|New Inclusive Community Statement ensures welcoming environment|
San Francisco Theological Seminary students, faculty and staff have recently endorsed a statement of inclusion to ensure a welcoming, safe and open environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
After nearly a year of collaboration by SFTS Welcome, a student-created campus organization, the Inclusive Community Statement has been unanimously approved by the Student Association Council, Administrative Cabinet and faculty. The statement was presented to the Board of Trustees for final review on May 3.
“With unanimous support from the Student Association Council and faculty, and immense support from administration and staff, this statement tells of the community that we currently are and of the community that we want to continue to be,” said first-year Master of Divinity student Marissa Danney. “I hope that this statement will help us to be bold in that sense of SFTS self.”
SFTS Welcome includes 17 students, many of whom do not identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The fact that heterosexual students teamed up with lesbian, gay and bisexual students to spearhead this effort reflects a deep commitment to inclusivity at SFTS.
David TenBrook, a third-year M.Div. student, calls attention to a stained-glass window on campus in Stewart Chapel that depicts civil rights leader Howard Thurman. Thurman, whose words and thoughts were often echoed by Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote: "I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
“I am in need of the liberation the statement offers because my own sexual identity as a heterosexual is intimately bound up in the sexual identity of those who identify otherwise,” explained TenBrook, who has served as SFTS Welcome communications coordinator. “Their freedom will further my own. This statement is a bold step for SFTS in living into the vision Howard Thurman carried with him. I cannot be what I ought to be until my LGBT friends and family can be what they ought to be.”
The Inclusive Community Statement will be a part of the 2011-12 Student Handbook. But more importantly, it marks a campus-wide focus on the importance of inclusivity in the larger church, according to many members of SFTS Welcome. Already during the 2011 Spring Semester, SFTS Welcome coordinated a week of chapel services to promote inclusion and is seeking other ways to encourage a theology of dynamic hospitality.
“I am extremely proud of all the work done by SFTS Welcome in this regard,” said SFTS Interim President Dr. Laird Stuart. “Their vision for the community that we need to become and their faithfulness in developing the statement, listening to other students, and bringing it though the decision-making process of the seminary is a tribute to their respect for the community and their leadership.”
SFTS has a long and celebrated history of supporting social justice issues. For example, former seminary President Ted Gill, faculty members and students marched with King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 seeking racial justice.
The SFTS student caucus began to discuss supporting gay and lesbian ordination and the role of gays and lesbians in the church as early as the 1970s. Also in the ’70s, SFTS students staged a one-day strike to protest the National Guard’s killing of four Kent State University students during a Vietnam protest and the student association voted to offer sanctuary to those avoiding the draft.
Members of SFTS Welcome are hopeful that their recent action will help turn the tide in favor of inclusion throughout the PC(USA) and beyond, just as previous social justice movements on campus established the seminary as a sanctuary for progressive theology and action.