Central Ohio universities connected with the United Methodist Church are retaining their affiliations with the church, but they are reserving the right to change after its recent decision to continue excluding LGBTQ people from ministry and marriage.

The decision was made in February at a meeting in St. Louis.

Presidents at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware and Otterbein University in Westerville said they disagree with the church's decision and believe in full inclusivity for all people. But they say their campuses haven't ended their association with the church, as trustees of Baldwin Wallace University in Berea voted to do April 26, because they remain hopeful that change is on the horizon.

"There's a lot of signals (that) the United Methodist Church may look very different a year from now -- it may be two churches," Otterbein President John Comerford said. "We're not leaving the church because we think the church may be in flux."

Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones said he believes movements are underway that could lead to a new, more inclusive form of Methodism that "has deep, longstanding commitments to full inclusion, including inclusions of those in the LGBTQ+ community."

"We are deeply uncomfortable with the church in its current position and would not remain in a long-term relationship if that's the only expression of Methodism," Jones said.

The United Methodist Church's next general conference is scheduled for May 2020, and some have speculated the church's stance might be reversed or the church could divide into more than one denomination at that time.

The presidents at Otterbein and Ohio Wesleyan said the schools have made moves to make sure all students, faculty and staff know they are welcome and accepted, despite the church's policies. And they said both campuses have held same-sex marriages on their grounds and will continue to do so.

Jones also asked the United Methodist Church University Senate -- the church's affiliate reviewing body for which Jones is president -- to postpone its 10-year site visit at Ohio Wesleyan by one year to fall 2020. Jones recused himself from the decision. The request to delay the visit was approved.

"This most recent decision stands in such stark contrast with our values as a university that we needed to reflect on it," Jones said.

The school is not governed by and does not receive direct financial support from the church.

Ohio Wesleyan University is within the bounds of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. West Ohio Bishop Gregory Palmer said in a prepared statement that he is happy Ohio Wesleyan remains affiliated with the church.

The University Senate conducts a site visit at each of the 117 schools, colleges and universities affiliated with the denomination nationwide every 10 years to ensure that the institution is aligned with the church's values and is "worthy" of claiming an affiliation with the church, according to the denomination's website.

During its visit, the senate assesses whether the university meets certain criteria for affiliation. Some, as listed on the senate's website, include the schools identifying themselves as affiliated with the church; offering courses on religion and theology; acknowledging social principles of the church; and encouraging social justice and learning.

In late April, Otterbein's board of trustees approved a statement of dissent of what it called the church's "exclusionary language" regarding LGBTQ people, Comerford said.

"We strongly disagree with the direction the church has taken on this," he said.

Otterbein doesn't have a church site visit for affiliation for another five or six years, he said.

"We would not walk away from the relationship lightly. We want the church to be as inclusive as we are," Comerford said.

"If the church does end up with some sort of split and there's a more inclusive part of the church, we'd happily affiliate with that part."

Methodist Theological School in Ohio, a seminary in Delaware, remains affiliated with the church. Still, MTSO President Jay Rundell released a written statement on the denomination's decision.

"MTSO has long taught a gospel of love and inclusion. That includes standing with our LGBTQ students, staff, faculty and alumni," he said. "Like many United Methodists, we strongly oppose the misuse of Scripture in fomenting discrimination and division."

Other Methodist-affiliated institutions in Ohio include Ohio Northern University in Ada, the University of Mount Union in Alliance and the United Theological Seminary in Dayton.

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