At a glance, the bottom of Otterbein’s website reads in small print that Otterbein is “a private, non-profit, United Methodist affiliated, nationally accredited institution.” Looking further on the website, one discovers statements that indicate the university’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.
In an email to the Otterbein community on March 29, the university Chaplain, Judy Guion-Utsler, addressed the clash between the two.
“[Looking on the website,] it will be clear that issues of justice and welcome and support are a vital part of the values of our community,” said Guion-Utsler. “However, if you have been watching the news or hearing stories about the current tensions in the United Methodist Church, you might wonder how Otterbein’s values could align with a denomination that has made clear that LGBTQIA+ individuals are not really welcome to participate fully in the life of the church. This is a challenging time for us as an institution affiliated with the UMC.”
Months after the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted to uphold its ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy, conversation continues surrounding the legality of the proposed plan. With hope that the decision may not be final, people across the globe anticipate the official ruling of the Judicial Council from April 23-25 and are preparing for the effects of the decision that disappointed many affiliated bodies with longstanding commitments to being welcoming and inclusive, like Otterbein University.
During a special session of the General Conference on Feb. 26, 2019, delegates reinforced the United Methodist Church doctrine stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent.
The proposed ruling on the issue included adoption of the traditional plan, a doctrine designed to serve as UMC policy on LGBT clergy and their marriage practices.
Before the special session closed, a motion was passed by the bishops (405-395) to request a decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the traditional plan’s legislative petitions and the disaffiliation plan. The Judicial Council will gather in Evanston, Illinois from April 23-25 to discuss these issues.
In preparation for the Judicial Council’s ruling, Otterbein’s leadership is reflecting on what the vote means for its future. Otterbein’s historic values of inclusion were reaffirmed by the board of trustees on Feb. 9. The vote on the resolution serves as the first of several conversations the board of trustees will have in the upcoming months.
President Comerford expressed that this will be an important topic as the institution moves toward the April board of trustees meeting.
“Regardless of our specific response, I believe we can all relish in the opportunity to stand proud for what Otterbein has always been – a college of opportunity for all,” said Comerford.