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 a year later, Baptist University finds itself in the national news again, this time for refusing Presbyterians and Episcopalians to attend an event on campus.
Worried alumni believe this is evidence of a greater effort to scour campus of any influence from LGBTQ-affirming voices.
According to a report published on the news site Alabama.com, written by veteran religious journalist Greg Garrison, a campus pastor at Samford University, turned down chaplains from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Episcopal Church who asked to be included in a recent ministry fair on campus. They were turned down, they said, because both faiths allow same-sex marriage.
This exclusion action appears going against comments made by Samford Chairman Beck Taylor in March when he spoke at a university lecture titled “Love Your Neighbor Week.” Meacham was also invited back to this event – five months after his canceled speech.
“Let us determine as a community that we will welcome and serve those with whom we disagree. Treat our guests with great respect and deference, welcoming them to our space and showing them love within our community,” Taylor said, according to a university press release. “Let’s admit to ourselves and our guests that we may not know everything about a subject. Let’s not assume that there is nothing we can learn from those who may take a different view on an issue.
This welcome apparently does not extend to other Christians who embrace LGBTQ Christians.
The last disinvitation was presented to Madison Vaughn, ministry coordinator for the Ukirk campus ministry representing the CPUSA, and Emily Collette, chaplain at Trinity Commons, a campus ministry affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
Presbyterians and Episcopalians wanted to be included in this year’s campus ministry fair called Church and Ministry Expo. Both were denied by Bobby Gatlin, the Samford campus pastor, they said.
“We did a version of Episcopal Campus Ministries and have been active in Samford for over 30 years,” Kelley Hudlow, spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, told Alabama.com. “We have regularly participated in ministry fairs. We are not permitted to do on-campus ministry at this time. 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.
BNG contacted two media relations Samford staff members for comment and received no response Tuesday afternoon, September 13.
BNG contacted two media relations staff at Samford for comment and received no response.
News of the denial quickly spread among Samford alumni, including many clergy who were furious that their alma mater was once again defined by who it excludes rather than who it includes. University houses Beeson Divinity Schoolwhich was founded with an intentionally ecumenical orientation.
Among those alarmed is Aaron Coyle-Carr, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Morehead, Ky. He graduated from Samford in 2012 and later completed his graduate studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
“I came to Samford as a refugee evangelical and an ignorant Baptist, ignorant of neither the larger realities of the Christian church nor my own religious heritage,” he said. “My upbringing there opened me wide and exposed me to historic Baptist principles (like the free exercise of conscience) and the dizzying diversity of the Church of Christ. As a pastor, I cherish these gifts and use them daily. As an alum, it’s just disturbing to see my alma mater dump them all at once.
Natalie Bennie, a 2016 Samford graduate who is now a political consultant and holds a PhD. rhetoric student at penn state, posted a open letter to President Taylor expressing his dismay. Bennie identifies as queer.
“Recent decisions by the Office of Spiritual Life are in stark contrast to the university’s stated mission and values,” 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 don’t see the hypocrisy and logical tensions in current policies and the mission declared, I invite you to register for one of my courses, in which I teach the basics of logical errors and standards of reasoning.
She added: “I’m embarrassed claim Samford as my alma mater. I am ashamed to admit that I donated my limited money from my graduate student allowance to your school. I regret encouraging students to apply to Samford in the past.
Bennie started a Twitter feed on the topic which she says has garnered more than 60,000 views.
In that Twitter post, she also accused Samford of moving to exclude from campus a variety of other local congregations that historically have been closely affiliated with Samford’s student service.
Samford is a Baptist-affiliated school that in 2017 severed official funding ties with the Alabama Baptist State Mission Board, but at the same time denied endorsement from a group of students intended to foster dialogue between the LGBTQ community and others. The university has nearly 6,000 students from 48 states and 22 countries.
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