Allegations show rift over gays in Christian Church

The alleged discrimination against a gay Brite administrator by a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) official reflects fundamental disagreements within the denomination and society over homosexuality, several ministers said Wednesday.

Stephen Sprinkle, a Brite Divinity School representative for the Christian Church’s Committee on the Ministry for the Southwest Region, says he was prevented from participating on a committee interviewing ministerial candidates because he is gay. Sprinkle claims that committee chairman Ben Hubert told Sprinkle that he was “polarizing students,” and could not attend the interviews held from Jan. 12-14.

But the Christian Church does not have explicit rules or regulations against openly homosexual people, said Cyndy Twedell, the associate minister at University Christian Church on South University Drive. Twedell is also a Brite graduate.

Ministers said the Christian Church is divided into regions, and each region makes the final decision on whether to ordain gays.

Andy Mangum, the minister for the First Christian Church is Arlington, was an ordination candidate in 1998, while Sprinkle was on the interviewing committee.

“He’s been excluded from some things because of his sexuality and for his views and opinions on gays in the church,” Magnum said of Sprinkle.

Administrators of the Christian Church Southwest Region, including the Interim Regional Minister and President Bob Rueter and the chairman of the Committee on Ministry Ben Hubert, could not be reached for comment. Ken Hall, minister for the Trinity-Brazos area, declined to comment.

Brite President D. Newell Williams said the church reflects the social and political divides of the world. He also said that the Christian Church is no different from any church, synagogue or institution undecided on gay issues.

While regions have the authority to make rules about the ordination of gays, congregations are the ultimate foundation and body of the church, and they do not live by any rules but the focus on Christ, Twedell said.

The General Assembly for the Christian Church makes resolutions about matters, but they are considered guidelines, not binding laws, Twedell said.

“We encourage people to make their own decisions, to think and to live blending faith and reason, head and heart,” Twedell said.

The Christian Church is founded on unity, not division, Twedell said.

“God is a part of all of his creations: he is a part of gays, he is a part of blacks, he is a part of whites,” Twedell said. “As long as we respect the diversity that God’s made, we are the beauty of God’s creation with all our differences.

“God calls each of us to a valued and specific ministry and I would not put any restrictions on what Dr. Sprinkle is allowed to do based on his sexuality.”

A lesbian Brite graduate says a resolution preventing gays from being ordained was created by the Southwest Region in response to her pursuit of ordination, which was declined.

“I think they thought they could send me away and people would forget about it,” said Michal Anne Pepper, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister and Brite graduate. “They act like this issue is going to go away. When people get freaked out they act poorly — and the Region acted very poorly.”

Ordination candidates need both a supporting congregation and an approving region to be ordained. Pepper was supported by her congregation, Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas, but the region disregarded that support and would not ordain her.

“My church was very angry and upset and had meetings with the region,” Pepper said.

The Southwest Region remained opposed to Pepper’s ordination, so she sought support from another congregation in a different region. The University Christian Church in Berkeley, Calif., co-sponsored her with Midway Hills and she was ordained in the North California/Nevada Region. She is currently a minister at the Berkeley church.

The North California/Nevada Region is the only open and affirming region in the United States, Pepper said. She said she was not surprised that the debate over homosexuality had surfaced again in the Southwest Region, which has offices in Fort Worth.

Twedell said each region and congregation of the Christian Church is urged to make their own decisions regarding homosexuality.

“It’s not very Disciple-like to have a bunch of rules restricting what people can do,” she said.