A professor at a California Christian University has finally found peace, but it comes at the cost of his job. H. Adam Ackley has been asked to step down from teaching theology and philosophy at Azusa Pacific University, because until this year, he was a she known as Heather Clements.
Ackley is in the third year of a five-year contract, but university officials have asked other teachers to take over his classes. He says the school has agreed to pay him through the end of the year, but not cover medical treatment for hormone therapy or “top surgery” through insurance.
Azusa apparently does not have an official policy on transgender issues, except to say, “Humans were created as gendered beings.”
I did not get a sense directly from the individuals with whom I was speaking that they had a theological problem with transgender identity. I did get the message that it has to do with their concern that other people, such as donors, parents, and churches connected to the university will have problems not understanding transgender identity.
This is one of those tough situations that are becoming increasingly common in today’s culture. Ackley has struggled with gender-identity issues from childhood, and only made the switch this year after the American Psychiatric Association removed “gender identity disorder” from its list of mental illnesses. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” he said.
While I applaud Ackley’s decision to live his life the way that he wants to, rather than conforming to societal or even religious norms, I also stand by Azuza Pacific’s right to ask him to step down. Agree with the decision or not, this is a private, religious school, and if they want their teachers to adhere to a particular code of conduct, then that’s their decision to make.
To force religious institutions to act in a way that is contrary to their beliefs tramples the First Amendment. One person’s right to his or her own lifestyle choices does not trump freedom of religion, even if a lot of people disagree with it. For example -- I love bacon cheeseburgers, but I’m not going to ask a kosher chef to make me one, even though I totally don’t understand how you can live a full life without knowing the insane deliciousness that is meat and cheese and bacon on a toasted bun with pickles.
Yes, H. Adam Ackley has every right to live as a man, and it seems like he’s already offering hope and inspiring others by being vocal about his faith and gender identity. But Azusa Pacific also has the right politely ask him to step down for making those lifestyle choices.
Do you think Azusa Pacific had the right to ask a professor to leave for being transgendered?
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