The paradox of religion as a spiritual force for good that has been used historically as a pretext for inflicting harm presents something of a struggle for all clergy people. For Kelly Turney, director of compliance in the Equal Opportunity Programs office, that paradox presents a unique dilemma.
Last May, Turney was ordained as a minister in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. She completed a Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt University in 1991 before moving to Atlanta. After getting settled in her new home, Turney set in motion the long process of becoming ordained, which must be done through one of the United Methodist Church's geographically based conferences.
The dilemma Turney feels has to do with the perceived conflict of her role as a minister and her role as a University administrator who investigates claims of discrimination, some of which are based on religious bias.
"I consider myself a spiritual person, and the fact is that I really am a religious person," Turney said. "But there are so many negative connotations around religion. Religion has been responsible for a lot of pain and hurtfulness over the years. I hope that somehow through my ministry, I can transform some of that pain and hurtfulness and affect some reconciliation. My fear is that when people see the word `religious' or perhaps see a photo of me in my robe, that would shut people down or inhibit their coming to me for discrimination complaints.
"What I want people to understand," Turney explained, "is that it's through my work for my ordination and my devotion to God that I've been able to cherish other religious traditions more and open myself up to other traditions, whereas otherwise I might have shut myself down or closed myself off and been judgmental."
For Turney, the roles of minister and discrimination complaint investigator have many natural connections. "Sometimes when people hear about my background, I get some pretty straightforward questions about how I put those two roles together," she said. "The two seem very natural to me. It's all about justice issues and reconciliation in whatever sphere you're talking about."
Although Turney is comfortable with the compatibility of her two roles, the issue of her role as a Christian minister normally does not arise in her Emory work. "I don't wear my cross when I'm at work, and I don't have anything explicitly Christian in my office," she said. "I've always wondered if that would turn people off and make them think that I was not as sympathetic in a religious discrimination case as I should be, or that I couldn't be as objective as I should be. But I think it's just the opposite. The ministry and the skills I've learned there inform my ability to do this job better."
Born in west Texas, Turney said she received the call to the ministry in her early adolescence, but didn't realize the full significance of that call at first.
"My first pastor in Texas was highly supportive," said Turney, a religion and business graduate of Texas Christian University. "When I was first getting my calling to the ministry and I was around him as a young teen, I thought I was being called to be a youth minister or business manager at a church, because I'd never seen a female preacher. My pastor kept saying he thought I was being called to the ministry to preach. I told him he must be crazy. I was young, and rebellion was a good thing. But he just kept saying that he thought I had the gifts and the grace to do it."
One Christmas Eve, Turney's pastor took her to a worship service in Fort Worth, "the big city, and we actually saw a female preacher," she said. "So I began to think that maybe he wasn't crazy, maybe there are female preachers out there and I could be one too."
Turney's ultimate goal is to serve a church of her own. Currently she is associated with Grant Park-Aldersgate United Methodist Church, where along with her administrative duties she preaches occasionally and consecrates communion. As a minister, she is currently assigned to Emory. (The United Methodist Church allows administrators at Methodist universities who are ordained to be appointed to the university as part of their ministerial appointment.)
In addition, Turney teaches sessions on issues relating to clergy sexual misconduct as part of the Clinical Pastoral Education program. The program offers Turney the chance to touch countless lives because many of the graduates will go on to become university or hospital chaplains.
"Loving people and building a community in the church" are what Turney cites as her favorite part of ministry. "I wouldn't say that my favorite part is preaching. That's still a real struggle for me. It takes me weeks to do what it takes some ministers hours to do." Turney also hopes some day to address the problem of the ministry's declining reputation. "In the 1950s, the ministry was the most highly respected profession in America, above doctors and lawyers," she said. "Ministers are now number five. I hope that through my ministry, I can enable some kind of reconciliation in a small way."