After the Methodist Church’s recent decision to continue its rejection of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ individuals, Baldwin Wallace University of Berea, Ohio is considering splitting from its Methodist roots after 174 years.
Baldwin Wallace University was founded in 1845 by John Baldwin and other Methodists. While the school used to primarily attract Methodist students, only about 7% of its student body today identifies as Methodist.
At a special conference in February 2019, delegates of the Methodist Church reaffirmed its anti-LGBTQ perspective by voting 438-384 in favor of the “Traditionalist Plan”, which continues the Church’s opposition to the ordaining of LGBTQ individuals as well as enacts punishments against clergy who perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, including one year suspensions without pay after the first offense and permanent removal after the second.
If the split were to happen, the university would lose no significant funding, though rules requiring 10% of the university’s trustees could be reconsidered. Furthermore, the chapel and chaplain on the campus would remain, and continue to hold weekly, non-denominational Thursday services.
According to President Robert Helmer, the campus’ spirituality would not change. Helmer considers the campus’s spiritual ambiance to be far more important to its character than its direct connection to the Methodist Church. In a recent piece published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Helmer is quoted: “We do not want to live as a university unable to express our values.”
As of April 11, President Helmer had signed a letter with the four presidents of Ohio Northern University, University of Mount Union, Ohio Wesleyan University and Otterbein University declaring the university’s desire to explore the possibility of a separation.
“[This] could be a step in the right direction toward creating an inclusive environment for LGBT+ students there,” says third-year student Riley Simko. “It might seem counterproductive to step away from what religious figures ask you to do, but in my community it made a very positive, loving change that still resonates.”