More than 100 clergy who are alumni of Samford University have signed an open letter to university President Beck Taylor asking for a reversal of the school’s new policy to exclude from campus ministries churches that affirm same-sex marriage.
“We are clergy members of the Samford University family, trained, educated and prepared for ministry on the very campus where we may no longer be welcome,” the group wrote. “We ordained alumni now serve as pastors, chaplains, counselors, therapists and leaders of religious communities and organizations whose ministries would be banned from campus by the new interpretation of Samford’s policies for partnering organizations. Our belief in the far-reaching love of God is now perceived as a threat to the ideology of a select number of Samford administrators and staff.”
“Our belief in the far-reaching love of God is now perceived as a threat to the ideology of a select number of Samford administrators and staff.”
News of the university’s new policy came to light Sept. 12 when published by a Birmingham newspaper, although those affected learned about the change Aug. 31, when they were denied participation in a campus Church and Ministry Expo. Specifically excluded were Presbyterian Church (USA) and Episcopal Church ministries, who were told they would not be approved for participation because their denominations allow same-sex marriage. Both groups historically had been welcome on campus.
The implication was that any church or ministry group connected in any way to LGBTQ inclusion would meet the same fate, although exactly how far the action will reach is not known since the university has been silent on the matter. No formal statement, policy or trustee action has been put forward.
Enough is known, however, for the clergy alumni group to believe they, too, would not be welcome in ministry roles on the campus because of their personal beliefs or their congregations’ stances on LGBTQ inclusion.
Although rooted in a Southern Baptist heritage, Samford today is an independent school that receives no funding and has no governing influence from any denominational body. It has been known in the past as a conservative yet ecumenical school. That is particularly true of its Beeson Divinity School and the university’s religion department.
A sizable number of clergy who affiliate today with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or the Alliance of Baptists have Samford roots, either as undergraduates or as divinity school graduates. Samford has been a steady feeder to graduate-level theological education at some of the most progressive divinity schools in the nation as well as to Southern Baptist seminaries with more conservative programs.
That spirit of ecumenical inclusion has been broken, the clergy said in their letter.
“We celebrate the rich heritage of diverse thought and ecumenical witness which defined the alma mater that shaped us.”
“We celebrate the rich heritage of diverse thought and ecumenical witness which defined the alma mater that shaped us. From the beautiful wealth of ecumenism, Samford helped raise up thousands of those called to vocational ministry in all manner of Christian denominations,” they explained. “We call for the swift return of robust and spirited ecumenism. To limit the scope of Christian voice and tradition denies the witness of Christ within organizations and bodies that hold a different witness in this regard. Surely this action is not a reflection of the atmosphere in current Samford classrooms where critical thinking and lively discussion were once the norm. To assume that orthodoxy is a monolith of belief and practice harms the university’s reputation professionally and denies the intrinsic liberty held in the Baptist faith for dissent and autonomy of faith and practice.”
The clergy ask for “immediate reversal” of Samford’s newly interpreted policy “and the destructive practice of excluding religious congregations, communities and partners whose definition of the beloved community proves too expansive.”
Further, the clergy ask the university leadership to “repent of the harm caused to LGBTQ students, both present-day and alumni.”
They explained: “By denying access to welcoming spiritual communities for all Samford students, you are directly creating a dangerous, hostile environment for LGBTQ students. This is an abdication of your role as mentors, guides and protectors of the students on your campus.”
Initial signatories to the letter include Jay Hogewood, class of 1992, who now serves as a Methodist pastor in Louisiana; Elizabeth Mangham Lott, class of 1999, who serves as a Baptist pastor in Louisiana; and Jake Hall, class of 1999, who serves as a pastor in Georgia.
The opportunity to sign the letter remains open through Sept. 23 for any Samford alumni who serve as clergy.
Samford, how long will you remain silent? | Opinion by Mark Wingfield