Dear Theological School students, faculty, staff, and alumni,
I write you as the special session of General Conference of the United Methodist Church concludes its work in St. Louis. To say that this has been a difficult, excruciating week is an understatement. I began the time in St. Louis filled with pride and gratitude for the tremendous witness Drew students, alumni, and faculty made for the cause of justice and inclusion. Yet, my heart quickly became heavy as those of us present, and those watching by livestream, witnessed what felt like the church unraveling before our very eyes—a church many of us love and serve. Drew University and Drew Theological School are historically related institutions of the church, and the Theological School is one of its thirteen official seminaries.
On Tuesday a majority of delegates to the special General Conference voted to accept the “Traditional Plan” as the way forward for the United Methodist Church. This plan was but one of several options before delegates, who had come together to consider matters of human sexuality and the presence and role of LGBTQ+ persons in our church. The Traditional Plan was the most restrictive and punitive to LGBTQ+ persons and allies. This means that in the future expression of the denomination there will be much stricter enforcement of church laws on LGBTQ+ ordination and same-gender marriage, with clearly delineated penalties for those who violate these newly accepted policies.
I want to comment briefly on this new reality for those members of our community who count themselves a part of the United Methodist Church. To our LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff, and alumni, I grieve with you. I’m outraged, embarrassed, and wounded by the actions of our church, and I assure you that Drew will continue to stand with you and fight with and for you. No words can alleviate the pain you must feel, but I pray that the knowledge that Drew remains deeply committed to being a welcoming community for all assures you that your school will never waver on its commitment to you. I remind you of the University’s equal opportunity and non-discrimination policy, which states that
…(A)ll of its programs will be free from differences in treatment of persons because of race, creed, sex, color, creed, religion, age, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran status, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or any category that deprives the person of consideration as an individual. Drew aims to treat all individuals with respect and strives to create an inclusive campus community for all employees, students, and guests.
We will have many decisions to make about how this vote will impact our institutional life at Drew, and how we might respond, organize, and resist these actions which so deeply affect and harm our entire community. Those conversations will take place with students, as a faculty, and at the board of trustees, as well in partnership with sister institutions of theological education across the UMC.
Also as part of this process, individuals will need to make their own decisions about their future connection with and to the church. The future will require deep discernment and wisdom as these collective and individual adjustments are made. It will also take some time to fully understand how the Traditional Plan will be implemented, as significant parts of it were declared unconstitutional by the church’s Judicial Council. For students and alumni, your deans, faculty, and staff are available to you as you consider the impact of this decision on your calling and vocational process. I will work hard to keep the entire community informed, especially as to how we are moving forward as a school. I can assure you, however, that we will not waver in our commitment to being a safe space that celebrates, welcomes and supports our LGBTQ+ siblings and allies, and protects them from further harm.
The Theological School has scheduled two forums to debrief and further explore the implications of these decisions: Wednesday, March 13 at noon and Thursday, March 14 at 6.00 p.m. in Seminary Hall.
The apostle Paul, reflecting on his own life journey and struggles, said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” May the same be said of us.
Javier A. Viera
Dean of the Theological School
Professor of Pastoral Theology