Home Ministry of affairs Samford removes LGBTQ-affirming denominations from campus

Samford removes LGBTQ-affirming denominations from campus


A group of Samford University alumni call their alma mater after administrators at the Alabama institution excluded two local churches from its annual campus ministry fair over their support of same-sex marriage . Leaders of the alumni organization, which supports and advocates for LGBTQ students at Samford, say the university’s recent actions indicate it is becoming more conservative.

“If Samford doesn’t go back to how it was before, it will have signaled a very right turn in the style of a Liberty University type college, which is not what Samford has been for decades,” said Brit Blalock, a 2008 graduate and founder of SAFE Samford. “It was much more of an intermediate arts college, very liberal. It would be a big departure from that.

Samford Vice President of Student Affairs Philip Kimrey wrote in a campus-wide email Wednesday that “we welcome all denominations and have no policy or plan to restrict denominations on our campus. “. But he added that university leaders “have a responsibility to formally partner with departmental organizations that share our beliefs.

“I recognize that the university’s choices regarding the partners we work with in student ministry may disappoint some,” Kimrey said. wrote. “Know that these decisions are made prayerfully and with the theological commitments of the university in mind.”

No university administrator was made available for an interview. A Samford spokesperson said Kimrey’s letter served as a statement to the university.

The university’s decision was first reported by Al.com. The two churches excluded from the Campus Ministry Fair were the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Samford, a Baptist University in Birmingham with nearly 6,000 students, has no official LGBTQ student group on campus; a former president refused to recognize the organization in 2017. Its non-discrimination policy also does not include sexual orientation and gender identity, placing the institution in the minority of Christian colleges and universities in the states states, said Jonathan Coley, assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University.

“This latest decision to expel the Episcopal Church and PCUSA from campus definitely seems like a pretty dramatic step backwards, because even though Samford has never allowed an LGBTQ student body, these denominations, like the Episcopal Church , have had a long presence on Samford. campus,” said Coley, who graduated from Samford in 2010 and now sits on the SAFE Samford Board of Directors.

Coley tracks LGBTQ policies at Christian colleges and universities and has seen an overall shift toward more inclusive policies, but some institutions with policies that discriminate against LGBTQ students are expanding the boundaries of LGBTQ student advocacy. Some institutions even describe these limitations in detail on one to two pages in student textbooks, he said.

“While on the one hand many schools have become more inclusive, discriminatory schools have more than doubled,” Coley said. “Samford still doesn’t have the two-page student handbook, but this move seems to put it more in line with Liberty Universities around the world.”

Coley, Blalock and others expected President Beck Taylor, who took over last year, to be more moderate than the previous administration. A New Yorker profile of a gay faculty member at Taylor’s former institution, Whitworth University, suggested it would be more LGBTQ-friendly.

“I had a really wonderful conversation with him in which he made it clear that he was trying to do no harm to LGBTQ students and that he knew a lot of us had felt very wronged in the past. “said Blalock. “I was really taken aback by that, because it didn’t fit at all with the conversation he and I had at the start of his time at Samford.”

Controversy ahead of Taylor’s inauguration as president in November 2021 was an indication that he would have to negotiate the university’s conservative culture during his tenure. Historian Jon Meacham’s invitation to speak was withdrawn after some students raised concerns about his support for Planned Parenthood. Meacham was eventually reported on campus to speak at a separate event in the spring of 2022, titled Love Thy Neighbor, which focused on respectful civil speech.

“I want Samford to be a community that embraces conviction and curiosity,” Taylor said at the event. “We want students at Samford to stand firm in their beliefs. No one is asking you to give up your beliefs. At the same time, I want you to stay curious. I want you to seek out people with different ideas and beliefs so that you can put your beliefs to the test.

Blalock said he learned shortly after the August 31 campus ministry fair that college chaplains from both churches were turned away from the event because of the denominations’ LGBTQ affirmation positions.

She spoke with those involved to piece together what happened. She said Bobby Gatlin, the Samford campus pastor, did not invite the Episcopal Church campus ministry organization after a chaplain agreed to share his table with the ministry representing the Presbyterian Church. . He told the Episcopalian minister that she could not participate due to her denomination’s LGBTQ affirmation stance, Blalock said.

Kimrey said in the campus-wide email that the university is following its Guidelines for Invited Departmental Organizationsthat are not new and align with the university’s mission, vision and core values.

“Maybe this policy existed in the background, but it had never been presented as a reason to exclude groups before, so this is all very new to everyone,” Blalock said.

The guidelines outline the process organizations must follow to obtain approval to serve on campus. The campus pastor oversees this process and approves applications.

“A guest ministry must have and observe a statement of faith and a theological outlook that is consistent with Samford’s mission, vision and core values,” the guidelines state. “As a condition of admission to campus, a visiting ministry must fully and clearly disclose in writing to the campus pastor all of its affiliations, fundamental theological principles, institutional means and sources of support, and sponsoring organizations.”

Rev. Kelley Hudlow, spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, told Al.com the church has had a presence in Samford for more than 30 years.

“We have been regular attendees at ministry fairs,” Hudlow told the outlet. “We are not allowed to do on-campus ministry right now. We have 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 30+ year relationship that we have with the university.

Gatlin became the campus pastor in 2019 and guest ministry on campus has been suspended during the pandemic, according to Al.com. The positions of the PCUSA and the Episcopal Church on LGBTQ rights predate the pandemic.

Blalock said Samford has always been ecumenically diverse and she wants to see the university regain that status. SAFE Samford has launched a public letter writing campaign advocate for policy change. During the first day of the campaign, the organization received more than a dozen letters of support, and Blalock expects more, as well as advocacy from student and faculty groups.

“There’s a lot going on right now, and I expect to see a lot more,” she said.