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UMC General Conference Vote Incites Response from College

UMC General Conference Vote Incites Response from College

Wofford releases statements of support for LGBTQIA community 

Historically associated with the United Methodist Church, Wofford’s “About” history page begins, “On July 4, 1851, the future Methodist Bishop William Wightman came to a beautiful site on a high ridge overlooking the tiny courthouse village of Spartanburg, S.C. As more than 4,000 people looked on, he made the keynote address while local Masons laid the cornerstone for Wofford College.” The page continues: “A distinguished professor and journalist as well as a clergyman, Wightman stressed that the new institution would pattern itself after neither the South’s then-elitist public universities nor the narrowly sectarian colleges sponsored by some denominations.”  

Prior to Wightman’s address, the college’s connection to the Methodist Church was established by its founder and original benefactor, Benjamin Wofford, who “joined the Methodist Church and served as a circuit rider (itinerant preacher)” and later bequeathed $100,000 to the establishment of “’a college of literary, classical and scientific education to be located in my native district” and to be “under the control and management” of the Methodist Church of “[his] native state.” 

For the greater part of the college’s first hundred years, it was “painfully dependent on its annual support from the Methodist Church, which amounted to about one-fourth of the operating budget.” The stock market crash in the 1920s made this obvious and required a “special appeal” to the South Carolina Methodists. 

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In the late 1940s, pressure to increase enrollment was challenged by “the fact that South Carolina Methodists deferred any capital projects or strategic planning into the mid-1950s while they tried to decide whether they should unify their colleges on a new, rural campus at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Thus, the college had to work with the church as a monetary benefactor to determine what was best for the developmental aspirations of the college, which were not always aligned with the Church’s vision for the college. 

The Methodist General Conference 2019, held during the last week of February, called for a vote on what is called the Traditional Plan. The plan “affirms the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage. It also boosts penalties and accountability for transgressions of those bans.” Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference said of the vote: “This decision is consistent with our denomination’s historic stance on human sexuality, outlined in the Book of Discipline since 1972.” He assured the community-at-large: “We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth.” 

In response to the vote, a number of individuals and groups have released statements on behalf of Wofford College, given its association with the Methodist Church, on the college’s policy of inclusivity.  

A letter President Samhat sent to the Wofford community addressing the UMC’s conference vote read, “As an independent institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Wofford College is deeply concerned by the division that emerged during the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in St. Louis…[Wofford College] reaffirm[s] that we are governed by policies set forth by the Wofford College Board of Trustees, and we are firmly and unequivocally committed to the rights of all, upholding the college’s policy of non-discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or any legally protected status.” 

College Chaplain Ron Robinson’s statement dated Mar. 4, 2019 echoed the President: “Nothing changes regarding the college’s non-discrimination policy,” Robinson reaffirmed. He also wrote, “Mostly, I want to state unequivocally my support for people who identify as LGBTQIA.” 

Campus Union also published a statement in support of the LGBTQIA community. It included a statement reading, “We are for an academic environment that encourages and supports all students, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. We are for students feeling known, loved, and accepted, by both our campus and the wider Wofford community. We will continue to love, support and celebrate those unique individuals who contribute in meaningful ways to make the Wofford community stronger.” 

Caption: Numerous statements released by Wofford and affiliated individuals express the college’s commitment to inclusivity and extra support for the LGBTQIA community during this time. 

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