It is stunning that Emory continues to support its Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church as Glenn openly discriminates against gay people. Emory claims to be a champion of civil rights and of the fight to end homophobia. The institution has a bold nondiscrimination statement: “Emory cannot and will not tolerate discrimination against … any individual or group based upon … sexual orientation.” And yet Emory tolerates Glenn’s bigotry and houses Glenn rent-free in its buildings, even though Glenn’s discrimination is perpetrated on Emory’s campus and targets Emory faculty, staff and students.
The “Book of Discipline” of the United Methodist Church (UMC) prohibits its pastors from officiating same-sex marriages and bars its churches from hiring clergy who are openly gay. Glenn continues to enforce these policies, refusing to hire openly-gay clergy and, as the church’s website admits, “prohibiting its clergy from marrying same-sex couples.” Likewise, in a recent article in the Wheel, Glenn’s pastor admits that Glenn continues to enforce the UMC’s policies, despite Glenn admitting on their website that they view such policies as “unjust and contrary to the teachings of Jesus.”
Far more than any other religious group at Emory, Glenn and the UMC are part of Emory. Emory permits Glenn to occupy two of Emory’s most iconic buildings, the Glenn Sanctuary and education building. Looming over the gate to the University, the Glenn sanctuary serves as one of Emory’s main faces. The backgrounds of countless photos of gowned graduates posing next to the Haygood-Hopkins Memorial Gateway include Glenn’s columns and steeple. For many in the community, the Glenn buildings are Emory.
It is not surprising that Glenn is such an integral part of Emory. Founded as a Methodist university, Emory has long clasped the UMC in close embrace. Indeed, UMC representatives have been welcomed into Emory’s highest leadership: Emory’s current Board of Trustees includes five Methodist Bishops, including one of the board’s vice chairs. Perhaps it is impossible for Emory’s leadership to resist the UMC’s bigotry because Emory’s leadership contains so many UMC bishops.
A former member of Glenn, I first worked from within the church to try to bring about change. The church refused. After I quit in protest, I repeatedly petitioned Emory’s leadership to enforce Emory’s strict nondiscrimination statement within Glenn. Despite my many letters to Emory’s leadership and a petition with hundreds of signatures, Emory has not ended Glenn’s bigotry.
The victims of Glenn’s discrimination include members of the Emory community: Emory same-sex couples whom Glenn clergy refuse to marry and gay students at Emory’s Candler School of Theology whom Glenn refuses to hire as clergy.
Just as Emory would not allow Glenn to refuse to marry or hire Black people, Emory should not tolerate similar discrimination against gay people. Indeed, it is stunning that Emory’s preferred site for one of its Twin Memorials to enslaved people is directly in front of Glenn, where discrimination continues to occur.
Likewise, if discrimination against gay people were inflicted by any other Emory department, the University would act immediately to end the discrimination and punish the perpetrators. For example, after homophobic slurs were uttered at a frat party in 2010, Emory’s Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life quickly intervened, indicating that Emory “has no tolerance for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” However, Emory does nothing when perpetrators are connected with religion. Emory should not give religious bigotry a free pass. Homophobia’s evils are the same whether committed by a student, professor or pastor.
Furthermore, I expect that if a corporation explicitly discriminated against gay people, Emory would not welcome the corporation’s leaders onto Emory’s Board of Trustees. But again, Emory is blind to bigotry when its perpetrators are connected with religion. Five UMC bishops are Emory trustees.
Emory should do three things. First, it should insist that Glenn cease its homophobic discrimination. If Glenn refuses, Emory should no longer allow Glenn to occupy Emory’s iconic buildings.
Second, Emory should remove officials of any organization that engages in bigotry from its Board of Trustees, specifically, all five UMC bishops. Such organizations do not deserve one of Emory’s highest honors. There is a danger that trustees who accept bigotry in their own organizations will cause Emory also to accept bigotry at Emory.
Third, Emory should sever its historical affiliation with the UMC. Emory will be able to join the top tier of universities only when it sheds its religious parochialism. Harvard and Yale were able to become elite only after they freed themselves from the weight of affiliation with specific religions. Emory cannot hope to make enlightened, impartial decisions when it stacks its Board of Trustees with representatives of a single religion and favors that religion with its most visible building.
Emory must act. It is a lapse of Emory’s sterling values to allow a group that inflicts explicit discrimination to occupy its most iconic structure at Emory’s gates. By subsidizing Glenn and welcoming it, Emory associates itself with Glenn and is complicit in Glenn’s homophobia.
George Shepherd is a professor at the School of Law.