I want to write about working with ministry candidates and graduates in a School that is open to LGBT students who then go to serve in a church that is not.
I am the Dean at the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Vanderbilt Divinity School has taken positions of support for LGBT students and in the churches for decades. It has been blessed for many years by LGBT faculty and students. The School has written a clear public statement that advocates for and encourages the churches to accept LGBT persons in leadership (see ). Vanderbilt University, like many other universities, endeavors to be a safe and supportive environment for all persons, students and employees, regardless of sexual orientation.
It is no surprise that the partnered relationship of Disciples Divinity House with Vanderbilt Divinity School means that the House has also admitted and supported LGBT Disciple students. Staff, graduates, and students here are mostly allies or advocates.
But the School’s and the House’s stance does little to impact what happens to LGBT students when they graduate and seek to serve the church. In recent years, some students have followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach in keeping with the policies of various Commissions on Ministry. Some moved to a region where they could be ordained while open about their sexuality. Still others have decided not to engage the process altogether, out of distaste for the dishonesty it would require of them, or the difficulties it would raise.
Some who gain ordination cannot find positions, especially in congregations, even when they are gifted, called, qualified, credentialed, and ordained. Some find position that are part-time only. Some enter ministries of pastoral counseling or college or hospital chaplaincy, doing good ministry but unable to lead in the church they love. Some leave the church altogether. Their gifts are lost.
More, I observe the puzzlement that characterizes most under-30 students. These young Disciples wonder: what’s the big deal? They express increasing impatience and uneasiness about serving in a church that seems to them clearly to discriminate in ways they do not find consonant with a liberating gospel.
I am not naïve about reality, but I am still pained for students or graduates when they come into contact with church people who oppose openness to LGBT persons in leadership, especially in ways that seem to deny their identity, their God-given gifts, and their calling.
I am also pained for our church, which invests so much in its young leaders only to throw them away. We dedicate them to God, make space for them in worship, stand behind them as youth leaders, send them to church camp, let them lead on Youth Sunday, nurture them in church colleges and campus ministries, encourage their call and support their preparation—then close the door.
What a loss, especially to a church that so desperately needs excellent leaders.
What a shame.