Mark Maddix, on sabbatical as dean of the School of Theology, has hired a local attorney.
Mark Maddix, on sabbatical as dean of the School of Theology, has hired a local attorney. Image via PLNU

A Point Loma Nazarene University dean was fired three weeks ago, allegedly for siding with a colleague who lost her job at the church-affiliated school for backing LGBTQ rights.

News release on Maddix firing (PDF)

The dean, Mark Maddix, has hired San Diego attorney Josh Gruenberg to negotiate with the school.

According to school alumnus Lauren Cazares, founder of Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition, PLNU Provost and Chief Academic Officer Kerry Fulcher fired Maddix, dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry.

“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,” said the release.

Cazares says Tucker was “blacklisted,” effectively fired from her alma mater.

“Melissa Tucker was removed … for being a public ally to the LGBTQ+ community and Mark Maddix was fired for not standing by the homophobic and discriminatory decision,” she wrote.

Maddix — a PLNU dean since July 2016 — was allegedly fired March 15, two days after starting his sabbatical. Maddix would not comment on the case when contacted by Times of San Diego but said he had retained an attorney.

His automatic email reply says: “From March 13 to May 28, I will have limited access to email because I am on sabbatical and vacation.” (On Thursday, he tweeted out his new email address.)

On Thursday, Gruenberg said: “We think he was wrongfully terminated and we will give the school an opportunity to address the issue before we file anything.”

Lora Fleming, the school’s director of communications, issued this statement: “While we cannot provide specific details on personnel issues, especially with the threat of potential litigation, the decision to suspend Dr. Maddix’s employment was not based on anything related to the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Litigation might be a challenge, however, since recent court decisions protect churches and religious organizations from lawsuits under the so-called “ministerial exception.”

According to a legal blog, “One does not need to be an actual minister — or even administrator — for the exception to be applicable.”

The post continued:

The ministerial exception may protect religious institutions from claims of employment discrimination that aren’t solely about religious discrimination.

The California Supreme Court in the past has expressed empathy for employees at religious institutes (mostly schools) unable to sue for employment discrimination under the law when they’d otherwise be able to, but for the ministerial exception. It remains a significant barrier to some claims.

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a racial harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claim by a California Catholic high school principal, who the court found qualified as a minister under the ministerial exception.

Theologian Thomas Jay Oord, an elder in the Nazarene Church, told Times of San Diego that “the firing of Mark Maddix is not the way of love.”

“Maddix has been an example in his life and teaching for decades, and his standing with harmed and hurting people is exemplary,” he said via a Facebook message. “The university and the Church of the Nazarene have views on human sexuality that do not align with their more fundamental theological commitments to Jesus’ love. Those views on queer matters must change if they are to stay true to their core message.”

On Facebook, Jessica Ann Hiatt said she was angry and “deeply grieved” by the Maddix firing, which became widely known Wednesday.

“I did my undergrad and graduate work at Northwest Nazarene University, and had Mark Maddix as a professor,” she wrote. “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.”

Sources say Maddix’s colleagues are worried about their own jobs, and are “strategizing on how best to respond.”

Lainie “Elaine” Alfaro is editor of the school newspaper, The Point.

She said her staff is working on a story.

“I believe most students and faculty didn’t know Dr. Maddix was fired until this document was sent out yesterday based on our inquiries for interviews,” Alfaro said via email.

“Our staff didn’t receive a tip on this story till a few hours before the email was sent out. … Most faculty are not willing to talk because it is a recent development and many are awaiting administration to actually address it.”

YouTube video
Video posted by Mark Maddix at Easter time in 2020.

In a 2021 profile, Maddix said he’s taught at 20 to 25 colleges and universities around the world — and been to every continent except Antarctica. He called South Africa and the Philippines two of “the most impactful places” he’s visited.

He told why he answered God’s call to Christian ministry.

“It was my kind of full surrender to God and saying, you know, I’m going to do whatever God wants me to do,” he said. “It’s a scary thing to do, but a great thing to do.”

Updated at 12:16 a.m. April 7, 2023