My Response to Asbury President Tim Tennent

Dear President Tennent,

First, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful response to the letter signed by a large number of Asbury alumni that I sent you urging you, Asbury Seminary’s board, administrative leaders, and past Presidents Dunnam and Greenway to repent of the harm to our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ in the United Methodist Church. I know many of those who signed appreciated receiving a thoughtful response as well.

You made several points that I feel deserve a response. In your letter, you repeated a claim made by many who support the Traditional Plan: that this is about traditionalists supposedly holding to a higher authority of Scripture. All the while, you ignore what I feel is more central to what is happening right now and is central to Scripture itself: addressing harm against and marginilization of children of God, particularly to LGBTQ+ people in this context.

The insinuation you and others make with this argument is that we who hold to a more open and inclusive understanding of marriage do not also hold to the authority of Scripture. You and others who have asserted this are simply wrong. I and the signers who I have been in communication with are just as passionate as you are in our belief in the authority of Scripture. It is time to let this baseless assertion die. Holding rigidly to a culturally biased and eisegetical interpretation of six verses in the Bible does not a belief in the authority of Scripture make. There are numerous instances in Scripture of God moving God’s people out of culturally informed teachings into a more missional and just praxis of loving people. This is a legitimate form of fidelity to the authority and transformational power of Scripture that many members of the Body of Christ hold.

Speaking solely for myself here, I spent much of both of the times I was a student at Asbury wishing Asbury would hold to a higher authority of Scripture. Let me offer an example based upon another issue of the importance of scriptural authority. I believe that the greatest heresy in the church today is the belief that the church is charged to distinguish between "deserving" and "non-deserving" poor. So many millions of people past and present  have been harmed and turned away from the liberating news of Jesus by such heretical teachings. Bob Lyons was the sole teacher at Asbury I sat under who denounced this heresy. I actually sat in classes under two professors, who are still teaching at Asbury, who insinuated that this heresy was appropriate to local churches.

Even more concerning, the E. Stanley Jones School of World Missions, which is a place I love dearly since I graduated with a D. Miss from there, is currently in a partnership with a far right libertarian organization that has views on poverty that equate upholding capitalism with social holiness. The partnership works to preserve the political and economic status quo at the expense of the welfare of the most vulnerable and ignores the voluminous number of scriptures that call followers of God to advocate for the oppressed and marginalized. Surely ignoring the breadth of Scripture in this way violates the idea of upholding the authority of Scripture and, to my knowledge, nothing has been done to correct it. Certainly, more can and should be done to provide a more liberational and biblical understanding of missionally advocating for justice with the poor and oppressed from a position of incarnation among the most vulnerable. Yet, those of us who work and pray for equal rights for LGBTQ+ people are repeatedly told that we alone do not hold to a high enough authority of Scripture.

Indeed, I still wish Asbury would hold to a higher authority of Scripture. 

I was most saddened in your letter that there was no signal of repentance for the tremendous amount of harm caused over the years by our beloved seminary to LGBTQ+ people. There was not even a simple and appropriate apology for the harm that has been and is being done.. There certainly should be. I personally know of many gay and lesbian students - both times when I was a student - who were exposed to repeated messages in classes and chapel services that being who God created them to be was wrong; that God made a mistake with them and thus, they lived with a crippling sense of shame. I have even witnessed LGBTQ+ students at Asbury who were told they needed to go through reparative therapy, a practice now outlawed in many places, in order to live righteously. I realize that this is the deeply held belief of many, but these repeated messages led to an internalized homophobia that was taught and lived out at Asbury, causing tremendous harm in the lives of LGBTQ+ people. This internalized homophobia is still being encouraged in the lives of current students.

There is much to apologize for and repent of. I have apologized for the harm that I have caused and I repent of my complicity. Praise be to God for God’s grace is never ending and my liberation from past homophobia is a daily part of my struggle to live faithfully to Jesus. It is a vital part of my sanctification and thus, I pray the same for you and the leadership of Asbury. It is my continued hope and prayer that an apology would come forth from the leaders of Asbury and repentance would be sought after.

Towards seeking actions that are the fruits of repentance, I and a few of my fellow signers would like to offer some possible actions the seminary could take. These suggestions fall short of removing the ethos statement, which I understand is in place in order to maintain funding from conservative donors. Here are a few sincere suggestions:

  • Some of the signers have expressed a willingness to encourage current LGBTQ+ students at Asbury who are struggling with homophobic messages so mentoring relationships could be established between LGBTQ+ alumni and LGBTQ+ students. We would like to be allowed a way to form such relationships without jeopardizing current students’ ability to remain in right relationship with the institution.

  • A number of the signers of the original letter are gifted teachers and facilitators. We would like the opportunity for space at the campuses where some of our signers might be able to offer a more historical and contextual biblical approach to human sexuality and the missional responsibility of all Christians to be allies of LGBTQ+ people.

  • We would like to see members added to Asbury’s Board of Trustees indicative of a broader representation of alumni who appreciate the focus of Asbury while holding to a more biblical understanding of liberation for all people.

Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to respond and I reiterate my prayers for you and Asbury Theological Seminary as a whole.

In Solidarity, 

Bill Mefford

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