EMORY UNIVERSITY AND SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
by David Sisler
Writing this column for the last eight years, I have occasionally dotted on my family. You attended Michael and Matthew's high school graduation. You were a guest at Amy's wedding. You were invited to Jennifer's 26th birthday party. You know that Bonnie is my anchor. "A wife of noble character is worth far more than rubies," the Bible says. "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value."
I have never told you where I attend church because I did not want these writings to be viewed as promoting that congregation. When I wrote about my first two youth mission trips to Russia, I named the sponsoring church, and you surmised, correctly, that I worshiped there. Two years ago I told you that I was now singing out of the United Methodist hymnal and you knew what that meant.
So with that explanation, I write today about an issue which faces the church to which I have only recently come.
On February 10, 1998, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote, "The First United Methodist Church of Marietta is withholding an annual $230,000 contribution to its parent North Georgia conference, in a dispute that includes the sanctioning of same-sex commitment ceremonies at Methodist-founded Emory University."
A letter to the editor, dated February 18, 1998 — in the online version which I read, the writer was identified only as "Cole" with the notation "Cole is an administrative board member of the First United Methodist Church of Marietta — said, "The same-sex issue at Emory is only the most recent demonstration to the members of FUMC that the leaders of our denomination will not vote in accordance with their own Book of Discipline. (Six United Methodist bishops sit on the Emory Board of Trustees, which voted unanimously to allow same-sex ceremonies in Emory Chapels). Parentheses in original.
I called Bishop Lindsay Davis, leader of the North Georgia Conference and one of the Emory trustees, but he was in meetings that day. His secretary directed my call to Dr. Herchel H. Sheets, the bishop's assistant.
Dr. Sheets said, "Bishop Davis is opposed to same-sex marriages," and faxed me a copy of an open letter which the bishop sent to all North Georgia Methodists. Bishop Davis said, in part, "Even though I personally was quite reluctant to agree with this policy, I did consent to give it a chance to work... If, in the future, the policy proves to be ill-advised, I will be the first to call for an adjustment."
The Emory Board of Trustees did not adopt a policy which specifically permits same-sex commitment services, Dr. Sheets told me. The policy which the Board of Trustees passed states (in its entirety): "The Board of Trustees affirms and grants to the University Chaplains the authority to exercise wise counsel and sound judgment in overseeing the uses of the University Chapels in a manner wholly consistent with the mission of the University, with their ordination vows, and the law of the land."
Bishop Davis said, in his open letter, "In the adopted policy we do not expect same sex ceremonies to be conducted, even though there is a remote possibility for one to take place."
Dr. Sheets explained that twenty-four religious groups are officially recognized on the Emory campus and only two of them, the Reformed Jewish Community and the United Church of Christ, allow for same-sex marriages. Under the policy, a same-sex commitment service could only be performed by a clergy person from one of those groups. No member of the United Methodist clergy will be permitted to officiate at a same-sex commitment service because the Book of Discipline of the UMC is unequivocally opposed to the practice of homosexuality.
Emory has a policy which makes it unlawful for the university to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If they were to be honest to that dictum, the trustees felt they would have to disallow any marriages on campus or create wiggle room.
I understand the trustees' reasoning. Nevertheless, I disagree with the policy. If the only way to be true to some of your beliefs is to be untrue to others, then the wrong course has been set. It would be better to state, unequivocally, "The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. The United Methodist Church believes that the practice of homosexuality is wrong. Therefore we will have no policy which allows the possibility, however remote, that a same-sex service may be held in one of Emory's chapels, even if that means that no marriage service, including those which are legal and biblical, may be conducted on the campus."
Supporting biblical truth while allowing for the possibility of a little bit of error is like being a little bit pregnant. It cannot be done.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 3/7/98
Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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