LGBTQ group condemns Point Loma Nazarene University for theology dean’s dismissal

The university denies charges by Lauren Cazares, founder of Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition, that the dean of the school of theology was terminated for 'anything related to the LGBTQIA+ community.'

Mark Maddix and Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.  Point Loma photo courtesy of USA Today

(RNS) — A coalition of LGBTQ alumni of Point Loma Nazarene University — a private Christian liberal arts college in San Diego — is protesting the firing of the dean of the university’s school of theology, who they say was dismissed for siding with an adjunct professor who was let go due to her own public support for the LGBTQ community.

Mark Maddix, the dean for the school of theology and Christian ministry, was fired on March 15 by the university’s chief academic officer, Kerry Fulcher, according to an April 5 statement released by alumna Lauren Cazares, who founded Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition earlier this year.

“With no previous disciplinary actions or concerns, Dr. Mark Maddix was fired due to what the provost claims as ‘insubordination’ for his support of former adjunct professor and minister Melissa Tucker,” Cazares said. Instead, the statement charges, Maddix was fired “for not standing by the homophobic and discriminatory decision,” to remove Tucker from her adjunct position.

Lora Fleming, the university’s communications director, said the school could not provide specific information on personnel issues but provided a statement saying the decision to suspend Maddix’s employment “was not based on anything related to the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Attorney Josh Gruenberg is representing Maddix as a result of his firing and told Religion News Service that he will prove the university’s statement “to be untrue.” Gruenberg said Maddix was wrongfully terminated and told the Times of San Diego that they “will give the school an opportunity to address the issue before we file anything.” 

Meanwhile, on Friday, Tucker released a statement, acknowledging that she was “blocked from teaching because of my belief.” Tucker learned in January that she would no longer be allowed to teach at PLNU because of her “progressive views on human sexuality.” 

As adjunct, Tucker said she respected the covenant of the school, which contains a statement rejecting sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage, by not explicitly sharing her views with students in the classroom, “which is consistent with my pedagogical practice regardless of subject matter.”

Tucker also detailed her March 2020 decision to leave her associate pastor role at San Diego First Church of the Nazarene, as she grew increasingly discontent with the tension between the church’s position on human sexuality and her own convictions. She relinquished her ordination credentials in 2021 and accepted a pastoral position at Normal Heights United Methodist Church.

“My firm belief, informed by my faith, is that God’s love is truly for all people. I am thoroughly affirming of the LGBTQIA+ community. I love the story and mission of Jesus Christ and equally grieve at how religion is used to harm and control people,” Tucker said.

According to Cazares, Maddix’s firing came weeks after a private meeting with Fulcher, where he learned that Tucker had been blocked from teaching.

Maddix later defended Tucker in an email to the faculty of the school of theology, Cazares said, informing them that Tucker would no longer be able to work as an adjunct. In that email, Maddix disclosed the details of his meeting with Fulcher, according to Cazares. 

A PLNU employee, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for their job security, corroborated the details in the email, adding that the school’s contention that Maddix’s firing had nothing to do with the LGBTQ community “is patently false.”

Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Photo by Roman Eugeniusz/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Photo by Roman Eugeniusz/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

In 2015 Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho ended the job of tenured theologian Thomas Jay Oord, a beloved professor “whose supporters believe his job was eliminated because his views on evolution clash with those of some Nazarene traditionalists,” according to Inside Higher Ed

In a Facebook post, Oord expressed his anger about Maddix’s termination, calling Maddix, who taught at Northwest Nazarene for about 15 years, a “good friend,” who “tried to protect an adjunct colleague who is LGBTQ+ affirming.”

Oord added, “Not only do I disagree with the university’s view on Queer matters, but Mark’s punishment doesn’t fit his “crime.” It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!”

Cazares quoted from Oord on Maddix’s termination in her statement as saying, “The irony is that administrators of a Christian university have fired one of their best professors for standing up for love. Aren’t Christians supposed to love like Jesus? University administrators seem to be sending a message. But that message is not the message of love. It’s a message of fear, revenge, and bullying, hoping to silence those who love queer people.”

Oord told RNS that he is personally invested in seeing changes in the Church of the Nazarene and in their universities and in the coming weeks will have a new book out exploring “why the Church of the Nazarene should be fully LGBTQ-affirming.” 

Cazares, who came out as lesbian in 2018 while a student at PLNU, said it’s “really concerning” to see the way the school is “clamping down on this.” Cazares said PLNU is generally known “as the more liberal” of the Nazarene colleges “so it’s really frightening.”

“It feels like they’re going backward,” she said. 

Former students have come out in Maddix’s defense. 

On Facebook, Jessica Ann Hiatt said she was “deeply grieved” by Maddix’s dismissal. Hiatt, in her post, said Maddix was her professor at Northwest Nazarene.

“As the Church of the Nazarene, and other Christian churches and denominations close ranks against the LGBTQIA+ and those who stand with them in love, the church moves farther and farther away from the example Jesus gave,” Hiatt said, adding that she no longer identified as a Christian.

Marshela Salgado-Solorio, who graduated from PLNU and is now an associate Disciples of Christ minister in San Diego at University Christian Church, said Maddix’s firing illustrates why she left the Church of the Nazarene.

“If there is anything that Mark is guilty of in this situation, it’s loving as God loves—radically and inclusively, and it goes against the principles of top leaders at PLNU,” she said in a Facebook statement.  

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