Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment and my seminary, Biblical Seminary, have teamed up to offer a 3 credit course for seminarians on the topic of child sexual abuse prevention and response. This course will run on our Hatfield campus on Monday nights during the month of June. To my knowledge, a course like this has not been offered before. I highly encourage you to send your pastors or church leaders for some continuing education.
Tag Archives: seminary
Did you see the 152 page report published about the causes of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church? You can read a very short new story here which links to a pdf of the entire report. You don’t have to read the entire report since the first several pages serve as a summary of the entire report. The report is being rejected by most who have read it because the most prominent “cause” of the increase of child sexual abuse between the 1970s and 1985 is social and moral degradation. In the words of one radio host…”they’re blaming Woodstock? Really?”
What I want to read in the report is their comments on the culture of seminary training. Just what was going on in the lives of the seminary leaders? It may well be that seminary professors and leaders were explicitly and implicitly creating a culture of boundary violations, sexual abuse. It may well be that perpetrating priests were raised and brought up in the church and seminary under a leadership that encouraged such behavior (even if not outright).
Obviously, I’m not thinking that seminaries are only to blame. A culture of secrecy, a culture of protecting the system and ignoring the victim (or much worse), failure to assess priest candidates (both at initial entry and later), and failure to encourage real spiritual formation are just a few of the facets of this problem. But as a seminary professor, I do bear the responsibility of thematic problems of my graduating students. If one student is a bad apple, I’m not responsible. However, if my graduates begin to exemplify a particular theme (e.g., ethical violations, legalism, arrogance, etc.) then I may indeed be responsible for either (a) encouraging such behaviors, or (b) not identifying the problem behaviors/attitudes and not attempting to remediate the problem.
Yesterday I posted a quick blurb about Derek’s “So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary” (Brazos, 2008). Derek kindly agreed to answer a few questions that I had. FYI, Derek has his PhD from Lutheran Seminary and is Visiting Professor at our very own Biblical Seminary.
Phil: Derek, it sounds like the impetus for this book came from your own varied experiences at several seminaries. Now that you are a teacher, what key recommendations do you have for incoming students to help them succeed in their academic work?
Derek:I recommend that incoming students think about managing their time. Many seminarians these days work part- or full-time, have spouses and/or children, are involved in church, and have other similar responsibilities. It’s important that they establish good study habits early in their studies that balances all of their work and family commitments.
Phil: Amen to that. Most could benefit from a study skills or reading skills class! Well, what is the most common mistake prospective seminary students make in the application process?
Derek: I think students tend toward one of two extremes: either applying to too many schools (I’d recommend applying to no more than five, but preferably fewer) or underestimating how detailed and time-consuming the application process can be.
Phil:You know what one of my favorite mistakes is? Having an email address like, Gsusismyhomeboy@…. It tells a lot more than you know! On to my next question: If you were starting over, what would you do differently in your seminary education?
Derek: I believe students should begin thinking about career prospects during their first semester of school. I encourage students to isolate classes of special interest, speak with professors and staff members, network with students, talk with real-life pastors, academics, and ministry leaders, and attend local conferences of interest to learn about their compatibility with certain careers.
Phil: Me too. I tell my counseling students that they need to find people in the workforce doing things they want to do, introduce themselves and take them to lunch to ask they how they got to this point in their life and for advice. Who doesn’t like free lunch and being asked for sage advice. Plus, you can get an internship or a mentor out of it many times.
Final question Derek: What is one thing you wish Seminaries did differently to enhance the education of students?
Derek: I believe that seminaries need to do a better job of providing and connecting students to real-life practitioners so that they are better equipped and adequately exposed to what types of vocations they are most suited for.
Of course the right answer is: “Biblical Seminary is the ONLY seminary where you’ll get the best masters in counseling education.”
But in case you’d like a little more depth and breadth in answer the question about whether seminary is right for you, Derek Cooper has a new book: So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary (2008, Brazos). Derek came by this wisdom by attending several seminaries and so if you want a good feel for what seminary is like and how you can decide if it is for you, you ought to buy the book.
In it he orients readers to what seminary is and isn’t, the kind that is attached to universities and the free-standing kind. That would probably have helped my wife back when she showed up for summer Greek, about a year after becoming a Christian. When she first heard about seminary, she assumed it was a place only for priests.
Cooper also helps the reader to consider the value and benefits of non-denominational versus denominational seminaries, the kinds of degrees available as well as potential jobs with each degree. Even better, he helps the newbie think through the kinds of courses likely to be taken in some of these degree courses. What I like is that he gives numerous school examples so that by the end of the book, the reader has truly been exposed to the best of theological education in the United States and Canada.
The middle section of the book helps the seminarian find ways to finance, survive, even flourish during grad studies. Yes, you don’t have to lose your faith or your marriage if you go to seminary. But don’t assume your studies alone will promote spiritual growth.
He has one chapter that covers matters of ordination and licensure. If you are considering becoming a licensed counselor AND you are thinking (rightly) that seminary is a great place to do that, be sure to read his admonition to check with your licensing body (State or Province) to see what THEY require and do not assume that the school automatically covers every required course.
My only negative is that he didn’t say on every page that BIBLICAL SEMINARY (www.biblical.edu) is by far the BEST school in the world. But then, if he did, that would make us look bad since he would be lying. But, if you do want to hear Derek in the flesh, join our counseling program and take his “Counseling and the Biblical Text” course since he adjuncts for us.
I’ve asked Derek a few questions and so tomorrow, I’ll post his answers. Really, this is a good book if you are considering a ministry career and wonder if Seminary is necessary and what it is all about. And if you are the “cut to the chase” kind of reader, he has really good summaries and charts to help you make your decision.
I’ll let you in on a snippet of a faculty meeting. We were discussing how best to give students regular feedback beyond letter grades a brief comments–especially those who might have some particular struggle: academic, spiritual, interpersonal, etc. While we offer academic degrees, part of what we do as a Seminary pays attention to spiritual formation. That’s a broad category of course. But any student or group issues (and cohorts almost always have some group issues) have the opportunity of being formative teaching/pastoring moments. But I digress…
In the midst of this conversation, some faculty noted the consumerist mentality that some students have. They are coming here for MAs, MDivs, or DMins and the program should serve their interests and at the end they should get a degree that will get them a job. Nothing really new here. Most wouldn’t spend 20+K on an MA or 40+K on an MDiv just for the enrichment of it. Other faculty noted that some consumer mentality is appropriate. Students are coming here to buy a product and we need to sell the best version of that product.
So, here’s my question, can student as consumer also do a good job being student as disciple of Christ? Where’s the line between wise consumer and self-focused/demanding consumer?
This past month my credit card company submitted my check to them TWICE to my bank. That means they took a significant amount of money out of my checking account without my consent–and it could have caused other checks to bounce. I was not happy. Calls to the bank quickly resulted in our getting back what was rightfully mine. I was not happy with the bank for letting it happen and I was not happy with the credit card company for making the mistake. I want them to know that I’m not happy and to assure me it will never happen again. Ultimately, I want them to make me happy all the time. I want them to never let me down. And if they do not make me happy? Then I’ll take my business elsewhere. Isn’t that how we approach most of our consuming? If my favorite restaurant stops pleasing me and treating me as a king, then I’m not likely to go back.
Do students bring this attitude into their education? I think so. I think I did as a student. I noted every failure of my profs. I rarely brought my concerns to them (for fear of looking petty) but more than once I’m sure I complained (shared my feelings) to my peers. Where does it lead us? Grumbling and complaining. Looking at the faults of others rather than our own. Defending rather than being appropriately self-critical. Not sure it is easy to be a disciple when I’m grumbling and complaining.
So, the challenge for students is to bring legitimate concerns and complaints to their professor’s attention, avoid gossip, and consider the formation opportunity in front of them (e.g., life when things don’t turn out as expected). And faculty/administration have the challenge before them to make sure they listen to said complaints, avoid defensiveness, repent where necessary, and pursue both their own and their student’s formative learning moments. Teachers and program administrators must remember that they too are disciples on the same journey as their pupils.
May we all pursue excellence as servants of the kingdom.