COLUMBIA THEOLOGCIAL SEMINARY
Housing Policy Commission
The Columbia housing policy, which currently does not allow same gender couples access to “married student” housing at CTS, has caused considerable conversation and debate over the last two years. In mid-April, I indicated that the administration was not yet prepared to make changes in the long-standing housing policy, even though many in Columbia’s constituencies have felt strongly that the current policy is unjust with respect to valued members of our community.
Long ago our academic programs were opened to a broad base of students who are eager to study the theological disciplines with us. We now admit qualified students without primary concern for their theological background, church affiliation, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Like any covenant community, we do have standards of faithfulness which we believe to be consistent with healthy community life. But within these parameters all are welcome.
In a diverse community, it is important that standards and policies are regularly evaluated and applied as evenly as possible. Our community, like our own denomination, the broader global Church, and the surrounding culture, has differing perspectives on human sexuality as well as the application of institutional standards. But the fact that these differences exist does not mean that we can any longer delay providing equitable student services for all who are admitted here.
It is time to make changes in our housing policy. And in order to move a process forward, I am appointing a CTS Housing Policy Commission, which will complete its work before the beginning of the 2012 fall semester. The purpose of the Commission will be to establish a fair and administrable housing policy which will serve all of our students and be in accord with the ethical standards of our community. The President and Chair of the Board have agreed that the decisions of this commission will become our policy.
In order for key constituencies to be represented, the Commission will include 13 members:
* 3 members of the Board of Trustees, chosen by the chair of the Board [the chair intends to name the Board committee chairs of the Student Services, Academic Affairs, and Institutional Advancement Committees, since these committees represent constituencies most directly affected by the policy];
* 3 members of the faculty, chosen by the Executive Committee of the Faculty;
* 3 students, chosen by the SCC officers; and
* the Dean of the Faculty and the Dean of Student Services.
The president and the chair of the Board of Trustees will co-moderate the Commission. Alumni/ae will be represented through those on the Commission who are also in this category.
The Commission will convene and complete its work before the opening of the 2012 fall term.
It should be noted that the Housing Policy Commission will only be the immediate next step in relation to our work together around the myriad of issues concerning human sexuality, marriage covenant, family, etc., which have been referenced in the recent controversy. These topics will be revisited through our current pedagogical practices, curriculum revision, community forums, informal conversations, etc. There are many issues in this realm which are contested in society, in the academy and in the Church. As an administration and faculty we are committed to providing biblical, theological, and community-building resources to help us engage one another while we listen for the Spirit’s voice.
Stephen A. Hayner
May 9, 2012
COLUMBIA THEOLOGCIAL SEMINARY
Over the last few days there have been a number of wonderful individuals who have posted reflections, prayers, messages of support, and hopes for healing over the housing policy here at Columbia. Because of the attention this issue has garnered, I felt it would important for there to be a location where we could find these messages. With the permission of the authors I am posting links to these blogs where you can read, share, and offer your own feedback.
I am continuously thankful for every person who has come to the table to take part in this important discussion. We still have a lot of work left to do, but I am beginning to find hope amidst the pain. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Katherine Blankenship (The Proactive Presbyterian)
http://rwilliamsonjr.posterous.com/my-letter-to-steve-hayner Robert Williamson Jr.
http://networkedblogs.com/wKCsI Jill Tolbert
Keep checking back, I’ll be adding more links as needed.
Update: We have more links!
http://theblueroomblog.org/2012/04/23/frick-and-frack-a-tale-of-justice/ MaryAnn McKibben Dana
http://chaplaincarswell.blogspot.com/ Jenny Sumner Carswell
Keep them coming!
Dear Columbia Community,
Members of Imago Dei are deeply saddened and disappointed by the administrative cabinet’s decision to not change the current housing policy that excludes life-long committed same-gender couples from living on campus. We feel that this excludes our friends, our classmates, our families, and our sisters and brothers in Christ from fully being a part of this community. We grieve that all students are not given the opportunity to live together in genuine community next to and with people who think and believe differently as an expression of the beautiful diversity of the body of Christ.
However, we know that our God is relentless. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Indeed, great is God’s faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23). When the Hebrews approached the Red Sea, trying to escape Pharaoh’s army, God made a way where there was no way. We trust that God continues to make a way out of no way.
Therefore, trusting in God, filled with the hope of Jesus Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit, we will continue to seek to follow God’s will for us. We continue to feel called to work for a change in the housing policy on this campus to allow all students the benefit of fully being a part of this community. This recent decision is a set back, but by no means the end.
We invite the Columbia community to join us for a Service of Healing and Wholeness for our community on Tuesday April 24 at 8:00 pm on the Quad. We will meet on the Quad and travel to other parts of campus. We invite all who saddened by this decision and all those who are saddened by the pain of their friends and colleagues to attend this time of prayer.
Over the last few days there have been a number of responses from students on the housing policy. I have offered the use of the this space for students who do not have blogs where they may voice their response. I invite you to read and share the following testimony by an amazing student and friend. If you wish you respond, you can follow him on twitter @sheldonsteen
I want to begin by expressing my deep and sincere gratitude for the leadership you provide to this seminary. I recognize that the process you have been going through over the question of the housing policy has been easy for no one, especially you who have the final say on the matter. I also trust each of you enough to appreciate the time and energy you have taken to consider this matter thoughtfully, prayerfully, and faithfully. The unfortunate reality, however, is that sometimes even when we take the time to pray, listen, and discern as faithfully as we possibly can we still it get it wrong. In this case I believe that you got it wrong. I understand that this matter is far from settled, however, your decision for inaction is itself a decision and allows for a discriminatory and unjust policy to continue.
In my three years at Columbia I have been blessed in so many ways. Perhaps the most tangible blessing I can point to has been living in the Village. The community that exists and that has been built is special. When Mary and I first decided to come to Columbia, our daughter Maya was not yet one. She is now almost four and we have been so blessed to have her grow up alongside other students’ children. We also had a dog that we loved, and still love, very much. We spent months searching for housing in the nearby area that could compare to the Village. Everything we found in the immediate vicinity was far too expensive, far too small, or much further away than we were willing travel for fear of feeling disconnected. We made the difficult decision of giving our dog away to a family member so that we could live on campus and participate more fully in the life of the community. The reality is that living off campus, especially for families with young children, makes it very challenging to experience the fullness of the wonderful community at Columbia. We have not once regretted our choice. However, it was also a choice we were privileged to make only because we are in an opposite-gender marriage that the school’s policy recognizes as valid. Students in same-gender relationships, whom the seminary admits and openly welcomes for admission, cannot simply choose to give away their partners or their children to family members. It is simply unjust and dishonest to admit students and not afford them the basic privilege of living on campus and experiencing life in this community day in and day out. We are lying to ourselves and to prospective students if we continue to call ourselves open, inclusive, welcoming, or any of the other stock terms we so callously throw around. We are better than this.
This decision deeply saddens and angers me because I believe this was a decision guided by fear rather than hope and trust in the living God. The good news is that your decision is not the last word, for Christ has already broken the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14). There will certainly come a day when all students and their families will be invited to be full members of the community, and I, along with many others, will continue to struggle for as long as it takes. I pray that as we move forward we can keep an open and honest dialogue and that there will be better transparency in this process. Your leadership and courage is needed now more than ever. I pray that God will continue to work in and through you as we navigate this tumultuous time together. You are in my prayers.
Students at Columbia just received an update from Steve Hayner on the housing policy.
To: Students of CTS
From: Dr. Steve Hayner, President
Date: April 23, 2012
Re: Housing Policy
Dear Students of CTS,
Last Friday, at the encouragement of both our students and our administrative leaders, I wrote a memo describing where we are in this long, and for many, extraordinarily painful conversation regarding our current housing policy. We have been wrestling intentionally for two years with whether to open our married housing to covenanted same-gender couples. The patience of those for whom this is a matter of justice has worn thin. But for many others the issues remain complex.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we are part of a denomination which is currently in great disagreement and intense discernment about same-gender marriage, and in a geographical location which does not recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships or the marriage of same-gender couples. Rightly or wrongly I have been of the conviction that we should not be making statements which have not been adequately processed in the community about issues where there is no agreement among any of our constituent groups. There are many different views among our trustees, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and supporting churches.
So for two years I have listened and have tried to discern a way forward. When pressed again recently with the plea, “Just give us an answer,” I perhaps unwisely succumbed. What I wrote on Friday was that we had decided “not to change the policy at this time.” I went on to say that, “As we seek to make a broader place at our educational table, our first priority is to assure that these issues can be discussed openly, carefully, faithfully and humbly.”
My intent was to indicate that the process is ongoing-that the conversation is not over and that this decision, like every policy decision is only “interim.” What I was hoping to avoid was making a statement about same-gender marriage through a housing policy, when that topic is still a very lively debate in our denomination and in our culture.
The responses to my short statement have been quick and intense over this weekend. Many of our treasured sisters and brothers feel that while we continue to say that all are welcome here, we are slamming a door in their faces. Some alumni/ae, who remember different struggles of a previous time, have angrily observed that some things never seem to change. Others have indicated that they believe that the issues are indeed different, and are relieved that a final decision has been made and that they won’t have to wrestle with this anymore. As noted above, there are deep disagreements among our many constituencies.
But it is not over. And we will continue to wrestle. That is part of our call.
Last night, a large group of our faculty met, and together we struggled with all of these concerns and expressed our own strong convictions about the issues. Like our community as a whole, our faculty members have different views regarding what a faithful response should be. But we all believe that God has called us to honor the God-created dignity of every individual, and to make a place for every one who has a view to offer and is willing to do so with Godly humility and integrity. And even though life is frequently unfair in the complexity of contexts in which we live, we all believe in justice and the restoration of human thriving in every dimension of life.
So, let me state again unequivocally, that this conversation and process will continue. As you know there is a gathering for the community this afternoon from 4:00-6:00 PM. Because there may be a larger group than the President’s House can accommodate (and the weather is not such that we can be on the patio), we will meet in BLC 102. Please pass the word! There will also be a forum on this or a related topic sponsored by the Community Life Committee on Wednesday at 10 AM. And in the coming weeks, we will gather a more formal and representative task force that will continue to work through some of the issues through the next several months. We will be reminded that the conversations are not simply about issues, but always about people. Everything is still on the table.
For many, this can only bring a deep lament and a cry of “How long, O Lord?” And to that question, I offer the (perhaps feeble) assurance of the hymn writer who declared, “Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be-When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”
Having lived all my life in the culturally privileged place of being white, male, and in my case married (now for nearly 39 years), I cannot pretend to understand the pain of those whose experience is that the church and society alike have conspired against them. But God knows. God cares. Indeed, God always privileges those who need to be liberated from whatever holds them back and keeps them from being all that God intends.
I ask each of you to please stay at the table while we continue in this liminal space. Please continue to offer what you can of yourself to this community. Please pray that all of us may see Jesus more clearly and follow him more faithfully. I am trying to do that, too.
“I crafted this video simply to tell the story of my friend’s pain caused by the exclusive housing policy at Columbia Theological Seminary. I believe that God works through personal stories to connect hearts and minds and to foster greater understanding and deeper respect among diverse peoples. I admire my friend for her courage and I am convicted by her naming of the injustice - its when people are silent about things that matter.” - Dawn Martin Hyde
My decision to follow the call to ministry was the hardest decision I have ever made. It has been a source of immeasurable joy and love, but it has also been a source of frustration and confusion. The decision of our VPs and President this week has offered a new definition. Complete and utter disappointment. When the church actively excludes people it inherently separates itself from the message of Jesus Christ. What follows below is the email from our President, Steve Hayner on the issue of allowing same sex couples to live in on-campus housing.
To: Students of CTS
From: Dr. Steve Hayner, President
Date: April 20, 2012
Re: Housing Policy
In response to a group of students from the SCC, the administration of CTS over the last two years has been considering a possible change in our housing policy which would permit same gender couples, who can demonstrate that they are in a committed, covenantal relationship, to have “married student” housing privileges on campus.
After careful research of various alternatives, and conversation with numerous people in our diverse constituency, the decision was made not to change the policy at this time.
As a community (consisting of faculty, administrators, board, alumni, students, denominational leaders and supporting churches) we remain strongly divided concerning this and related issues. As we seek to make a broader place at our educational table, our first priority is to assure that these issues can be discussed openly, carefully, faithfully and humbly. We will continue to move in this direction. We will also continue to make every effort to aid all students in finding suitable housing.
Policy development related to behaviors within a covenantal community of disciples is always dependent on a multitude of considerations. Sensitivity to the Spirit, honoring each other’s uniqueness, and being guided by our ordination vows to serve the “peace, unity and purity” of the Church “with energy, intelligence, imagination and love” are always paramount goals.
I want to invite any of you who want to respond to me with your questions or comments to join me at the President’s House on Monday, April 23, from 4-5 p.m.
This has been an issue on campus for over two years, and the cheek has been turned more than once. What follows is my personal response to how we can move forward as a community:
At this time, we are a community in need of prayer and support as we move forward in these final weeks of the semester. For many of us, this has been a massive disappointment in our leadership. As we move forward we need to recognize, maybe more than ever, the voices on either side of this decision.
In my time at Columbia I have bore witness to the power of personal testimony in ministry. It is my dearest hope that as we move forward this open acceptance of testimony will not be disregarded. We are strong in faith, and even stronger in love of one another.