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Same-sex ceremony to be permitted in Wake Forest University’s chapel

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–A same-sex “covenant” ceremony for a Wake Forest University divinity school student and her lesbian partner has cleared by the president and chaplain of the university which until recent years had been affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Wake Forest Baptist Church, which meets in the university’s Wait Chapel, will conduct the same-sex ceremony, if the two women choose to proceed with the marriage-like ceremony.
At issue has been the holding of such a ceremony in a university facility.
In August, university chaplain Ed Christman declined to schedule the women’s ceremony, citing the lack of a university policy for such ceremonies. Christman, a member of Wake Forest Baptist Church, referred the matter to university President Thomas K. Hearn Jr., another member of the congregation.
Hearn turned the issue over to the university’s board of trustees. A committee formed by the board issued a statement in September asking the church not to hold such ceremonies. The committee’s report also noted the church’s autonomy and said the university did not want to restrict the church’s worship practices, according to an Oct. 8 article in the state Baptist newsjournal, the Biblical Recorder.
Hearn stated in his Sept. 28 ”State of the University” speech it has never been the university’s intention to interfere with Wake Forest Baptist Church’s internal matters, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. ”Nowhere does the [trustee committee] statement prohibit or forbid the church from doing anything,” Hearn was quoted as saying.
In an Oct. 7 article, chaplain Christman then was quoted as saying that Hearn’s comments settled the question of university policy. Christman’s office controls scheduling for Wait Chapel.
The 24-student divinity school opened this fall with Bill Leonard, a longtime Baptist historian, as dean.
The divinity school receives part of its funding from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a national denomination-like organization of Baptist moderates.
Among the divinity school’s faculty members is James Dunn, recently retired as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. At the divinity school, Dunn is visiting professor of Christianity and public policy.
The trustee committee which addressed the same-sex marriage issue was chaired by Mike Queen, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington and a Wake Forest alumnus.
Queen declined additional comment to the Biblical Recorder, noting that his term as a trustee had just ended. “We’ve done our work,” he told the journal. “We made our recommendation.”
Hearn, in his “State of the University” address, said the trustees’ report had been “all but universally misunderstood,” the Biblical Recorder recounted.
The trustees did not “forbid” or “prohibit” the church from doing anything, Hearn said. “In summary, Wake Forest deferred a liturgical, religious question to the appropriate body, the church.”