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Samford’s requirements for guest ministries draw fire

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) – A group of ordained Samford University alumni from a variety of denominations have joined the recent pushback against the school’s longstanding guidelines related to guest ministry organizations.

The specific item being questioned states a guest ministry “should have and observe a statement of faith and theological perspective that is consistent with the mission, vision and core values of Samford.” Campus minister Bobby Gatlin applied the guideline to a group in late August and those opposing his decision are now speaking out.

More than 75 alumni have signed an open letter released this morning (Sept. 16) “to ask for an immediate reversal” of what the group describes as a “new interpretation” that excludes “religious congregations, communities and partners whose definition of the beloved community proves too expansive.”

The specific concern centers around churches with a pro-LGBTQ stance. Some contend this is the first school year the policy has reversed course on any Birmingham-area church which previously had a presence on campus, but that allegation has not been verified.

‘Longstanding’ guidelines

School officials state the guidelines have been in place for many years and are reviewed annually.

Item No. 2 of the seven points listed states: “Guest ministries organizations are reviewed by the campus pastor, no less than annually. Campus access by a guest ministry may be denied or terminated by the campus pastor and the vice president for student affairs.”

However, when Gatlin chose not to invite the Presbyterian Church USA’s Ukirk campus ministry to an Aug. 31 event for area churches to showcase their college ministries, a representative of Ukirk allegedly attempted to find a way to be present.

Ukirk had not been a guest ministry on campus in previous years, but the representative reportedly called a friend who is a minister with Trinity Commons, which is affiliated with the U.S. Episcopal Church, to inquire about sharing her table at the event. While specific details about what happened next are still being clarified, it has been confirmed Ukirk was not allowed to display promotional material.

The ukirkbirmingham.org website states it seeks to be a “theologically reformed and socially progressive” community of faith and uses a rainbow-themed logo. The site also includes a section noted as “LGBTQ+ affirming” under its Humanitarian Resources tab and reports Ukirk participated in Birmingham-area LGBTQ+ pride events earlier this year.

Defending Christ-centered culture

While Samford, nurtured by Alabama Baptists in various ways since its founding 181 years ago, has expanded its reach well beyond the South and the Christian faith, President Beck Taylor and other leaders contend they are committed to biblical ethics on sexuality and marriage and to maintaining a Christ-centered culture amid the diverse student body.

“At Samford, we strive to provide a nurturing environment for students to learn and live the Christian faith,” Phil Kimrey, vice president of student affairs, wrote in a Sept. 14 email to the student body.

“In addition to worship and ministry opportunities offered by the office of spiritual life, we welcome approved churches and organizations as guest ministry organizations to engage students by sharing, teaching and modeling the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Within this context, a goal is to connect students with local congregations and ministry organizations for corporate worship, spiritual development and personal relationships with other believers.

“Samford University is a Christ-centered university welcoming students from many theological and ecclesiastical traditions, including students who profess no faith background. We endeavor to provide all students with an education that thoughtfully integrates Christian faith and learning. We are welcoming of all denominations and have no policy or plan to restrict any denominations from our campus,” Kimrey shared in the email.

Diverse Samford community

“Throughout its history, the university has consistently subscribed to and practiced biblically orthodox beliefs. While we embrace many forms of diversity on campus and genuinely love each student, the university has a responsibility to formally partner with ministry organizations that share our beliefs,” he wrote. “Current ministry partners include a Roman Catholic student organization, Reformed University Fellowship, Campus Outreach, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and many local churches, including Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and other non-denominational traditions.”

However, those signing the open letter against the latest use of the school’s guidelines said, “Limiting the voices and perspectives allowed at Samford is a regression of equity and access for organizations who contribute to the flourishing religious life on campus.

“We call for the swift return of robust and spirited ecumenism. To limit the scope of Christian voice and tradition denies the witness of Christ within organizations and bodies that hold a different witness in this regard.”

To read the open letter, click here.

To read Samford’s guidelines for guest ministry organizations, click here.

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash/The Alabama Baptist