Research News

Arcus grant bridges Vanderbilt Divinity classroom and community

Benton Chapel (Vanderbilt University)
Benton Chapel at Vanderbilt Divinity School (Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt University Divinity School students will work with religious and community service organizations to develop resources on issues surrounding religious beliefs and sexual orientation, thanks to a new grant from the Arcus Foundation.

Arcus has awarded the Divinity School $85,000 for its Justice through Engagement program. The funds will support five students in two-year internships at churches or nonprofit organizations whose leadership is committed to having open and supportive conversations about religion, sexuality and gender identity, particularly for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI).

“We are grateful to be able to provide our students superb out-of-the-classroom learning experiences that will lead to improved resources for religious and social justice leaders on issues related to sexuality,” said the Rev. Emilie M. Townes, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair and professor of womanist ethics and society. “[rquote]We want to equip our current and future religious leaders and advocates for social justice with the tools needed to address these complex issues.”[/rquote]

Grant funds will be used to establish a roundtable work group of interns, faith leaders, field education faculty, agency program directors and scholars knowledgeable about issues related to religious beliefs and sexuality. The group will pool its expertise to identify successful strategies for religious leadership to assist congregations on dialogue that narrows the gap between religious traditions and gender and sexual identity.

During the last year of the grant, the work group will make recommendations based on the collaboration that will inform the development of resources for training Divinity School students to lead in LGBTQI justice.

In addition to the Divinity School’s new Arcus-funded internship program, Lyndsey Godwin has joined the staff as assistant director for the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality. Godwin, who earned a master of divinity from Vanderbilt in 2008, will work with the interns and others to develop educational materials for use by clergy and laity.

Lyndsey Godwin
Lyndsey Godwin (Vanderbilt University/Steve Green)

“We are delighted to welcome back Lyndsey to campus in her new role,” said Ellen T. Armour, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Associate Professor of Feminist Theology. She also serves as director of the Carpenter Program. “Lyndsey will work to increase the Carpenter Program’s role as a conversation partner with local and regional congregations, their affiliated ministries and social service organizations by providing additional and relevant programming and training opportunities.”

Since graduating from Vanderbilt, Godwin has developed and implemented faith-based sexual health curriculums for congregations and communities in Middle Tennessee. She has a strong interest in exploring the intersections of sexuality and faith within the framework of decision-making; relationships; and community norms, practices and ethics.

Godwin chairs the Adolescent Sexual Responsibility Committee of Alignment Nashville. She is also a youth minister and coordinator at Nashville’s Glendale Baptist Church. The new assistant director position is partially supported by a $300,000 Carpenter Foundation grant awarded to the Divinity School in December 2012. A goal of the grant is to strengthen religious leaders’ ability to work with issues involving gender and sexuality.

Thanks to an endowed gift from the Carpenter Foundation in 1995, the Carpenter Program at Vanderbilt has built a strong reputation as a place for scholars and students to be in conversation on issues involving gender and sexuality in the context of religious belief and practice.

For more information on Justice through Engagement and other activities of the Carpenter Program, contact Ellen Armour.