A top Brite Divinity School administrator said Tuesday that he was barred from representing Brite on a Disciples of Christ Church regional committee to interview minister candidates because he is gay.
Stephen Sprinkle, director of field education at Brite Divinity School, said he was told by committee chairman Ben Hubert that he was “polarizing students” and would not be allowed to participate in interviews held Jan. 12 to Jan. 14. Sprinkle said he disputed the claim, but stayed for general meetings, which included prayer and meals.
According to the bylaws of the Christian Church’s Southwest Region, the director for field service education is an automatic member of the committee. Brite sent Sprinkle to the Committee on the Ministry of the Christian Church as one of two representatives.
Sprinkle said the tension between Brite and the Southwest Region stemmed from the conflict between Brite’s non-discriminatory policy and the Region’s disapproval of homosexuality.
Hubert did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
Brite President D. Newell Williams said late Tuesday that he supports Sprinkle and is working with the Southwest Region to resolve the conflict.
“He needed to go to that meeting and present himself for service,” said Williams, who did not attend the meetings. “He went to that meeting with my endorsement. It is part of his job.”
Bob Rueter, the transitional regional minister for the Southwest Region, would only confirm that Sprinkle was present at the meetings. He would not comment further.
Sprinkle said that although Hubert did not explicitly say so, Sprinkle was being barred because of his sexual orientation.
“If they had any other reason for denying me access, they never told me,” Sprinkle said. “I have a responsibility built into my job here at Brite to represent Brite.”
Richard Lee Griffin, Sprinkle’s attorney, said a petition requesting depositions from several Southwest Region members had been filed in the state District Court in Tarrant County. The petition requests the court’s permission to investigate a claim for damages, he said.
Ed Coble, attorney for the Southwest Region, was not available for comment.
Dan Carroll, who was part of another small group at the committee, said the decision to exclude Sprinkle was made by Hubert and “he made the decision even if it might not have been voted on by the entire committee.”
Carroll referred questions to Hubert.
“We’ve been asked not to comment on this,” he said.
The TCU Campus Advocates for Peace and Social Justice presented a “community conversation” about the matter Tuesday afternoon.
Katie Low, co-moderator for CAPS and a Brite student, read aloud a letter she had written to the region. “Dr. Sprinkle’s treatment is a break of covenant and a clear violation of the Southwest Region’s bylaws,” she said.
“As a Brite Divinity student, I deserve an apology from the Southwest Region and I expect the region to apologize to Brite Divinity School, its students, and to Dr. Stephen Sprinkle … for its denial of Brite representation at the meeting,” Low’s letter continued.
At the CAPS meeting, Sprinkle said: “I’m seeking justice.”
A petition was presented at the end of the meeting. It asked the Christian Church to send a letter of apology to Sprinkle and Brite by Feb. 4.