Vanderbilt Divinity School in Tennessee has appointed an openly gay woman to be its next dean. Emilie Townes, an ordained American Baptist who previously held administrative positions at Yale, is being described by the school as a “pioneering scholar in the field of womanist theology.”
“I am excited about becoming part of this slice of God’s cloud of witnesses as we shape ourselves into being responsive to holding traditions and the future together,” Townes said during her convocation address. “Not out of a sense that traditions are static but with an appreciation for the fact that they are dynamic and actually morph and change, though slowly at times. And also not out of a sense that the future is some magic potion that allows us to neglect the work we must do today.”
Townes’ partner, Laurel Schneider, also joined the Vanderbilt Divinity School’s faculty this year.
Though Townes’ appointment was announced last December, news of it has recently stirred debate within the Christian Press. From the Christian News Network:
Despite VDS’ liberal educational standards, not all seminaries and divinity schools endorse homosexuality. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that those who promote Scriptural sanctioning of homosexuality must resort to “feats of exotic biblical interpretation worthy of the most agile circus contortionist.”
“We should not be surprised … that apologists for the homosexual agenda have arisen even within the world of biblical scholarship,” Mohler writes in an article titled Homosexuality and the Bible. “Biblical scholars are themselves a very mixed group, with some defending the authority of Scripture and others bent on deconstructing the biblical text. The battle lines on this issue are immediately apparent.”
For Townes, the criticism isn’t new. In a Huffington Post column “Gay Marriage and Religion: What Marriage Means to Me”, she writes the following about her own ceremony:
Folks approach gay marriage from a variety of perspectives – moral, theological, social, political. As a Christian social ethicist with womanist leanings, I am clear that the Bible says precious little about same sex relationships, though it appears to have a bit more to say about acts but even that is muddled. I am also clear that although God judges our acts, God does so out of love and mercy and would much rather spend holy time applauding our attempts at humanity than smiting our behavior. The acceptance of gay marriage (even gays who do not believe in marriage) was evident at our ceremony – both of our families, a variety of racial ethnic groups and nationalities, differing sexualities, same sex couples who are married – some with children, others not, children, traditional nuclear families, the list went on and on. The sanctuary and the dinner and dancing that followed was one of joy and celebration – not so much for us as a same-sex couple, but because of our love for one another and trying to share that with others. Politically, it is disheartening to see out love, care, compassion and commitment to one another be made into a political football by the right and the left. The bottom line for me is not “gay marriage” but “marriage.” When folks, whoever they may be, find that the only word that expresses the commitment they make to one another is marriage – we should celebrate this and give them all the support we can for it is no small thing to live out vows that are marked by “forever.”