Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Open Waters: My Response to the Housing Policy at CTS

To President Steve Hayner:

First of all, I want to thank you for your leadership and for the many ways you have graciously listened to the voices of the community at Columbia Theological Seminary.  You lead CTS with humility and are gifted in your ability to be in dialogue with students, faculty, staff, the board of directors and the broader community.   A few days ago, I learned via social networking that the request to change the current housing policy was denied.  This topic was part of the daily dialogue when I was still a student at CTS and I am grateful to hear that students are still fighting for what is fair and just for the entire CTS community.

In the last couple days, I read many letters sent by members of the CTS community far and wide.  I add my voice to the crowd that declares the housing policy as it is currently stated does not allow for the full inclusion of all students in the CTS community.  I recognize that there are many voices involved in this conversation and that you are only one vote among many.  I write to you because I learned in my time at CTS how much you value the need for open dialogue amidst division.

As a hospital chaplain, I work not only with a diversity of patients, but also a diversity of chaplains, some of whom who define themselves as LGBT.  Through discussion with my chaplain colleagues about the open housing policies at their seminaries, I know this is not only a possibility but a reality for many theological institutions.  I am saddened to share with them that while our seminary is open and affirming to admitting LGBT students, our doors are closed to providing a home in the community to those folks who are both a) being faithful to their calling from God and b) in committed, same-gendered relationships.

While I was a student at CTS, I remember voicing to administration a time of deep hurt I experienced on an Alternative Context trip my middler year.  I use this example not to move away from the topic of housing, but to provide you with an example of when voices spoke out against an injustice they experienced and felt their voices were heard by the administration at CTS.  Laura Mendenhall, who was president at that time, taught the women involved an important lesson through that experience.  She shared with us that it takes a lot of work to move a ship…especially a ship that has been sailing in the same direction for years.  But Laura proudly proclaimed to us that all who speak out against injustices serve as tugboats for the institution.  In that conversation, she empowered me to speak out when I feel there is an injustice present.  This is one of those moments.  I ask this of you and the CTS administration: listen to the tugboats.  I realize it takes time to move a ship, but my hope is that the seminary will be open to the movement of the Spirit through the work of individuals who cry out, “How long, O Lord?”

In closing, I share with you a quote I heard at the 2008 General Assembly in San Jose, CA.  Gradye Parsons offered his breakdown of the Mark 6:45-51 when he said, “Get into the boat. Go across the lake. There will be a storm. You will not die.”  I recognize there is both simplicity and difficulty in these words.  Steve, I ask that CTS would get into the boat with a confident heart knowing that, while there may be a storm, we will not die.  My prayer for you and for those who graciously serve our seminary as staff, administration, and board members is that you listen to the tugboats.  My continued hope is that our journey will be guided not by fear, but by faith and hope in the Living God.  May we get into the boat and journey in a new direction with full confidence that the One powerful enough to calm the seas will lead us to more open waters.

My prayers stay with you and with the CTS community,
Rev. Jenny Sumner Carswell
MDiv, 2010