Last fall, Samford University made national headlines for disinviting historian Jon Meacham to speak on campus in response to protests from pro-life activists. Less than one year later, the Baptist university again finds itself in national news, this time for denying participation for Presbyterians and Episcopalians at an event on campus.
Concerned alumni believe this is evidence of a larger effort to sweep the campus of any influence from LGBTQ-affirming voices.
According to a report published on the news site Alabama.com, written by veteran religion journalist Greg Garrison, a campus minister at Samford University denied Presbyterian Church (USA) and Episcopal Church college chaplains who asked to be included in a recent campus ministry fair. They were denied, they said, because both denominations allow same-sex marriage.
That exclusionary action appears to fly in the face of comments made by Samford President Beck Taylor in March when he spoke at a university emphasis called “Love Your Neighbor Week.” Meacham also was reinvited to that event — five months after his cancelled speech.
“Let’s resolve as a community that we will welcome and serve those with whom we disagree. Let’s treat our guests with great respect and deference, welcoming them into our space and showing them the love within our community,” Taylor said, according to a university news release. “Let’s admit to ourselves and our guests that we may not know everything about a topic. Let us not assume that there’s nothing we can learn from those who may take a different side on an issue.”
That welcome apparently does not extend to other Christians who embrace LGBTQ Christians.
The latest disinvitation was handed to Madison Vaughn, ministry coordinator for the Ukirk campus ministry representing the PCUSA, and Emily Collette, a chaplain at Trinity Commons, a campus ministry affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
The Presbyterians and the Episcopalians wanted to be included in this year’s campus ministry fair called Church and Ministry Expo. Both were denied by Bobby Gatlin, Samford’s campus pastor, they said.
“We’ve done some version of Episcopal campus ministries and have been active at Samford for over 30 years,” Kelley Hudlow, a spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, told Alabama.com. “We have regularly participated in the ministry fairs. We are not allowed to do ministry on campus currently. We learned that Samford is revising and revamping some of its policies related to guest ministries. We have expressed to Samford that we are very interested in continuing this over 30-year relationship we’ve had with the university.”
BNG contacted two media relations staff members at Samford for comment and received no response Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 13.
BNG contacted two media relations staff members at Samford for comment and received no response.
News of the denial spread rapidly among Samford alumni, including many clergy who were incensed that their alma mater once again was being defined by who it excludes rather than who it includes. The university houses Beeson Divinity School, which was founded with an intentionally ecumenical focus.
Among the alarmed is Aaron Coyle-Carr, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Morehead, Ky. He is a 2012 graduate of Samford who then completed graduate studies at Emory’s University’s Candler School of Theology.
“I came to Samford as a sheltered evangelical and an ignorant Baptist, unaware of either the wider realities of the Christian church or my own religious heritage,” he said. “My education there cracked me wide open and exposed me to historic Baptist principles (like the free exercise of conscience) and to the dizzying diversity of Christ’s church. As a pastor, I treasure those gifts and use them daily. As an alum, it is nothing short of disturbing to watch my alma mater throw them away in one fell swoop.”
Natalie Bennie, a 2016 Samford grad who now is a political consultant and Ph.D. student in rhetoric at Penn State, posted an open letter to President Taylor expressing her dismay. Bennie identifies as queer.
“The recent decisions from the Office of Spiritual Life are at exact odds with the stated mission and values of the university,” she wrote. “I learned to think critically at Samford — those critical thinking skills are precisely what makes me see this decision as so laughable. If you fail to see the hypocrisy and logical tensions in the current policies and the stated mission, I welcome you to enroll in any of my classes, in which I teach the basics of logical fallacies and standards of reasoning.”
She added: “I am embarrassed to claim Samford as my alma mater. I am ashamed to admit I have donated my limited money from my graduate student stipend to your school. I regret that I have encouraged students to apply to Samford in the past.”
Bennie started a Twitter thread on the topic that she said has drawn more than 60,000 views.
In that Twitter post, she also charged that Samford is moving to exclude from campus a variety of other local congregations that historically have been closely affiliated with serving Samford students.
Samford is a Baptist-affiliated school that in 2017 broke formal funding ties with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions but at the same time denied approval of a student group intended to foster dialogue between the LGBTQ community and others. The university enrolls nearly 6,000 students from 48 states and 22 countries.