Readers, please accept this invitation to communicate with “Soundings,” either to react to articles in this issue of In Trust or to comment on other issues of concern to leaders in theological education. Feel free to be provocative, but do limit your letters to a maximum of 350 words. All letters are subject to editing. Our e-mail address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
In the Spring 2001 issue of In Trust ("Soundings"), Dr. Waylan Owens denied that Southern Baptist seminaries were enforcing creedalism, while acknowledging the historical practice of having faculty sign and adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message. Southern Baptists have always practiced creedal deportment but have called it something else—and Dr. Owens’ argument is more of the same. The BFM is not a creed until faculty members are forced to sign it and adhere to it; at that point, it is a creed, in that if you disagree, you’re out of a job.
But Dr. Owens wandered from his argument when he mentioned Dr. Bill Leonard’s opening enrollment at Wake Forest University Divinity School to homosexuals and lesbians. How does this serve as a defense against the charge of creedalism? Simply put, it has nothing to do with it.
Fundamental Baptists denounce homosexual behavior. Moderate Baptists do not condone it. Neither group approves of adultery, either, but it is easier for an adulterer to be ordained than a homosexual. Neither group approves of lying, but surely many people in the seminaries and even in positions of leadership across the convention have told “white” lies as it suits their purposes. Are these sins somehow more forgivable than homosexuality? We are playing church and school when we try to categorize and rank sins.
Dr. Owens knows that professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were forced out of that school based on unsubstantiated charges. That action alone constitutes lying to a convention of people by allowing the notion that the professors had transgressed some unmentioned policy. We are not talking about creeds, we are talking about deeds.
According to Dr. Owens, we should have no place of service for lesbians. We should, however, make places for seminarians who may engage in any number of other sins.
Remember, Jesus’s creed was constant grace—and the Pharisees hated him for this. Christians cannot get so caught up in doctrine that we forget grace.
Edward Clark is a businessman who is a lifelong Baptist.
Where Credit’s Due
Many thanks to In Trust for the article reporting on the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey ("The Church Universal," Spring 2001). The article is effective in examining the joy and complexity of this transformative global model of theological education. However, I was distressed with a significant omission as well as two errors in the story.
The portion of the article concerning institutional planning and fund raising appears to focus on the U.S. components of the development effort and does not make clear the significant achievements made under the creative leadership of the director, Dr. Heidi Hadsell. Dr. Hadsell’s leadership has not been limited to the educational dimensions of Bossey as a reader might infer. She has led with great skill a comprehensive redevelopment resulting in significant improvement to almost every aspect of Bossey’s life and work. Including:
The article was in error as it credited me with the five-year development plan. Though I was a key participant in the planning and fund raising, it was Dr. Hadsell’s creative leadership, vision, artful skills as a team builder, and tireless efforts that made possible these enormous achievements in a brief period of time. Her legacy at Bossey marks both a new beginning in best practice of global theological education along with extraordinary leadership in institutional advancement. It has been a privilege to serve under her leadership.
Finally, a modest correction concerning interfaith dialogue. The program at Bossey includes students from virtually every major tradition of the Christian faith. As the article notes significant new attention has been given to the concern for Christian witness in a religiously plural world. A variety of projects have included resource persons from other faith communities, but Bossey has not enrolled non-Christian graduate students.
John B. Lindner
John Lindner was director of development and planning in the United States for Bossey Ecumenical Institute.
I have been reading In Trust since 1992, so I was surprised, but encouraged, to find an article on a non-western theological seminary in the latest issue.
Perhaps we in North America have been so long used to believing that we are the fountainhead of theological education that we can be forgiven if we doubt that we really have any peers in the two-thirds world. But this is ironic after a twenty-year emphasis on “globalization” within ATS circles. However else our research on globalization has enlightened us, it has made few of our North American seminaries aware that we are on the downhill side of the era of our dominant role in global theological education.
We still see hundreds of non-westerners enrolling in our schools, and we therefore assume that our role as the leader in theological education is unchallenged. But most of us are unaware that a growing number of those coming to us did not make the cut for the limited spaces in the emerging graduate programs in their own countries. Ten years ago, nearly every applicant would be applying for assistance to a North American or Western European school. Today more than half of all applications are for graduate programs in the non-western world. What does this tell us?
Still more to be grappled with, at least for Protestants like me, is that the church that is growing in the non-western world is generally more conservative and more dynamic than our own. I now count at least eight formerly “liberal” mainline non-western seminaries that are headed by self-described “evangelical” seminary presidents. At least five of these are the leading Protestant seminaries in their countries. What is happening?
Readers of In Trust will have learned of the development of a single Russian seminary, brought to their attention primarily because of the involvement of North American seminaries in its founding. Unmentioned, but more amazing, is that it is but one of more than 100 other Protestant schools in that country today, numbers of which are larger, stronger, and more indigenous. Or that there are thirty-eight member seminaries in the Eur-Asian Accrediting Association which serves Protestants in Russia.
Of course there are many sub-standard seminaries in the two-thirds world. But throughout the non-western world there are incredible examples of thriving theological seminaries involved in nation-building; huge programs affecting thousands of students on minuscule budgets; examples of admission standards that would disqualify 95 percent of North American students; and most importantly, examples of seminary/
church relations that could revolutionize our own thinking about how theological education should be done. Their examples and practices could do much to teach us, inspire us, and perhaps even save us from ourselves. But we seem to pretend they do not exist.
Jack Graves is vice president of programs for Overseas Council International.
Thank you very much for publishing “A Message Out of Africa.” The article helps to tell the story of Friar Joshua, C.Z.M. and his first year of study here at the Episcopal Divinity School. It is wonderful that In Trust is so committed to sharing the many perspectives on theological education in North America. Your Spring 2001 issue on “The Wide World Right Next Door” was particularly helpful in challenging our schools to be engaged with and learn from the multicultural realities of the wider global world.
I am a bit concerned, however, that your description of Friar Joshua’s experience here at EDS portrays him as somewhat of an oddity at our school, a cross-cultural fish out of water. Your highlighting the seeming discontinuity between Joshua’s church experience, where women are not ordained, and EDS’s historic commitment to women’s leadership in the church and the world sets up a facile distinction that does not reflect the complexities and comprehensiveness of EDS’s pedagogy and curriculum.
For more than a decade, the Episcopal Divinity School has been engaged in supporting three mutually informing and complementary areas of study: Studies in Feminist Liberation Theologies, Congregational Studies, and Anglican Global and Ecumenical Studies. The latter study area is particularly committed to promoting an awareness of and engagement with the realities of contemporary global Christianity. Through curricular and extra-curricular program offerings, with leadership provided by such internationally recognized regular faculty members as Professors Christopher Duraisingh from India and Kwok Pui Lan from Hong Kong, Anglican Global and Ecumenical Studies reshapes Christian witness and theologies of mission in light of contextualization, post-colonialism, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue. These rich resources, combined with the significant number of international students at our seminary (on average about 20 percent), has helped EDS to become one of the foremost centers for the study of global Christianity and the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The purpose of the Episcopal Divinity School is to educate lay and ordained leaders for Christ’s Church and the world who serve and advance God’s mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation. For us, Christ’s Church and the world do not stop at the boundaries of Cambridge, Massachusetts, or even the United States. Only by partnering with our sisters and brothers in Christ from all corners of the earth, such as Friar Joshua, C.Z.M., can we live into the fullness of the missio Dei and become a genuine anti-racist and multicultural global community.
Ian T. Douglas
The Reverend Ian Douglas is associate professor of world mission and global Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School.
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