Burnam chronicles denominations' LGBT debates
For the last 40 years in the United States, controversy has raged over the inclusion in church communities persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Writing on both sides of the issue has proliferated across many denominations. Yet absent from the discussion was a single document that analyzed the writings across denominations and from both sides of the argument. Paul Burnam, MTSO's Dickhaut Library director, identified the need and was determined to change the academic landscape in this important area of debate.
Sparked by his ongoing interest in the creation of welcoming and inviting congregations for LGBT persons, Burnam began reading material on both sides of the debate from mainline Protestant denominations. While on his search for primary sources, Burnam realized that there was no academic publication that compiled these denominations' reactions and arguments on the subject of homosexuality and the church. So he created one himself.
The results of his work were published recently in a bibliographic essay titled "Wrestling Long into the Night: Sources on the Mainline Protestant Denominations' Debate about Homosexuality" in the online journal Theological Librarianship.
In the article, Burnam focused on seven mainline Protestant denominations: the American Baptist Church, Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ, Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. By examining source material published by the leadership within these denominations on both sides of the debate, Burnam was able to outline official documentation on the subject as well as identify the work of prominent clergy and theological education leaders. He'd like to see his article serve not just as an interesting read but as a starting point for people who want to study the issue more deeply.
"I hope that people can use my article to find sources that will lead them to more sources," Burnam said. "It would be a great compliment to me if people interested in the topic could use it as a starting place for further investigation."
During his months of reading, Burnam was surprised to find that United Methodist sources produced more books on the subject than any other denomination he was studying. He theorized that this is a result of the structure and breadth of the denomination.
"The United Methodist Church represents people in many parts of the world. LGBTQ inclusion continues to be a struggle because some people in other parts of the world interpret the Bible more literally, while some United Methodists in the United States are ready to move the church forward on the issue."
As a librarian committed to the free flow of ideas and information, Burnam believed it was important that "Wrestling Long into the Night" be available through open-access online publishing: "It was a no-brainer where I wanted to submit my article. Open-access online publishing is not new but is gaining momentum."
Open access provides the free, immediate online availability of research articles, this at a time when subscriptions to many academic journals has skyrocketed. Open-access articles also have full reuse rights, allowing scholars to build upon each other's work without being deterred by copyright concerns. When these benefits are combined with thorough and rigorous peer review – as was the case with Burnam's Theological Librarianship piece – the result is both scholarly integrity and easy sharing of knowledge.
"I was able to get my work to a wide audience relatively quickly," Burnam said. "The article speaks to my feelings about how mainline churches address inclusion and gets those sources into the hands of other scholars who might want to look into the issue."