My guests on this week’s podcast are Deirdre Good, whom I had the pleasure to meet some years ago when I guest taught a class at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, and Katie Day, who is the Charles A. Schieren Professor of Church and Society at United Lutheran Seminary. It is not surprising that I’ve had more connection with Deirdre given the significant overlaps in our research and teaching areas. Both are academics, and they recently worked together to produce the book Courage Beyond Fear: Re-Formation in Theological Education. The book is a collection of sermons and reflections on the experiences that these two professors and numerous others have had while working at seminaries. In the case of General Theological Seminary, the events made the news after the administration sent emails to faculty saying that their resignations were accepted. They had not tendered their resignations, but they had said they would not teach or attend meetings until certain issues related to governance were addressed. There is more about what happened at Lutheran Theological Seminary in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post, as well as Religion News.
It doesn’t come up in the podcast, but this is not entirely unlike how I ended up departing from the institution where I worked for three years in Romania, Emanuel Theological Institute (later Emanuel University). I also attended Northumbria Bible College, which merged with another institution in a manner not unlike closing down. And I also more recently saw friends and acquaintances at Christian Theological Seminary depart, and more recently, the seminary sell its property to Butler University (where I teach) even while remaining an independent institution (albeit one now located on Butler University’s south campus). And so I have a lot of personal connections that make me especially interested in this topic, although even those who have not been directly affected by these kinds of events at seminaries should read the book – and on the podcast we touch a little on how this relates to the situation in higher education more generally.
My experience in Romanian perhaps has the most connections with Deirdre’s experience. I’ve said in the past that I understand the New Testament differently and better because I lived in Romania. I discovered that the dynamics of authority at the institution where I was working suddenly made sense when a guest lecture by Anthony Thiselton prompted me to compare them to the ancient Roman patronage system. I ended up leaving there after I myself stopped teaching classes and asked in writing for an explanation of some events that had transpired, which were all the more distressing because I learned of them from someone outside the institution, while I as an employee hadn’t been informed. A couple of students had been staffing the welcome desk in the student accommodation building, and had put on a cassette of music by the secular band Holograf. There was no rule at the school disallowing students from listening to secular music or anything like that. Had there been, I probably would not have been as troubled as I was – I might disagree with such a rule, but if it existed and someone was aware of it yet broke it, consequences would not necessarily be objectionable. But the students who put the tape on and were suspended for doing so were not from the school’s president’s church, but that of the dean of the school of theology, who was viewed by the upper administration as something of a rival, akin to what Thiselton described in 1 Corinthians involving Cephas, Paul, and Apollos. Meanwhile the student whose tape it actually was, and who was from Emanuel Baptist Church, suffered no consequences. I was troubled, and asked myself whether I could expect anyone else at the institution to protest this, if I did not, given that as an American I had the least to lose in terms of long-term prospects and livelihood. So I protested, and was soon informed that the administration had decided that the time had come to end our collaboration. They seemed to think this would be surprising, when I had not expected things to unfold otherwise. I’m still not sure what the long-term impact was, but I do know that other professors had the courage to take a stand after I did – with similar consequences. But it was a less traumatic experience for me than in the instances explored in the book, for the simple reason that I knew it was time to leave, and so the question was whether I would go quietly or make a stand and try to make my departure count for something more than it would if I pursued the former approach rather than the latter. And so I am not in any way comparing my own experience to that of the faculty at GTS or LTS in terms of the trauma and hurt that is inflicted when an institution appears to be not merely preparing students to be pastors, but exemplifying pastoral concern for its community, and then betrays that trust. I’m merely sharing to highlight how my own experience relates to yet differs from that of others whose responses to their experiences are shared in Courage Beyond Fear.
In the podcast, Deirdre mentions SafeSeminary.net and so I want to link to that site here. There are a lot of articles related to the events that they mention or allude to online, more than I can usefully compile here. So let me conclude by sharing links to some of Katie’s and Deirdre’s books, since that may give blog readers who who are unfamiliar with their academic output a slightly better sense of the lives and scholarly activity that is disrupted and detrimentally impacted in cases like theirs.