By Neal Morton / The Seattle Times
Shoreline City Council candidate David Chen has resigned as vice president and general counsel of CRISTA Ministries, the parent organization of a private Christian school that several teachers and students have left in protest of what they consider an anti-gay stance on campus and across the ministries.
Chen, a longtime Shoreline resident who’s running for the Position 4 seat on the council, said he decided to leave CRISTA after trying — and failing — to advocate for LGBTQ+ students at King’s Schools. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.)
“At some point that was not possible, and that point was today,” Chen said in a phone interview Wednesday.
He declined to offer specifics about how he advocated for students, referring to his role as an attorney for CRISTA.
In a statement Thursday, Chen cited an email that school administrators sent to families in July to reaffirm the school’s core values, including that sexual expression should occur only within a marriage between a man and woman.
“Every person — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and religion — deserves equal rights and to be treated with dignity and respect,” Chen said in the statement. “The letter sent by my former employer in July detailing their anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs made working for them untenable.”
Over the summer, at least five teachers either felt pushed out or voluntarily quit the interdenominational school to protest an administrative mandate that they perceived as requiring them to disavow same-sex relationships — both on the job and in their personal lives. The teachers also objected to anti-gay statements from CRISTA President and CEO Jacinta Tegman, who in the past has led efforts against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights in Washington.
As of last week, two students had been unenrolled from the school, which recently approved a textbook that refers to homosexuality as “unnatural” and “a result of the failure to worship God.”
Chen said he informed Tegman of his decision on Monday after, the publication of a Seattle Times story about the recent departures from King’s High School in Shoreline.
Because his direct supervisor was out of the office, Chen said he had to wait until Thursday to submit his formal resignation. But on Wednesday night, the 32nd Legislative District Democrats voted overwhelmingly for a resolution to censure Chen and called for all Democratic elected officials to rescind any endorsements of him because of his affiliation with a school perceived to be anti-gay.
“I was aware of that about 4 a.m. (Thursday),” Chen said. At about 7 a.m., an announcement of his resignation from CRISTA appeared on his campaign’s Facebook page.
Asked whether the resolution factored into his decision to resign, Chen said, “none at all. My political aspirations are not tied to any particular timeline, just my personal beliefs.”
Chen has worked as an attorney for CRISTA since 2011. A more than $100 million operation, the ministries run private schools, retirement communities and radio stations in addition to doing international relief work. The schools serve more than 1,300 students, from preschool to high school.
In a statement, Tegman said Chen has provided “excellent legal work” for CRISTA. “We are saddened to see him depart and wish him well in all his aspirations,” she said.
After taking the helm of CRISTA in January, Tegman has steered the organization toward what she described as not a new but a clarified stance on “historical biblical standards of morality.”
Since Monday’s Times story, former CRISTA employees have reported departures beyond King’s Schools.
Bayley Fuller, who started doing fundraising and marketing for the ministries last year, says she “liked CRISTA because it was a nondenominational organization that allowed for diversity in belief.”
But in June, after Tegman’s first State of CRISTA address, Fuller asked her director if there was any chance of getting fired for either living with her boyfriend or her vocal support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“She assured me CRISTA was not on a ‘witch hunt’ and that my job was safe,” Fuller said.
A week later, the director gave her two options: Be discipled and change her values, or leave the organization. Fuller left in August.