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Vanderbilt Divinity Appoints Lesbian Dean

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday Oct 15, 2013

Vanderbilt Divinity School in Tennessee has appointed an openly gay woman to be its next dean, Emilie Townes. The ordained American Baptist, who previously held administrative positions at Yale, is being described by the school as a "pioneering scholar in the field of womanist theology."

"I am excited about becoming part of this slice of God's cloud of witnesses as we shape ourselves into being responsive to holding traditions and the future together," Townes said during her convocation address, as reported by Christian News.

"Not out of a sense that traditions are static but with an appreciation for the fact that they are dynamic and actually morph and change, though slowly at times. And also not out of a sense that the future is some magic potion that allows us to neglect the work we must do today."

Townes' partner, Laurel Schneider, also joined the Vanderbilt Divinity School's faculty this year. Although Townes' appointment was announced last December, it has recently stirred up debate within the Christian press.

But the new dean is used to such criticism. In a recent column in the Huffington Post titled, "Gay Marriage and Religion: What Marriage Means to Me," Townes said that it was clear that her marriage was accepted by her friends and family, and was an occasion of joy and celebration. She noted that it was disheartening to see the love between herself and her partner being used as a "political football."

"As a Christian social ethicist with womanist leanings, I am clear that the Bible says precious little about same sex relationships, though it appears to have a bit more to say about acts but even that is muddled," wrote Townes. "I am also clear that although God judges our acts, God does so out of love and mercy and would much rather spend holy time applauding our attempts at humanity than smiting our behavior."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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