(RNS) — The women’s soccer coach at a Christian university near Pittsburgh was fired last month after she posted to Instagram two messages affirming the value of queer people.
Kelsey Morrison was escorted off the campus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, on June 2. She identifies as gay but remains celibate in keeping with the school’s code, which forbids sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
In early April, she posted two messages to her Instagram page: “Queer people offer precious gifts to the church: Don’t miss out” and “Jesus is radically inclusive.”
Since her firing, an assistant women’s soccer coach, Dave Symmonds, resigned in protest.
Geneva College, which enrolls 1,180 students, is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, a small evangelical denomination with about 7,000 members.
Like hundreds of U.S. Catholic and Protestant universities, it forbids sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, both among students and faculty. In recent years, several evangelical schools have publicly enforced rules prohibiting students from identifying as LGBTQ or advocating for such identities and explicitly asked faculty to reaffirm their adherence to traditional Christian teachings.
At Geneva, faculty must sign a “standards of conduct” statement every year stating, “We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, cohabitation, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, attempts to alter one’s sex, bestiality, incest, or use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God.”
Morrison, 26, was hired as head coach for women’s soccer two years ago. She did not disclose her sexual orientation when she was hired because she was committed to celibacy, what is sometimes known in evangelical circles as “Side B” — Christians who identify as LGBTQ but remain celibate because they hold a traditional view of sexuality. She first told her story to David Gushee, who wrote about her at Baptist News Global.
In April, Morrison posted two photographed quotes from a publication on Instagram that affirmed the worth of queer people, without identifying herself as such or adding a personal comment.
“I am rather passionate about the value of LGBTQ people,” Morrison told Religion News Service. “It was really kind of a personal journey and statement for me as well to know that my unique experiences could be valuable to someone who needs that.”
Morrison said she grew up in a Christian family; attended the University of Valley Forge, a Christian school north of Philadelphia; and is an active member of a nondenominational church.
Last year, when a soccer player approached her to ask if she was gay, Morrison acknowledged she was but said she was not pursuing romantic relationships. She then told her boss, the director of athletics, about the conversation and reassured him she was able to uphold Geneva’s standards. He called her the next day to tell her that her position was secure.
“The premise was like, we’re OK with you working here as long as you never say anything or do anything or act in a certain way or tell anyone — all these really tough stipulations,” Morrison said.
In April, when she posted the statements, she thought she was careful.
The school’s motto is “Pro Christo et Patria,” meaning “For Christ and Country,” expressed in a seal illustration of the open Bible. It is a member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the largest association of Christian schools.
After nearly two months, on June 2, Morrison was called into a meeting with school officials and told the statements she posted do not reflect the college’s values. She was offered a nondisclosure agreement with a three months’ severance package, which she declined.
Geneva College’s public relations office confirmed that Morrison and Symmonds were no longer employed. The school’s president and chief athletic officer did not respond to emails asking for comment.
In a statement, the school said it adheres to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Westminster Catechisms, the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and various policies of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
“In order to maintain its religious character and identity, the College draws its workforce from among those who are willing to model and annually reaffirm their commitment to the truths captured in these documents,” the Geneva spokesperson wrote. “The College reserves the right to take appropriate action, up to and including separation from employment, if an employee engages in behavior or expression that contradicts or undermines these views.”
A week after Morrison was fired, her assistant on the soccer team resigned, saying he could no longer be passionate about coaching soccer in that school.
“It’s hard for me to get to a place where I believe that’s how Jesus would have us treat people — is to fire them when they say that they hold value,” said Symmonds. “She wasn’t advocating for people to live that lifestyle. She just said they have value.”