Conference disagrees with Emory president about same-sex union ceremonies on campus

June 17, 1997

by Alice M. Smith*

DALTON, Ga. (UMNS) -- North Georgia United Methodists have expressed their "strong disagreement" with the decision of Emory University President William M. Chace to allow same-sex union ceremonies on campus and vowed to take the matter to the university's Board of Trustees if Chace does not reverse his original decision.

Those actions were expressed in a resolution adopted June 12 at the annual meeting of North Georgia United Methodists here, following Chace's decision that disallowing same-sex ceremonies on campus would violate Emory's non-discrimination policy.

Chace's action reversed the decision of Dean William Murdy at Oxford College, who would not allow a gay marriage in the chapel at Oxford. At that time Chace was out of the country, and Murdy had sought the advice of Emory attorney, Joe Crooks, who wrote Emory's Equal Opportunity Policy. Crooks said in his legal opinion the "use of facilities" part of the statement refers only to employment-related use of facilities and would not apply to personal use of the facilities.

Oxford is a branch of Emory, and both are United Methodist- related schools. Emory originally was located at Oxford, Ga., and was moved to Atlanta in the early part of the century by the Methodist Church. The university-church relationship always has been close, and today five United Methodist bishops are members of the school's board of trustees.

In answer to a question at the North Georgia United Methodist Conference, Bishop G. Lindsey Davis said his understanding was the nine-state Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church owns Emory University.

Davis said he will meet privately with Chace and Brad Curry, a prominent Atlanta businessman and president of the board of trustees, "to discuss our deep concern for the action that has been taken and share with them the resolution passed this week at our annual conference session."

All five of the United Methodist bishops -- Davis, Robert Morgan of Kentucky, vice chair of the trustees board; Marshall L. (Jack) Meadors of Mississippi; Robert Fannin of North Alabama; and Cornelius Henderson of Florida -- will meet privately with Chace on June 18 prior to the start of the board of trustees meeting that night. The matter will be discussed by the full board in an executive session the next morning.

The official policies of the United Methodist Church, adopted every four years by the General Conference, appear in the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions.

United Methodist policy specifically states that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

The practice of homosexuality is described as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as clergy is banned. However, the church affirms the sacred worth of homosexuals, who like "all persons need the ministry and guidance of the church." Human and civil liberties for gay and lesbian people are also affirmed.

"Trust agreements entered into between Emory University and the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, which have recently been affirmed by the Board of Emory, would seem to affirm a commitment by Emory University to respect and comply with the law of the United Methodist Church, and this would include churches located on the Emory campus," said the Rev. John Cromartie, an associate pastor at Peachtree United Methodist Church.

Cromartie serves as chair of the North Georgia Conference's Committee on Resolutions, which reviewed the resolution before it was presented to the full body. The resolution originated with the "cabinet" of the North Georgia Conference, including the bishop, 12 district superintendents and several other high officials in the conference.

The meeting of the resolutions committee, as well as the discussion on the conference floor, reflected strong feelings on both sides of the issue, although the resolution passed easily by a show of hands.

The Rev. Tom Laney, pastor of Druid Hills United Methodist Church and son of the Rev. James T. Laney, former president of Emory, predicted there would be "consequences for the action called for by this resolution that I'm not sure we have considered fully." Also, he said, the issues are complicated and complex, and "we're plopped down in the middle of debate and argument ... (without being) fully informed of all the parts of that debate."

Another delegate, the Rev. Wesley Allen, director of the Wesley Foundation at Georgia Tech, said he objected to the strong language in the resolution and "going over the president's head to the board of trustees."

The tone of the resolution, he said, was not reflective of a church whose membership is diverse in nature but "still in love with one another in the midst of our disagreement. I don't see this resolution as calling for us to be in love and disagreement and in dialogue. This is an example of you talking at someone, instead of talking with someone. ... It's a battle that's going to be lost on all sides."

However, the majority of the delegates favored the viewpoint of the Rev. Walter Pledger, pastor of Johnson-Rays United Methodist Church in Bogart, Ga. "We don't need to argue about what the repercussions might mean. Sometimes we have to take a bold stand and just say no."

A lay delegate, Joe Wittemore, noted that gay marriages in Georgia are illegal and "they certainly are in indirect and direct violation" of the law and polity of the United Methodist Church.

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* Smith is executive director of the Georgia United Methodist Communications Council.

For general information about The United Methodist Church, please call InfoServ at 1/800-251- 8140. EDITORS NOTE: Full text of the resolution follows. Resolution Regarding Use of Emory University Chapels and Other Facilities for Same Sex Marriages or Covenant Ceremonies Whereas the United Methodist General Conference, which is the law-making and policy-forming body of The United Methodist Church, has repeatedly and consistently declared the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching, while at the same time affirming the sacred worth of both homosexual and heterosexual persons; and Whereas the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, reviewed every four years by the General Conference, state that "sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond;" and Whereas the Social Principles likewise mandate that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches;" and Whereas Emory University is a United Methodist university owned by the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, and has a long history of close association with The United Methodist Church; and Whereas the President of Emory University, Dr. William M. Chace, has recently announced that ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions may be conducted in any of the chapels or other facilities of Emory University, including Oxford College of Emory University; Therefore, now be it resolved that the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church take the following actions: First, express to President Chace and the Trustees of Emory University our strong disagreement and extreme displeasure with this decision; Second, call President Chace to reverse the decision to allow same sex marriages or covenants to be conducted in Emory University chapels or other facilities, including the chapel of Oxford College of Emory University, so that the rites and ceremonies which take place in these sacred places may be in keeping with what The United Methodist Church has determined to be appropriate and suitable; Third, in the event that President Chace refused to reverse his decision and the policy he has recently enacted, petition the Board of Trustees of Emory University to take decisive action to ensure that this policy is changed so that the consecrated sacred places on the campuses of Emory University may not be used in ways the United Methodist Church has declared to be inappropriate, unsuitable and unacceptable. Be it further resolved that Bishop Lindsey Davis deliver this resolution to the President and Trustees of Emory University at he earliest time possible. Be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution be sent to each active and retired bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.