NASHVILLE – A divinity school in Tennessee has installed an openly homosexual clergywoman as the school’s new dean.
Vanderbilt Divinity School (VDS), located in Nashville, Tennessee, has developed a reputation for progressive policies and teachings. An article last week in Nashville Scene described the institution as a “liberal oasis” and “a bastion of the religious left” where scholars tend to “challenge rather than uphold orthodoxy.”
The school’s “Commitments” page states that the institution “is committed to the faith that brought the church into being,” but advocates “a critical and open examination of the Hebraic and Christian traditions.” In particular, VDS is devoted to “confronting the homophobia that prevails throughout much of the church and society.”
“We recognize the rights of lesbians and gay men within the religious community and the need for the eradication of civil discrimination based on sexual orientation,” the commitments page continues. “This commitment involves the exploration in the curriculum of lesbian and gay concerns as well as affirmation and support of gay and lesbian people within our community.”
In keeping with these beliefs, the school has officially appointed Emilie Townes as the 16th dean of the school. Not only is Townes an ordained American Baptist clergywoman, but she is also an overt homosexual. A news article on the VDS website described her as “a pioneering scholar in the field of womanist theology.” During her official convocation ceremony, the Temple Church Choir of Nashville opened with a Michael Jackson song.
“I am excited about becoming part of this slice of God’s cloud of witnesses as we shape ourselves into being responsive to holding traditions and the future together,” Townes said during her convocation address. “Not out of a sense that traditions are static but with an appreciation for the fact that they are dynamic and actually morph and change, though slowly at times. And also not out of a sense that the future is some magic potion that allows us to neglect the work we must do today.”
Townes’ liberal stance on social issues have earned her a profile on The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network. In a 2012 article Townes wrote for The Huffington Post, she describes her “marriage” with her homosexual partner.
“[My partner and I] are both clear that we do not to conform to the standard text of marriage,” Townes wrote, “but we want to find ways to breath new air and life into what it means to be married not only by the state, but even more so in the eyes of the Holy Spirit.”
“As a Christian social ethicist with womanist leanings,” she continues, “I am clear that the Bible says precious little about same sex relationships, though it appears to have a bit more to say about acts but even that is muddled. I am also clear that although God judges our acts, God does so out of love and mercy and would much rather spend holy time applauding our attempts at humanity than smiting our behavior.”
Townes’ homosexual partner, Laurel Schneider, also joined the VDS faculty this year. Schneider is now a professor of religious studies.
Richard McCarty, provost of Vanderbilt University, said they chose Townes as the divinity school’s new dean because they wanted “someone to come in and make us better.” In regards to Townes’ homosexuality, McCarty says that “not relevant.”
“I wouldn’t want it to be seen as, well, this was just a poke in the eye to my faith tradition,” McCarty explained, according to Nashville Scene. “That’s not what it is. And that would be that nanosecond of concern that some people may interpret it that way. Our charge was to get the best possible candidate for our divinity deanship to say yes. And we got the best candidate—and thank God she said yes.”
Despite VDS’ liberal educational standards, not all seminaries and divinity schools endorse homosexuality. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that those who promote Scriptural sanctioning of homosexuality must resort to “feats of exotic biblical interpretation worthy of the most agile circus contortionist.”
“We should not be surprised … that apologists for the homosexual agenda have arisen even within the world of biblical scholarship,” Mohler writes in an article titled Homosexuality and the Bible. “Biblical scholars are themselves a very mixed group, with some defending the authority of Scripture and others bent on deconstructing the biblical text. The battle lines on this issue are immediately apparent.”
Mohler argues that Christians should respond to homosexuals with genuine compassion, but such compassion should always convey biblical truth.
“Those seeking to contort and subvert the Bible’s message are not responding to homosexuals with compassion. To lie is never compassionate,” he contends.
“The biblical witness is clear: Homosexuality is a grievous sin against God and is a direct rejection of God’s intention and command in creation,” Mohler continues. “All sin is a matter of eternal consequence, and the only hope for any sinner is the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, who on the cross paid the price for our sin, serving as the substitute for the redeemed.”
Photo: Vanderbilt University