letters that had been shared with me," Rulman said. "I was moved by the way in which these students were sharing their life experience; the mountains and the valleys, including their time at King's. I count it a blessing that each of these young people spent time in our caring, Christian community.

"As for the meeting of staff members, I was in regular communication with the teachers that were organizing, and there were no restrictions placed on that time of listening, reflection, and compassion. I supported the teachers meeting to read the letters."

Rulman added that King's did not request teachers to leave.

"This is not accurate," he said. "Out of respect for any employee of King's Schools who departs, we respect the confidentiality of any decision to leave. King's respects the privacy of our staff and will not comment on a departure. Speculation on any subsequent teacher departures is also not accurate."

Questions and answers

The Beacon asked King's administration for responses to other concerns the community may be having:

What is King's response to LGBTQ+ students who feel the school doesn't support them?

"King's is open to all, loves all and welcomes all. At King's, we celebrate every student that God brings to our campus. We have outstanding programs that teach students from a Christian worldview. We explore God's creation – always considering the truth of God's Word while leading with the Greatest Commandments to love God and to love others.

"In our classes, we encourage mutual respect between students as well as in the teacher-student dynamic. Students can expect to have their ideas and contributions welcomed and respected.

"Contrary opinions from a critical mind with legitimate questions, presented honestly, respectfully, and appropriately, are encouraged. We walk in relationship and seek a safe environment for all of our students."

Should LGBTQ+ students not apply to King's?

"We encourage all families looking for a private education to apply to King's. King's Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, religious belief, ethnicity, orientation, gender, age, or socioeconomic origin in the administration of its academic, admission, financial aid policies, or other school-administered programs.

"Our teachers are passionate about education. They are inspirational, compassionate, and they personally connect with all students. We believe that each student is precious and deserves love and respect."

Should King's adapt to changing opinions regarding LGBTQ+ people in general?

"As part of the CRISTA family of ministries, King's Schools loves and serves all people. The services of CRISTA are open to anyone, regardless of race, religious belief, ethnicity, orientation, gender, or age ...

"We received an increasing number of questions as to how we handle specific topics the Bible addresses. In sharing clarity of our Biblical interpretation of marriage with students and families of King's Schools, it was our goal to provide transparency as to how we teach these portions of what is written in the Bible. We have always and will continue to value robust discussion in our classrooms as part of the learning process."

"Humanity is intertwined"

CRISTA

Jacinta Tegman

Graff, who grew up in Queen Anne, said she is a Christian, and that her faith is important to her. She originally attended Bishop Blanchet High, a Catholic school, but transferred to King's – where she was on the volleyball team that went to the state championships – after her sophomore year.

"I just thought it would be a really safe environment for me. And it was a smaller school, so I thought making friends would be pretty easy. But my family and I had no idea what the culture was like there, and how conservative it was.

"I know that at the end of the day, our humanity is intertwined. If I see my gay friend hurting at the school, that's honestly going to affect my school day, my work at school, my homework, and my focus. I don't think that (King's) should get away with something even though they are a private Christian school. There's a difference between legality and morality."

 

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