Doctrinal covenants? Here's a story in which a newspaper (Seattle Times) actually mentions one

In post after post over the years, GetReligion writers have commented on why it’s crucial for reporters to explore the contents of doctrinal and lifestyle covenants at private schools.

In most cases, these are actual documents that students and faculty sign before they enroll or are employed. These covenants regulate who teaches, who attends and doctrinal guidelines for their behavior while affiliated with this voluntary, faith-based association.

Think of it as keeping the brand pure.

There’s been a zillion stories about teachers at (usually Catholic) schools who sleep with members of the opposite sex or come out as gay or do something that breaks the covenant and, lo and behold, their institution fires them. And the person reporting on all this never mentions that — before starting work at this school — the teacher or professor signed a document promising to strive to live according to a doctrinal covenant.

If a private school has a covenant, that’s part of the story. If a private school doesn’t have a covenant, that’s part of the story as well.

This past week, a newspaper made history (I joke, but barely) by running a story about a religious private school that (trigger warning) included an actual reference to a covenant.

I am talking about this story that ran in the Seattle Times. Yes, the headline does talk about the ‘anti-gay policy’ at a high school just north of the city. Then there is this:

When students returned to the classrooms at King’s High School in Shoreline last week, something was missing.

Several beloved teachers were no longer there. At least five either felt pushed out or voluntarily quit the private, interdenominational Christian school over summer break in protest of an administrative mandate that they perceived as requiring them to disavow same-sex relationships, both on the job and in their personal lives — and they objected to anti-gay language from Jacinta Tegman, the new leader of King’s parent organization, CRISTA Ministries. …

The school’s public-facing materials tread a careful line: While they mostly don’t mention LGBTQ+ issues explicitly, they do make allusions to things like “the historical biblical standards of morality” or state clearly that the ministries believe “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” are “inerrant in their original writings” and “of supreme and final authority.”

Even before the departures over summer, some faculty members had decided to leave King’s amid what they described as a growing tension over how inclusive the school culture should be. Administrators disputed the number of departures — which Tegman said did not register as “earthquake level” — and denied that they asked any teachers to leave, quietly.

Tegman was hired on at the school in January and didn’t waste much time making her standards clear. Apparently, in this litigious age, the school needed to be clear about the doctrines that defined its work.

Echoing biblical language, she specifically cited CRISTA’s belief that “sexual intimacy is confined within the marriage of one man and woman,” according to a transcript of her June address.

A month later, head of King’s schools Eric Rasmussen sent an email to families in July to reaffirm the school’s core values, and repeated Tegman’s line that sexual expression only occurs within a heterosexual marriage.

I’m curious if some families had threatened to jump ship and this was a way to reassure them.

Usually actions of this kind don’t take place in a vacuum. However, the reporter did no sleuthing around to see what caused this change and why Tegman was hired in the first place.

That email prompted questions from faculty and staff about whether they could continue to work at King’s if they don’t fully align with the stances discussed in Tegman’s address. Rasmussen noted that faculty sign a doctrinal statement that details CRISTA’s beliefs — including that the scriptures are inerrant and of final authority — in their annual contract. (That document hasn’t changed since 2007, he wrote in a separate email to a teacher who resigned.)

Sadly, the reporter does not provide a link to this document.

The following paragraph is key:

As to whether individuals can disagree with CRISTA and remain an employee, Tegman said Friday, “My question back is: Can you sign this [doctrinal] statement? This is what the conditions of employment are in a Christian organization.”

Megan Troutman, an English teacher, objected to those conditions and worried that such statements from the leaders of King’s and CRISTA risked hurting students questioning their sexual identity. She ultimately resigned and now has a job teaching English at a high school in Bellevue.

The story goes on to quote gay students (and graduates) who disagreed with the school. There was no one quoted in the story –- other than the administrators themselves -– who agreed with the school’s teachings.

Really? Doesn’t this school have a board of directors or PTA or someone who could have balanced out this story?

Some of the commentators asked why the Times bothered running this piece. “It seems like everyone’s rights were preserved here. What’s the point of the story?”, one wrote.

Another: “I'm not particularly religious, but why would anyone find it news that a Christian organization, with a Christian school was promoting biblical values???? I would not find it newsworthy if a Muslim school promoted Muslim values, or a liberal school promoted liberal values. If you sign up to teach in that type of environment, you should not be surprised they mean what they say.”

Well, exactly. So why did the Times run this story? Because it’s actually news out here in blue-state-land that at least one Christian school isn’t going to be flying rainbow flags every June.

Now if this were a Muslim school and an incoming principal decided every girl would from now on cover her head, would that be a news story? If an Orthodox Jewish school decided that all faculty were expected to observe the Sabbath to the point of foregoing electricity, would that be a story? I am guessing not.

Yet, this CHRISTA story is a news story. But journalists who care about the facts can count their blessings, to some degree. The reporter made it clear that the covenant meant something.

Now, I plowed through the school’s Employee Code of Ethics and Conduct,

But didn’t find anything on King’s website like the language cited in a key reference in this article. Whatever doctrinal statement teachers had to sign before being employed at Kings is not to be found on their website. I am surprised the reporter couldn’t find a copy somewhere — what with all the teachers who just quit.

So, there are definite holes in this piece.

But even though we didn’t get to see a copy of the key doctrinal covenant, at least it was mentioned in the story. In today’s journalism marketplace, that’s actually considered as progress.

Now, if only readers had a chance to read quotes from believers on both sides of the story?

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