As many of you have heard, the Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church this week resulted in the current prohibitions within the Church on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy being upheld. The St. Louis conference proved deeply disappointing to those of us advocating for a change in the policies.
You may recall that I am a member of the 20-member Board of Directors of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church who drafted a statement in Arizona that was presented to the 93 presidents of Methodist institutions for ratification. The joint statement affirmed the Church's "core religious and humanistic values that all persons are of sacred worth and equal standing." In 2006, 2011, and 2013, the United Methodist college and university presidents presented to the Council of Bishops similar statements affirming the necessity of the Church's inclusion of all people.
My position and that of my fellow presidents has not changed. At this critical juncture for the Church, and despite the outcome of the Called General Conference, I wish to state, as president, that our institution stands by this affirmation, seeking broad inclusion and diversity of our campus community, and in every way possible, striving to instill respect, tolerance, and commitment to social justice in our students.
The final conference vote in St. Louis will likely lead to fracturing of the United Methodist Church as we know it, with various individual congregations expected to break away. For some Methodist colleges and universities, issues of church funding, branding, and affiliation remain to be resolved.
Members of our faculty and staff joined me in monitoring these developments, and I had previously been interviewed by a number of media organizations for my comments as president of a Methodist-affiliated institution. Here are several links to coverage of the Called General Conference and to some of the interviews I granted:
- "United Methodist university leaders call for LGBTQ acceptance by church," The Washington Post
- "Methodist university presidents call on denomination to amend LGBTQ policies," Religion News Service
- "Presidents Urge Methodist Church to End Antigay Rule," Inside Higher Ed
- "What will happen at the special session? Here's what United Methodists predict," Religion News Service
- "Methodists strengthen stance against gay marriage and openly LGBT clergy," CNN
- "United Methodist Church Votes To Keep Bans On Same-Sex Weddings, LGBTQ Clergy," NPR
- "United Methodists take to social media as General Conference decides on LGBT clergy, same-sex marriage," The Tennessean
- "United Methodist Church Votes to Strengthen Bans on Same Sex Marriage and Gay Clergy," TIME
- "United Methodist Church Splinters Over Some Members' Refusal to Accept LGBTQ Christians," HuffPost
What does all of this mean for Virginia Wesleyan University?
As I wrote to Bishop Sharma Lewis recently, our United Methodist heritage continues to inform our mission and inspire our civic outreach in numerous ways, through Wesleyan Engaged, our campus office of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, Marlin Ministries, and the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, among others.
We will continue building on our campus tradition of inclusion, collegiality, and mindfulness of social justice and civic-responsibility issues. All of these activities, in my view, are a direct outgrowth of our Methodist educational tradition by which we teach the value of informed opinion, civil discussion, and the importance of all persons having "sacred worth and equal standing."
Virginia Wesleyan University will always value its roots, look onward and upward, and honor its mission of intellectual, social, and spiritual growth. We wish the Church well and remain grateful for our historic affiliation with Methodists of many backgrounds, interests, and educational priorities.
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Highlights from the past month include:
VWU Winter Board of Trustees Meeting
The Virginia Wesleyan University Board of Trustees held its winter meeting on February 20 in the Greer Environmental Sciences Center. We enjoyed our time with the Trustees and a full agenda. The day included an exciting announcement of the establishment of the
D. Henry Watts School of Professional Studies
at Virginia Wesleyan University. Our fourth academic school is named with gratitude for longtime Trustee Henry Watts, recognizing his 30 years of leadership and support of VWU and his outstanding contributions to the Hampton Roads business community. Board Chair David Kaufman and I had the honor of presenting Henry with a special certificate during the meeting. Following the meeting was a special
dedication of The Beacon
--a symbolic campus landmark which pays tribute to our past and, indeed, illuminates the path for our ever-bright future.
As always, we are grateful for the leadership and guidance of Board Chair David L. Kaufman. We announced last week that John F. Malbon of Virginia Beach has been
elected as the next Chair of the Board of Trustees
. He will assume the role on July 1 when current Chair David Kaufman concludes his three-year term.
Virginia Wesleyan Formalizes Fair Transfer Agreement with TCC
It was a pleasure to host our neighbors and partners from Tidewater Community College on campus to formalize our new Fair Transfer Guarantee. TCC President Gregory T. DeCinque and I signed the agreement on February 27, which guarantees TCC students entrance to Virginia Wesleyan University with junior-class status upon completion of an associate of arts or science. Read more and view the photo gallery
New Online Continuing Education Program Launched
We officially launched our new online continuing education program. It features hundreds of personal and professional development courses including accounting, business, information technology, computer applications, the environment, writing/publishing, and much more. We invite our alumni and friends, near and far, to check it out. Read more
Batten Honors College Competition
We welcomed scholars from throughout the country to VWU for the second weekend of competition for the elite and highly selective Batten Honors College. This year's competitors have a high school GPA of 4.24 (on a 4.0 scale) and an average SAT of 1371. We started with a pool of over 30,000 potential students, one-tenth of that group were deemed eligible in meeting preliminary requirements for the program, and only 117 out of 30,000 were invited to campus. With 40 seats available in the upcoming class, only three percent of those who meet the admissions requirements of the Batten Honors College were admitted.
Army ROTC Office Opens at Virginia Wesleyan
We proudly celebrated the opening of the Army ROTC Marlin Company office at Virginia Wesleyan University this past week. Many thanks to Amy Rush, Army ROTC Marlin Company Advisor, for her work in making this happen. We are grateful to Professor of Military Science Major Rhana Kurdi and her staff for their service to our country and to Virginia Wesleyan. We truly value our partnership and look forward to its continued growth. Read more
VWU Ethics Bowl Team Earns Honors
Congratulations again to the VWU Ethics Bowl team, who won the Cardinal Division and finished as the 2019 Runner-Up in the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges' (VFIC) 20th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl! Our 2019 team members--Brandon Foster, 19, Anitra Howard '22, Alex Powers '21 (team captain), and Brianna Sandy, '21--were led by long-time faculty coordinator Professor of Communication Kathy Merlock Jackson. We are so proud of their hard work and deliberation on a variety of case studies surrounding "Ethics and Social Justice." I am proud to serve, along with Professor Steven Emmanuel, on the statewide Ethics Bowl Committee. Read more about this exciting feat on the
Virginia Wesleyan Athletic Hall of Fame Inductions
We inducted the eleventh class of the VWU Athletic Hall of Fame on February 9 during a special ceremony in the Jane P. Batten Student Center. Members of the 2019 class represent the best of the best from Virginia Wesleyan's athletic history. The five inductees are Scott H. Barlow '83, Norman Billups, Jr. '81, Frederick Glen Pizzanello '85, Jackie Ochs-Gregory Texter '09, and the 2006 Women's Soccer Team. We also presented a Career Achievement Award to Joanne Renn, Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Emeritus, in recognition of her 25 years of service to Virginia Wesleyan. Read more about these Marlins here.
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Finally, I'm pleased to recognize a strong pattern of leadership and positive activism across campus. Our visionary students, faculty, and staff have done an excellent job ensuring the observance of both
Black History Month
Women's History Month
, which are extremely important to our nation's past, present, and future. In honor of these special months, the Black Student Union collaborated with other student organizations to provide meaningful campus activities throughout February, and our Women's Resource Center has done the same for March. I commend these groups for the strong leadership they have exhibited, and I invite you to
visit the VWU website
to read more about their impactful work.