The President of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary has written a blog post signaling a year long period of “conversation,” during which the seminary will examine its stance of the issue of homosexuality, and its role in the current battle within the United Methodist Church (UMC) over its stance on homosexuality. Garrett-Evangelical (colloquially just called “Garrett”) is a UMC-affiliated seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Its current president, Dr. Lallene Rector, was inaugurated in March of last year.
In a blog post entitled “All People Are of Sacred Worth,” Dr. Rector writes that Garrett must do better than the “minimal” non-discriminating statement on sexual orientation that was written in 1997. She implies further that Garrett was looking to hire or appoint someone to lead this effort. “I am currently engaged in finding a person(s) to help facilitate this process.”
The language of Dr. Rector’s post is conciliatory at many points. She notes that there are both liberals and conservatives alike at Garrett, and that they’d be approaching the issue with an open mind. Human sexuality, she writes, is a challenging issue that United Methodists struggle with. She even includes a quote from Ephesians 4:4-5: “You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . .”
But even beneath much of the neutral language, Dr. Rector’s stance on the issue bleeds through. For example, Dr. Rector says we should “call to memory the split we suffered over race for nearly a century until 1939 and our delay until 1956 in ordaining women as elders. We caution ourselves to learn from history and not to make a similar mistake again.” Of course, the mistake in both of those instances was not liberalizing quickly enough, and comparisons between the civil rights movement and the current gay rights movement are made almost exclusively by supporters of the latter.
“I am aware of the “7 scriptural references” to homosexuality in the Bible,” Dr. Rector writes, but quickly adds, “and I am also aware there is no escaping ourselves in the effort to discern true meaning(s) of various passages. Many of us read the Bible from a “canon within the canon” approach. We appeal to a biblical perspective, a verse, or a commandment to provide the lens against which we measure and interpret other parts of the Bible.”
Her characterization of the traditional reading of the passages mentioning homosexuality is (perhaps unintentionally) rather insulting. According to Dr. Rector, many of us feel “anxiety and discomfort” about “different sexual practices… Sometimes we manage our discomfort (unawares) by appealing to the Bible and by concluding, ‘The Bible says . . . about . . .’ This seems to settle it for us. We can feel not only morally right, but we can also avoid the great discomfort of dealing with the differences in others that beset us.”
So basically, people read the Bible to disapprove of homosexuality because deep down they’re bigots. And they believe they are right about their interpretation of those verses because it makes them feel morally superior. If Dr. Rector does plan to address the issue with an open mind, she has some work to do.
It’s worth noting that the title of Dr. Rector’s piece either intentionally or unintentionally alludes to a Garrett campus group called Sacred Worth, dedicated to promoting the “dignity, rights, and issues of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and Tran gendered communities at the seminary, in the church, and in society.” According to the Garrett-Evangelical website, the faculty advisor for that group was previously Dr. Lallene Rector. (EDIT: The original post read that Dr. Rector was currently the faculty advisor. However, the communications coordinator of Garrett notes in the comments that the website was outdated, and has been updated.)
Also worth noting is that Dr. Rector’s bio claims she attends First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, a famously liberal and Reconciling congregation. Chicago Temple is currently in the middle of its own discernment period, and has a “Marriage Equality Task Force” currently deciding whether or not to abide by the Book of Discipline. In the blog post, Dr. Rector claims she was “in communication” with two congregations in the Northern Illinois Conference that were considering using their facilities for same-sex marriage. She bizarrely neglected to mention that, in all probability, one of them was her home congregation.
Of course, even if Dr. Rector was coming from a more moderate position, and even if the seminary ultimately comes down on the side of the Book of Discipline in a year’s time, Garrett-Evangelical is a United Methodist seminary dedicated to instilling United Methodist teachings. The very fact that it’s approaching the denomination’s teachings with an “open mind” is problematic. Which other traditional Christian teachings will Garrett be evaluating and “having a conversation” about? Only time, and the persistence of any outspoken minority, will tell.