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Schools association responds to Judicial Council decision

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The Rev. Ed Johnson
March 14, 2006


By Vicki Brown*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — A United Methodist association of schools has issued a resolution expressing “deep concern for the pain and alienation” of those affected by the Judicial Council decision reinstating a pastor who denied church membership to an openly gay man.

The resolution, issued by the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church, was affirmed unanimously by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Division of Higher Education at the agency’s spring board meeting March 11.

The resolution was in response to Judicial Council Decision 1032, which upheld the Rev. Ed Johnson’s denial of church membership to an openly gay man at South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church. It also expressed concern for the pain caused by “the ongoing conflicted discussion on Decision 1027 regarding the clergy status of persons living in same-sex relationships.” That decision upheld the removal of ministerial credentials from Beth Stroud of Pennsylvania, who is in a lesbian relationship.

“As United Methodist-related college and university leaders, we embrace the church’s affirmation: ‘Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors.’ We affirm the core humanistic and religious value that all persons are of sacred worth and equal standing,” the resolution states.

“We welcome students to our campuses regardless of their race or ethnicity, their creed, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation. ... We promote a vision of life in which people are judged by the content of their character and not their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation, or any of the other official barriers used to devalue some of God’s children,” the statement reads.

The association’s 123 member institutions include college preparatory schools, two-year colleges, four-year colleges and universities, one professional school and 13 United Methodist schools of theology. The organization seeks to strengthen the relationship between the schools and the denomination.

“This is an instance in which the institutions of higher education are taking their relationship to the church seriously by speaking to the church and the wider public,” said the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. “With the affirmation of the presidents’ action by this division on behalf of (the board), the much-needed dialogue of the church about these critical issues is deepened and momentum is established for collaboration that will strengthen the relationship between the United Methodist Church and its institutions of higher learning.”

The Judicial Council is the United Methodist Church’s supreme court. The denomination’s Book of Discipline holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching but that homosexuals are people of sacred worth.

Serious discussions

David Beckley, president of Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., and of the association, said the resolution was approved at the organization’s Feb. 5-6 meeting in Washington. It was then sent to all members of the organization for comments. Beckley said he received some comments that were incorporated, but no opposition.

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David Beckley
A number of colleges — including Baldwin-Wallace in Berea, Ohio, which presented the resolution to the association — have had serious discussions about what it means to be a United Methodist-related institution, Beckley said. The presidents saw discrimination as running counter to what it means to be a church-related institution, he said.

The affirmation of the resolution by the division “affirms the principle of the total worth of all God’s people,” Beckley said.

“We affirm the church in its decades-long struggle to balance an unqualified commitment to sacred worth, sacred identity and sacred practice,” the resolution states. “The United Methodist Church has consistently chosen to walk the path of constructive tension among these commitments. We encourage the church to resolve this issue in a manner that upholds the sacred worth of all human beings.”

In the resolution, association calls “upon the United Methodist Church to continue expressing its own stated commitment to inclusiveness and its opposition to discrimination in any form that would devalue a person’s sacred worth; and we as presidents of the United Methodist-related colleges and universities commit ourselves to foster an education environment in which honest differences can be explored in an open, objective and safe environment.”

Exploring differences

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The Rev. Ken Bedell
The Rev. Ken Bedell, a staff member of the Division of Higher Education, said the resolution demonstrates one of the contributions that the church-related colleges and universities have to make to the United Methodist Church. “This statement represents an attempt by the presidents of United Methodist-related schools and colleges to connect to the United Methodist Church by offering to be ‘safe’ environments to explore differences with openness and objectivity.”

He called the resolution significant, adding that “this is the first time in recent history that NASCUMC has spoken out on issues being discussed in the church.

In other action, the division voted to approve another association resolution to develop a joint strategy aimed at increasing the number of United Methodist students at member institutions by 10 percent by 2012.

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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