Greetings Friends! We are pleased to introduce to you our theme for this newsletter: Celebrating Diversity with Intentional... read more >
Seminary Newsletter Deans Message
Greetings Friends! We are pleased to introduce to you our theme for this newsletter: Celebrating Diversity with Intentional Inclusion. This fall at Seminary Convocation for the 2019-20 school year, it was exciting to watch students from each of the inhabited continents, and from Oceania, stand and be welcomed. We take seriously the privilege and responsibility of leadership in preparing individuals from every corner of the earth for excellence in service to God, to the church, and to our world. Even as we rejoice in our diversity, we also recognize that achieving a diversity of numbers is not enough. True diversity is about more than a headcount. The practice of mature Christian diversity means that men and women of every ethnicity, nationality, and background feel valued for who they are and have an equal voice in the community. It means that no one dominates conversation and decision-making, that all feel adequately represented in leadership, and that the gifts, concerns, and challenges that each brings to the table are recognized and treated with respect, solidarity, and empathy. It also means that injustices are recognized and addressed and that a continual growth in understanding is sought.
Valuing of diversity is especially important for us as Seventh-day Adventists because we honor the Sabbath, in which God calls His people to celebrate deliverance from oppression and enact fair and equal treatment in our spheres of influence (Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:15). We teach and preach the Three Angels’ Message of soon-coming judgment, a judgment which Scripture tells us includes consideration of how we treat the other (e.g. Exod. 22:21-27; Isa. 1:13-19; Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 10: 25-37). And we look forward to soon joining together with all of God’s people in unity for eternity (Rev. 21:1-4).
Here at the seminary we have been praying, dreaming, and acting in recent years to move beyond numbers and rhetoric about diversity. We acknowledge and grieve the injustices and negligence committed in the past and recognize that even now we move forward imperfectly and sometimes stumblingly. However, we are committed to learning from our mistakes and acting as wisely and decisively as possible with the help of our seminary and church community. This newsletter shares with you a few of our recent initiatives.
I didn't know what to expect of the Spring 2019 colloquium on Intercultural Understanding. I only knew that... read more >
Inter-Cultural Understandings for a Multi-Cultural
I didn't know what to expect of the Spring 2019 colloquium on Intercultural Understanding. I only knew that I have an interest in the topic and thus I hoped that my interest would keep me awake throughout what is often a listening marathon. I'm so glad I went. Dr. David R. Williams came to the Andrews University Seminary and conducted what was, in my opinion, a masterful transfer of information on race and why it matters for us as Seventh-day Adventists.
A scholar by every measure, Dr. Williams, of Harvard University, has advised the U.S. government in his fields of expertise: Public Health and Sociology. He has done definitive work on Race and Health over his illustrious career. In fact, he was just named to the National Academy of Sciences for his work in this area. Armed with over 200 slides filled with statistics and insights, his presentation evidenced that there are few people more qualified to conduct this discussion. And it showed. In my pew, my seatmates and I whispered back and forth, nodded in agreement when the statistics matched with our experience and expressed our shock and sadness when warranted. In fact, the room fairly buzzed with energy as students and faculty alike wrestled with the material and many lined up during breaks and at the end to further pick his brain.
To this moment, months later, three particular bits of information still simmer in my mind. One, Black persons in America with a college degree have a lower life expectancy than white persons with only a high school degree. Two, Black persons who emigrate from the Caribbean or from African countries are generally healthier than African Americans. However, the longer they live here in the United States, the more their health measureables begin to merge and match the dangerous statistics of their ethnically American counterparts. And three, for every dollar of wealth that a white family in the United States possesses, a black family can only claim 6 cents. This is a statistic that I found particularly bleak after learning that in South Africa, a country where apartheid was the law of the land as recently as some 30 years ago, the ratio is one rand to twenty cents.
The first of these statistics speaks to some of the misconceptions about race that still dominate the national narrative. Many still tout education and effort on the part of black people as the solution to all disparities, but the comparative life expectancies show that socioeconomic status and education alone cannot undo the effects of racism and race-based infrastructure. The second statistic reinforced to me that the condition of black persons in the United States wields a toxicity that is both peculiar and contagious. Yes, persons of African descent tend to face a pattern of troublesome health patterns worldwide, but black persons who originate outside of the U.S. are somehow losing ground when immigrating to the richest country in the world. And finally, the comparison of wealth gaps in the United States versus that of South Africa reminds me that we have a long way to go, and that we must walk it with consistency and with intention.
As an Afro-Caribbean who has spent over twenty years living in the United States, I am still learning about a lot of the racial undercurrents that haunt us. Some of it via first-hand experience, some through intentional listening. I have found myself on the wrong end of prejudices and to my disappointment, I have also wielded a few. Based on some of the comments that I have heard, and questions asked, it is fair to say that the vast majority of us could certainly use more education in these areas. We would do well to make more use of a resource like Dr. Williams and cultivate intentional efforts to understanding this force in our society and our church.
We must not be content to discuss race matters only in relation to the outside world. The SDA Church has not been immune to struggling with the racial dynamics of its founding culture. This fact is underlined by our continued adherence to a race-based separation in our conference-level leadership here in our flagship division. Unfortunately, our history shows that sometimes race matters have too often outweighed our Christian mandate, and we bear the scars and fissures to prove it. Retreating into trite sayings like, “Let’s just focus on the gospel” or claiming that “race doesn’t matter” will only hurt us in the long run. You see, race touches the lives of just about everyone with whom we are trying to connect as pastors, elders, and leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. If we are to evangelize and share the word of God, we do not have the luxury of ignoring it. We must be willing to meet people where they are and engage on this issue. If we overlook those very real problems, we injure our capacity for discipleship.
Oddly, it is in the face of this reality that I realized that in the end, I did not just leave that colloquium more educated, I left invigorated to be a part of the solution. I also left with a glimmer of hope. Not just because Dr. Williams presented a few solutions on facing implicit bias, but because there must always be hope. Hope that we will tire of man-made boundaries that dilute the gospel and embrace the special challenge of our diversity. Hope because the people who asked uncomfortable questions bothered to attend. And ultimately, hope in our God, because there is no way that He is going to let this go on much longer. And the Jesus that I know desires to work through our willingness and desire to change when we seek Him in prayer and supplication. He will bring about the restoration of unity that He destined our church to embody if only we ask.
Creation tells us that diversity is a God thing and it is a good thing. At the Seminary... read more >
Minority PhD Scholarship
Creation tells us that diversity is a God thing and it is a good thing. At the Seminary it is a beautiful thing, but the reality is there are challenges. While the Seminary total student population reflects rich diversity, there a few departments where such diversity is lacking. Currently, African Americans make up 22% of the total seminarian population with the preponderance of their presence being concentrated in the MDiv program (30%). On the other hand, African Americans make up only .05% of the PhD (Religion) and ThD programs combined. In raw numbers, that amounts to four out of 81 students. This poor representation is not lost on the new director of the PhD (Religion) and ThD programs, Dr. John Reeve.
In a recent conversation about diversity issues, Dr. Reeve shared his dreams and goals for increasing African American representation in the higher academic departments of the Seminary as it relates to doctoral candidates and scholar-professionals. Dr. Reeve was candid about his views.
“It's hard to get the top African American scholars to come to the Seminary as students and as faculty because of finances. We have many good students among African Americans in our church and the best of them are getting full scholarships and generous stipends at Harvard, Emory, Vanderbilt, et cetera. This is not a problem except that they're not coming back to teach at our institutions and we need black scholars teaching at our institutions. So, if we can't get the Harvard-trained academics to come back and teach for the church, we need to grow our own. We're not going to be able to attract the best African-American Adventist students until we can compete financially on some level with Harvard and others.”
Dr. Reeve made it clear that money was the central issue. He elaborates, “One of my most important goals as I start off in this particular chair is to work to designate an endowed black scholarship where I would like to see $5 million raised so that we can have at least two students a year moving forward.” He is aware that students need funds that will carry them through to program completion and cover not just tuition, but all expenses by providing a livable stipend. He also shared his excitement that the Regional Caucus (leaders and other representatives from the regional conferences within the North American Division) is currently raising funds for scholarships for African Americans who are interested in pursuing their doctorate at the Seminary. The Caucus also has a vision and sees the need and are working to solve the problem. Dr. Reeve intends to work closely with the Regional Caucus to ensure that their needs as well as the department’s needs are met.
With a view encompassing the wider landscape, Dr. Reeve sees minority representation as more than a Seminary problem- he sees it as, “an Adventist problem.” He explained, “We have 117 tertiary institutions in the Adventist church around the world. We should have a good representation of African Americans teaching in those institutions. The same way we have a representation from all over the world teaching here, we need to have a representation of African Americans teaching everywhere in the world- besides the practicum classes. Because of the importance of visual representation students and congregants need to know they can be not only pastors, but world-class scholars in all facets of theology and academia.”
Dealing with the financial disparities that separate the Seminary from other private and secular institutions, Dr. Reeve knows he cannot compete comparatively. So, while he is looking to substantially increase what the Seminary can offer potential African American students, he’s also looking for Seminarians who see the bigger picture of ministry. Ministry in the line of denominational work requires sacrifice. “What we're looking for” he continues, “is commitment to the church. Yes, you will have to work longer for retirement. No, you cannot live as well with denominational salary. Yes, we're offering less and we're remunerating less. That's just reality. Therefore, potential candidates will have to want to study and/or work here because of the intellectual environment, because of the spiritual environment, because of the usefulness to our church.”
Dr. Reeve’s goal for the department is to have an endowment totaling $25-30M, but his first priority is to raise funds for some of the ethnic groups that are most needing it within the Adventist circles. It will require a team effort of giving and fundraising that includes everyone, from the widow with her ‘mites’ to the rich man with his filled storehouses. He envisions individuals, organizations, churches, conferences, and unions working together with him to achieve this goal for the benefit of one and all.
Philanthropic inquiries can be made to Dr. John Reeve, (269) 471-3195
Graduate Assistant/PR, Office of the Seminary Dean