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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Frick & Frack: A Tale of Justice

Many of you have doubtless been following the controversy over Columbia Theological Seminary's recent decision not to allow same-gender couples in committed, covenental relationships, to live on campus in "married student" housing.  There've been many eloquent letters written to CTS about this issue, as evidenced by the one below (by MaryAnn McKibben Dana of The Blue Room) and the one to which it refers (by Michael Kirby). 

Below is a letter I am sending to the president of Columbia Theological Seminary, Dr. Steve Hayner, and members of the “cabinet”:
I know you have been receiving countless communications about your recent announcement regarding Columbia’s housing policy. One of these letters is from my friend, Michael Kirby.

I write now, with his permission, to tell you a part of the story that he did not.

Michael and I were friends long before seminary. We met in Houston, Texas, both former Southern Baptists who attended the same church, St. Philip Presbyterian. Michael was an elder; I was a deacon and later a staff member. We were in Sunday School class together. We sang in the choir together. We went on young-adult retreats together (back when we were young adults). And, nurtured in the loving care of that amazing church community, we felt God calling us to ministry—not exactly together, but in parallel.

We were interested in some of the same seminaries, and happened to attend the same CTS Inquirer’s Weekend in November 1999. We didn’t talk much that weekend, giving each other space to discern, but I found myself wondering whether he was as lit up with excitement as I was over what Columbia had to offer. He was.

I still remember the tentative conversation with Michael the day the scholarship announcements went out, and the explosion of joy when we found out that we had both received identical scholarships. Over the years at Columbia, it’s fair to say that we competed, but in the best possible way: We drove one another to do our absolute best. We supported and encouraged one another and studied together. We gave each other tips for navigating our home presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry. We each found our own niches and leadership opportunities while drawing closer to one another. We remain close to this day. I celebrate his ministry in Chicago and across the larger church, particularly as a voice for justice and for the compassion of God that knows no bounds.

I’ll be honest. In my early stages of discernment, when I pictured myself in seminary, I imagined striking out on my own, not with someone from my hometown. But I cannot imagine my call story without Michael Kirby.

Our stories diverge in one important way. Michael, a gay man, arrived at Columbia unpartnered, whereas I came with a husband. And therein lies the cruel twist: despite our similarities in background, despite our mutual commitment to academic rigor and excellence in ministry, and despite our shared love for the church, had Michael been the one to arrive with a husband instead of me, he would have been barred from campus housing.

That, in short, is a travesty.

I do not envy you the many constituencies and interests you must consider in stewarding Columbia Seminary, an institution we all love and revere. But as you listen to the myriad voices on this issue, don’t forget the future Michael Kirbys out there:
folks who are just now feeling the Holy Spirit tug at them,
folks who feel most alive when they are serving the church,
folks for whom a seminary education may be out of reach financially if they are forced to live off campus…
And folks who will not consider Columbia Theological Seminary so long as they and their families are excluded from a vital part of campus life.

What profoundly gifted servants of God will you never have the opportunity to nurture and grow with as a result of this policy?

Thank you for listening.
Peace of Christ,
The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, M.Div 2003


  1. My seminary faced this issue in the 90s, and now welcomes partnered gay and lesbian students (who have their bishop's consent, but that wouldn't matter in other denominations). Seminaries are wonderful places of grace and formation, but are of course subject to all the stresses and tensions of other communities. At their best they rise above those tensions to model what a community in Christ might be. I pray that CTS and other seminaries will rise above the tensions that surround sexuality and welcome ALL those who come to experience that grace and formation, and live into that community, including those with same sex partners.

  2. MaryAnn, thank you for this post. I am a Columbia grad -- in my last semester on campus when you came to the Inquirer's Weekend in 1999 -- and I was not aware of this controversy. (Obviously the seminary has not yet sent out any emails to the alumni about this policy.)You wrote a wonderful letter. I am sure Columbia is struggling to keep up good relationships with all the churches in the denomination right now, representing vastly different viewpoints, particularly in the South and in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, but I am with you on this one.

    When I was a student, I wasn't married and I didn't live on campus, as I had been living my own home in Roswell about 30 miles away for the past 15 years. But in this day and age, I personally don't think any of the housing should be designated by marital status. When I was there, the seminary had dorms, and a "room" could have a living room, bedroom, and bath, enough for a couple. It also had married student apartments for families with children. I know that there is newer housing now but I'm not sure of the configurations. Personally I think all the housing options should be available to all students, regardless of marital status.

    When I was at Columbia, a number of my classmates were married and had spouses and/or children who didn't come to seminary with them but remained out of state, and it was hard for them. There was a lesbian woman I knew who was a brilliant scholar, and her partner remained behind while she was in seminary (I believe her partner had a job out of state). It was so hard for these folks, straight or gay. They really struggled with their calls and the strain it put on their relationships to be separated for three years. I am not sure how it all worked out for them.

    Again, great letter. I suspect it won't change the policy, but I am glad you made your feelings known.


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