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An Open Letter to North Georgia United Methodists

November 1997

Most of you are aware of the recent decision of the Emory Trustees concerning the use of the ecumenical chapels on the Decatur and Oxford campuses. I know that all of us are seeking to understand the implications of this action. As usual the secular press has some difficulty comprehending the details of complex issues having to do with church life. So, I hope that you will read carefully the material available in this issue of the Advocate. Alice Smith and Mark Westmoreland always give a fair and balanced account of events.

There are a few background facts which I want you to know. First, Emory University is a highly complex, multicultural institution of higher learning. The faculty and students represent values and traditions from the global community. Emory University is not the church and is much more diverse than most of our congregations. Many in the university community have significant disagreement with our United Methodist position on homosexuality. Second, the Equal Opportunity Policy of Emory which has been in place for about five years (adopted when Dr. James Lancy was President) makes it unlawful for the University to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Once a university has such a policy it must be internally consistent in the application of it. Facilities open to any employee must be available to all. Third, the chapels are ecumenical in nature and used by 24 different faith communities including Jewish, Moslem, Hindu and a variety of Christian groups. The chapels are not viewed as United Methodist churches.

The Trustees were faced with several unattractive options on the issue of chapel use. Opting not to overthrow the Equal Opportunity Policy and unwilling to dismantle the ecumenical focus of the multi-use chapels, the Trustees decided to consider two possibilities. One was to prohibit legal marriages and same sex ceremonies in all chapels. The Trustees were reluctant to penalize men and women who wanted to have a legal marriage in the chapels. This issue was of special concern for the Day Prayer Chapel on the campus of Emory at Oxford. The other option was to adopt very restrictive guidelines for the use of the chapels and to trust our United Methdist campus ministers – Rev. Sammy Clark and Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe plus Dean Kevin LaGree of The Candler School of Theology – to exercise sound judgement and wise counsel in working with a complex set of circumstances. None of the Trustees were happy with the options set before us. However, the Trustees did determine to live for a season with the guidelines. Under 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. The Bishops who attended the meeting were assured by the chaplains and the administration of Emory that the likelihood of same sex ceremonies would be almost impossible. Even though I personally was quite reluctant to agree with this policy, I did consent to give it a chance to work. Time will tell whether or not we made a wise decision. Rest assured that this situation will be closely monitored. If, in the future, the policy proves to be ill-advised, I will be the first to call for an adjustment. Please keep the chaplains, Dean LaGree, President Chase and the Trustees in your prayers as we continue to struggle with one of the most divisive issues in our church and in the society.

Lindsey Davis

Source: North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church website

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