My Education Does Not Make Me Prideful

Given the subjects and people I write about, I’m used to people disagreeing with me. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right and while naming names.  I’m used to getting angry tweets and avoiding comment sections like my life depended on it. And let’s face it: no one is perfect, including myself. I’m not without error, and none of my opinions are flawless. A rule of mine is that I don’t dish out anything that I’m not willing to take, so I understand that when I critique others, I open myself up to the same.

But there’s one aggravating and flat out disrespectful thing that people do when they disagree with me that I want to discuss. People tend to trash my education and the effort I put into earning it when explaining why they think I’m wrong. Let me give you an example:

Me: [Says some opinion about LGBT issues, Bible translation, or some cultural Christian issue.]

Them: Well, I prayed about it and this is what God told ME! [heavy incorrect usage of biblical often follows, which I talk more about here.]

Me: Well, I understand that. I’m know how you feel, but that’s not really what the text is saying. There’s a lot more to the situation that you’re missing.

Them: I don’t need fancy book learning to know what the Bible says! And as a matter of fact, I have read! I read Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, John Piper, Tony Evans, Tim Keller, my pastor’s blog, and my favorite gospel artist sang about it, so I can have an opinion!

Me: Of course you can have an opinion. But reading people who tend to agree with you without reading any one else isn’t the same as research.

Them: So you think you’re better than me because you have your degrees? I have the Holy Ghost!

Me: I never said that I was…I… [facepalm]

And that’s not including the situations when people really try it, saying some of the most hurtful and disrespectful things. Stuff that truly makes you wonder, “Would you say that if I was in front of you?” At least a few times a month I have to suppress the urge to lose all the sense that I have and revert back to some unsavory roots. Because when I see folks who I KNOW are strong with their fingers and weak with everything else, I have to fight the urge to call them out.

Miley What's Good?

I usually look like a jerk in these situations. It’s hard to not look like a snob when you have to detail your list of academic achievements, especially when someone else brings it up first. And while I’m not immune from pride, it sucks that defending my hard-earned education is viewed as me being a know-it-all who thinks he’s better than everyone.

This wasn’t always the case. I used to shy away from being proud about my theological education. That was until my Greek professor pulled me aside and taught me an important lesson. He told me that while I’m a person of faith, being theologically trained is also a profession. “Don’t debate people who aren’t your professional peers,” he said. “People don’t debate doctors, or mechanics, lawyers, or surgeons. They earned their stripes just like you;re earning yours. Offer your opinion, be graceful in disagreement, but never debate with someone who doesn’t have similar credentials.”

I haven’t always taken his advice. There are times when I’m not graceful in disagreement. I often use humor to diffuse the emotional blows that come from dealing with people who haven’t decided if your particular brand of humanity is worth compassion or concern. I admit that it isn’t always pretty, but it helps me not to curse people out or cry everyday. There are times when I debate people who don’t have theological training, if for no other reason than to put different ideas on display. Whatever the case, this stern talking to by my professor caused me to understand that I was being shaped into a professional, and that I should demand to be respected as such. I’m skilled in my craft, and have the authority to make decisions and present ideas as a result.

But as a minister and a scholar, I have to interact with scores of folks who aren’t into the books in the same way. I try to share what I know on social media to enhance awareness and sharing different understandings. But that sometimes runs into a brick wall. They’ve held certain beliefs for years, so they often think that their personal faith journey is the comparable to the academic discipline of studying the Christian faith.

It’s not. Not by a long shot.

This is the monster that takes your salvation when you enter seminary...or so I'm told :-/

This is the monster that takes your salvation when you enter seminary…or so I’m told :-/

And this isn’t to say that someone’s faith is only worth something if they have degrees to back it up. I’m a big advocate for an informed faith, but there are plenty of bankrupt, immoral, and corrupt ideas that circulate in and through universities everywhere. A personal connection with the divine is priceless, and there is no book, credential, or degree that can be conferred to make that can make up for it. I know plenty of people who don’t have seminary education that think about Christianity in ways that are healthier than many of the people I went to school with. Book knowledge doesn’t automatically equal right thinking or right religious practice.

Still, there is something to be said about spending intense, dedicated time to study something. My faith and practice is rooted in knowledge of history and context, something I take seriously since I am responsible for leading other people. I was taught to never pull anything out of thin air, but to tend to ideas that preceded me so that other ideas can grow from my work. And since seminary is a spin on the Latin word for seed bed, the growing and tending aspect makes sense. I’m not pulling stuff out of the air; I’m firmed rooted in the history of the faith. And those roots are a result of my education.

I’ve been studying Christianity on an academic level since I was twenty years old. I’m a few weeks shy of thirty-two. I have a minor in religion from Rutgers University, a Master of Divinity from Howard University, a Master of Theological Study from Wesley Theological Seminary, and I’m working on a PhD from Howard studying communication issues in Christian culture. None of them were given to me. They were earned.

I’ve been trained on how to preach, how to read and analyze texts, and how to think through complicated social/political/critical theological issues by a group of successful, qualified, and even world-renowned scholars. These folks have taught me how to read Greek, how to read, write, and search for information. They’ve written books and shaped the way that even some of your favorite preachers think and approach what they do concerning the Bible and race, feminism/womanism, ethics, and other issues that pertain to faith and life. None of these folks are slack, and they didn’t allow me to be slack either. In most instances, I’ve earned As in their classes. To insult my training isn’t just a smack in my face, but it’s a suggestion that the people who trained and supported me are also not up to par. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

And even with that extensive list that I just laid out, it’s fine to disagree with me. My voice is valuable, but it is but a drop in a huge sea of opinion. I don’t argue or preach or post for likes to be a fave on the gram. I do this work because I want to demonstrate a healthy, holistic faith. I want people to agree with me because I made a persuasive argument which causes a change of heart. Just like a doctor, if you don’t like my view, feel free to get a second opinion. There are people with my level of education and more who think differently than I do. But to clown my education and call me prideful, especially when I didn’t bring it up, is in a word…whack. And it’s hypocritical to disparage my education while expecting me to respect your tarry service, because my vocational route is just as much God’s call as your three-day fast might be.

You may disagree with me, but it’s not because I’m sloppy. It’s not because I went to bad schools. It’s not because seminary learning jacked me up. And it’s definitely not that I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s that we genuinely, deeply disagree. And that’s fine. But what I don’t and never will have time for is my experience, effort, time, and the commitments of my mentors to my formation to be disrespected. Because if we’re measuring faithfulness by the amount of Bible study hours logged, then there’s a special seat in heaven for me and it’s probably much nicer than yours. But suggesting that my studies make me a better Christian is prideful, just like suggesting that someone is a lesser Christian because of their lack of education is rude, disrespectful, classist, and unfair. If the only thing you have to say is that my education has led me astray, then you don’t have an argument. It’s okay to say, “we disagree” and move on.

Deep faith doesn’t negate scholarship. If done correctly, theological education humbles you and often deepens your faith. You realize what you don’t know, and the limits to what you can ever figure out. But just as book knowledge can puff someone’s head up, so can the subjective ideas and wisps in the breeze that people often confuse for their own spiritual superiority. Humility is a lesson that all of us — scholar and layperson alike—are well served to revisit often. There is no action or effort that can make someone closer to God. Whatever we know, whether it be from books or revelation, is the result of grace…

so that no person should boast.

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Almost, But Not Quite: Thoughts On E. Dewey Smith’s Comments About Homosexuality

E. Dewey Smith, pastor of House of Hope in Atlanta, GA, has made waves over his comments concerning the treatment of gay people in churches. You can watch the video below.

This isn’t the first time that Smith has stepped into the stormy waters of sexuality in the Black church. He’s also made comments earlier in the summer, where he voiced his beliefs concerning marriage and admonished preachers for their hypocrisy concerning other issues.  Last year, Smith retweeted openly gay Bishop Yvette Flunder, which raised eyebrows for many onlookers. Given the time span over which these events have taken place, it is safe to assume that Smith’s thoughts have been developing on this matter.

Smith should be commended for initiating this conversation in spaces where it normally does not take place. He also should be praised for wrestling with these issues in places that are historically antagonistic toward LGBT people. The discussion of full inclusion in Black Christian denominations often takes place in seminaries, divinity schools, and other liberal religious arenas. The people who need to hear the conversation most are usually not in attendance.  Many Black Christians, gay or otherwise, are unaware that more progressive lines of thinking even exist. His comments pose a risk to his career and network that should not be ignored. Much of LGBT oppression in Black churches is upheld by an Old Boys’ Network, where people who are too divergent in their theology are shut out of lucrative ministry opportunities. Smith broke away from that mindset.

However, there is a rush to appoint Smith as a full-fledged ally to the LGBT cause. This is where caution needs to be exercised. He has yet to say that being gay or otherwise queer in not a sin. Smith does not say that being LGBT is a gift from God, or that it is blessing, or that people in the community are living out who God created them to be. What he does is highlight the hypocrisy of how gay people are treated based on how much the church body at large consumes from them. If anything, Smith is saying that being gay is no worse than any other sin, so it is wrong to treat gay people worse than everyone else. The unfortunately reality is that even a statement such as this is groundbreaking in many Black churches, but they do not signal a desire for full inclusion. Smith’s comments fall in line with many mainline denominations and churches: acknowledging the sacredness of all humanity but labeling homosexuality a sin.

There may be more that Smith has to say about inclusion that he has not yet said publicly. That is to be expected with a topic like this. It takes time and energy to unravel old thoughts and theology. Change does not happen overnight. He may arrive at a place in his journey where he is openly affirming. But his comments up to the present do not present an affirming message. Smith has not arrived there yet. Public support of marriage equality, which is now the law of the land, does not automatically make one affirming. What about ordaining gay clergy? What about the full access of areas of leadership for LGBT people? Would he marry a same-sex couple? These ideas could be coming down the pike, but until they come from his mouth, optimism should be tempered with caution.

There is something to be said for Smith’s words giving people hope in those spaces. We can never know how many people were touched, ministered to, and inspired to carry on. It is highly probable that one less suicide note was written and one fewer parent threw their child out of the house as a result of his comments. Smith’s words are likely the first time someone has ever heard anything approaching an affirming message from a Black preacher. That positive impact should not be diminished, but it does not need to be in order to acknowledge the areas where Smith’s comments still fall short. He is on a journey. He has gone further than many preachers in his position would dare. He has yet to fully affirm LGBT people. It is best to acknowledge the flowers that have bloomed along the way instead of forcing fruit to bear before its time.

NOTE: E. Dewey Smith has clarified his statements. He does not consider himself an ally and still considers same-sex marriage and homosexuality sin. Read his and his church’s words here.

Yes, It’s Been Changed: A Very Quick Primer on How We Get Our Bibles

So, this picture has been making the rounds on the interwebs.

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Erica Campbell of Mary Mary even shared it to her Facebook page, where the post received over 70,000 comments.

It is true? Have verses been taken out of the Bible?

The short answer is yes.

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But before you start pleading the blood and rebuking the devil, let’s have a brief conversation about where Bibles come from, kind of like the birds and the bees of biblical literature.

Before we start, just let me say that this is a very, VERY bare bones introduction to this topic. I’ve intentionally pared it down so it won’t be overwhelming. I’ll leave additional resources at the end for you to do more reading.

Bibles are translated from pieces of ancient manuscripts that are found from archeological digs or even by accident. In particular, there’s been many collected editions of the New Testament found all over. Editors compile what they can from the pieces of these manuscripts—which are often incomplete—and translate the Bibles that we read today. Nothing that these experts work on is an original document.

Did you hear that?

Repeat: WE HAVE NO ORIGINALS. Everything we have, even the oldest, “best” copies are just that: copies.

Some of these collections are older than others. The older something is, the closer its content is to whatever the original writer put in the document. But older still isn’t the same an original. So even in good (and good means older) copies, there is still stuff that is added, removed, and otherwise edited.

WAIT, ARE YOU SAYING THAT PEOPLE ADDED THINGS TO SCRIPTURE?

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Yes, but again, don’t get bent out of shape. Remember, people wrote everything by hand in ancient times. There was no copy machine so writers had to write every single document by hand.

Every.

Single.

One.

So imagine the number of typos, misspellings, and other errors that crept in when these documents were put to paper? We can’t even spell #pedalstool correctly. The majority of these additions are errors on the part of the copier.

Could you imagine having to translate words from something that looks like this?

Could you imagine having to translate words from something that looks like this?

There are some places in scripture where extra information is added to clarify topics for the readers. The Gospels are a good example of this. Luke’s readers weren’t well versed in Jewish ideas, some things need to be fleshed out to make sense. Also, each gospel was written to address specific issues. That’s why Jesus visits the temple three times in John but once in the other accounts, and why numerous other accounts are similar in the gospel but have different implications.

There’s also the issue of use getting better at translating these ancient languages. Remember, the original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew (with a splash of Aramaic), and the New Testament was written entirely in Koine Greek. It’s not a one-to-one ration when it comes to translating. So, we have to make the best guess they can. Any translator that is actually good at their job will tell that you that once you translate something, you’ve already interpreted it. Which means you’ve already changed the meaning somehow.

There are other places where a chunk of scripture is the direct result of a community adding commentary that reflects the beliefs of that community. For example, Mark 16. This popular chapter actually ends at verse 8, which means the rest of the text is a much later addition.

An example that is closer to home is 1 John 5:7. Grab your grandmother’s King James Bible and you see that it reads “ For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Check recent versions and you won’t find it. The verse didn’t appear in any manuscript until the 1500s. More than likely, that verse is a line from a hymn that reflected the theology of the time, but is a far cry from what the community of 1 John would believe. So, they took it out.

Here’s the part that’s missed by most folks. If you have a bible with study notes, you’ll see that the translator has already told you what scriptures are in doubt. Some even have them in brackets. People tend to not read these notes. Also, companies that publish Bibles leave these debatable verses in because people are familiar with them, and they want copies to sell. Money impacts theological choices and stances more than we talk about…and that needs a blog post all to itself.

So, to recap: Yes verses have been taken out and added into the Bible. Way more than you’ve realized.

What is Forgiveness Part 1: The Basics

“God forgave us of our sins, so we need to forgive each other, so that God will forgive us.”

Many people have heard that line before. However, it often isn’t that simple, is it?

This post is the first of several, where will share what I’ve learned about forgiveness. While I’m not sure that forgiveness is a skill that you master, I do think that possessing a solid understanding of what forgiveness is—and isn’t—will help us when we are encountered with the arduous task of dealing with a wrong committed against us.

First, some ground rules. I’ll mention some scripture in these posts, because the Bible is foundational for a lot of my readers. However, I’m not wedded to the Bible or having to check off every orthodox belief about forgiveness. I do believe that forgiveness is healthy. But forgiveness can never be forced by fear. That’s coercion.

From hurtforhopewellness.com

From hurtforhopewellness.com

What exactly is forgiveness? My definition is this: to release someone from the penalty of a debt or grievance. Let’s use money as an example. Say someone owes you $100. They haven’t paid it in a while, and you’ve been waiting patiently. You’re furious with them. After a long while, you decide to let it go. You don’t ask for the money back anymore, and you don’t pursue any action that would lead to their harm for not paying the money. You drop the requirement for the money to be returned.

That is what I’ve come to view forgiveness as. I know that I have truly forgiven when I reach the point where I don’t look for some sort of recompense for what was done to me. I’m not expecting the person to change. I’m not looking for ways to make the person pay for what they’ve done. My expectation for some sort of recompense is gone.

This example also demonstrates some important things that are often missed when discussing forgiveness. Forgiveness does not pretend that no wrong was committed. Looking back to the example, notice how there was no pretending that the person didn’t owe the money. There was no magic spell that rewrote history and made the issue disappear. Early in my life, I was exposed to this sort of forgiveness, which is really a forgery. All that did was cause me to push the pain that I’ve experienced down, and never heal in my own way and time. I’ve learned that forgiveness is grounded in reality. The person in the example still owed the money, just like the person or people that hurt you actually did something to hurt you. Acknowledging that is a vital part in forgiving.

Also, notice how there is no mention of reconciliation. This may be hard for some to accept, but forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.The loaner of the money never, ever has to loan money to the person again. They don’t even have to be friends. Forgiveness is, quite simply, dropping the requirement of payment. That’s it. Forgiveness does not require a restoration of the relationship that existed prior to the wrong being committed. Often, people in church and elsewhere lump forgiveness and reconciliation together. You have to “hurry up and forgive” so thing can go on as usual.

Forgiveness is not ignoring the fact that you are in pain and/or not acknowledging that someone in your community harmed you. 

So moving forward, here are some other thoughts about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation are all separate things. Don’t lump them together.
  • Forgiveness is far more about you and your peace than the offending party.
  • Forgiveness is a process. It takes time; you don’t have to rush it.
  • Forgiveness can be a part of justice, but not necessarily.
  • God does not hate you, even if you can’t forgive someone right away.

We’ll get into more depth with later posts. Do you have any questions or thoughts about forgiveness? Talk in the comments…

Nice Nasty: A Look At TD Jakes Remarks About Marriage Equality

With the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in favor of marriage equality last week, it was expected that clergy across the country would begin to express their opinions.

Bishop TD Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, offered remarks about marriage equality and a Christian response here:

Bishop Jakes’ remarks may seem like a respectful way to address the issue, but they aren’t. There’s a pervasive idea that speaking about issues calmly with respectful language somehow sanctifies the troubling rhetoric that is being delivered. As a friend put it, there’s a heavy element of “nice nasty” that’s present in Jakes’ remarks.

Jakes starts by telling his congregation that Christians shouldn’t “lose their minds” in regards to the Supreme Court ruling. To paraphrase his words, the Church shouldn’t be concerned when “the world” does what it tends to do. He notes that the Justices were dealing with the rights that are given by the Constitution. He goes on to mention that the Justices weren’t debating Romans 1 and First Corinthians when deciding this ruling. This is a hint into where Jakes will ultimately end up. The New Testament books of Romans and 1 Corinthians contain lynchpin scriptures for people who are opposed to same-sex relations. Certain words and phrases function as dog whistles in church contexts, sending a rallying call around certain ideas that are understood but not spelled out directly. Mentioning Romans and First Corinthians as he did is a coded way of pointing the parishioner toward an understanding of same-sex sexual activity as sin. Jakes has stated previously that he thinks scripture “condemns” sex between people of the same-sex in an interview with Oprah in 2012, but it wouldn’t have been smart to be direct in a broadcast that was aired to millions. The COGIC backlash involving Andrew Caldwell is instructive in this case.

Bishop Jakes upholds the idea that the traditional way of reading the text will automatically lead to his particular understanding. This is not true, as many faithful people who read the text come up with different ideas about every subject the Bible presents. In a seminary class I once took, a classmate said, “I take the Bible literally, and the Bible literally does not condemn gay people. They aren’t speaking about what we are discussing today.” There’s a multitude of ways to view scripture. Those diverse interpretations are a major part of why we have so many denominations today.

From Charismanews.com

From Charismanews.com

Jakes also makes the assumption that things would be better if people became “real Christians.” For Jakes, it appears that a true Christian is someone who shares their faith. If more Christians evangelized, and not segregate themselves from people who aren’t like-minded, Christianity would spread. The statistics available concerning Christian perception in this country would suggest otherwise (Read this Barna Group report here). People know what the Christian message is, and they perceive it to be one of hate and intolerance. They hear and understand, they just don’t want what’s being offered.

Lastly, Jakes makes a comment about the Bible toward the end that may well be the most concerning portion of the remarks. He says, “But I must warn you, God does not judge you by the Constitution. He judges you by the Word of God. So while the Supreme Court is looking at the Constitution, you better search the Scripture.” He continued to say, “This blessed old book is still good, it’s still right anyhow.”

This remark is a veiled threat. Given the context of the sermon, people who don’t agree or live by Jakes’ biblical understanding of sexuality are in danger of being judged by God. To suggest that judgement is the appropriate response to Jakes’s perspective of sexuality—a perspective that is highly debatable at best—is cruel, regardless of how well-meaning it sounds. Scripturally, Jesus does discuss the threat of judgment, but it is frequently to those who abuse children or people he loves (Matthew 18:1-6), hypocrites (Mark 7: 1-13), and people who ignore the most vulnerable in society (Matthew 25:31-46). Saying “God said it” doesn’t absolve anyone from the responsibility of the stances they take. God isn’t making the declaration; you are. Damnation and hell are some of the most violently used concepts in Christian thought, and they are often used by people in power to threaten others toward their point of view. Rarely is biblical wrath directed at the modern day equivalents of the ones who receive the threats in scripture. This needs to change.

Jakes relies on the idea of the church being separate from the world to justify placing LGBT people and their issues on the back-burner. It’s not something to “lose his mind” about, which is a nice-nasty way of saying that LGBT issues aren’t worth Christian effort to fight for. This is where he, and many others, make a critical error. Separating the church from the world will not remove LGBT people from the church house. We are everywhere, including in the pews of his church when he was giving this message. We are ministers, deacons, trustees, and ushers. We participate in the life of the church in such an ingrained way, that our removal would be immediately noticed. There are affirming churches and clergy who praised God when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. Are they not Christian? There is no clean place to cut down the middle. A break away from the LGBT community wouldn’t sanctify the church, it would splinter the church into even more pieces than it is right now.

Bishop Jakes does what many do, function under a cloak of civility to push anti-LGBT message. He’s savvy enough not to use buzzwords that will not attract the same level of scrutiny and critique that others do when they engage in anti-LGBT speech. It’s time to begin noticing this, and holding our leaders more accountable for the ideas they present, as well as the consequences they produce for others.

We Can Hear You

Earlier this week, the person formerly known as Bruce Jenner announced the results of the decision to transition to a woman. For now on, she want to be referred to as Caitlyn Jenner.

Given that my context is a Christian one, I expected the response to Caitllyn’s transition to be one of general disapproval. Still, I’m often taken aback by how cruel those of us who are called by the name of Christ are in the name of holiness. Rather than exhibiting the radical inclusivity of Christ’s table, we often sound more like the war and thunder God of the Hebrew Scriptures, demanding that all offending people be destroyed so that God’s “special” people can exist. Social media was ablaze with opinions about how Caitlyn was wrong for tinkering with God’s creation. People refused to use proper pronouns, staunchly declaring that they will still call her “Bruce.” Caitlyn’s actions were decried as demonic and worthy of damnation.

I’m not transgender, but I know how it feels to hear awful things said about you and your reality. Years ago, I was heavily active in a Christian group. We had many fun times. I labored with them, and shared the important life events that people in their early 20s tend to experience. It was during this time that I seriously began to question my sexuality. While I was surrounded by people who demonstrated their care for me, these same people routinely said disparaging things about gay people. The term “gay” was used to describe people who they thought were weak and stupid. Effeminate men were laughed at. There argument was that no one wanted to follow a Christ who would allow “soft brothers” to be at the forefront. “No homo” was a frequently uttered phrase. Being gay was a malady to be cast out, thrown away, bound and tossed into the pit of hell. Queerness of any sort was an aliment that rendered one useless for God’s plan and for any meaningful relationships. Being gay, or even perceived as such, gave the saints of the most high God the right to mock your life and make you into the butt of a joke. This right was often evoked as an obligation.

A infographic from Outright Vermont detailing bullying that LGBT youth face.

A infographic from Outright Vermont detailing bullying that LGBT youth face.

The pain I felt was immense. At that point, I didn’t have a clear answer about my sexuality. But I knew if I even brought it up to the people that I cared about, I would never be viewed the same. I would be marked. Regardless of what they might say when I told them, I already knew what they thought of me. Their humor told me everything I needed to know. The the language they used when the topics of soft brothers and homosexuality and the perverse leanings of the world confirmed my lesser status in their minds—and to myself.

I plunged into a dangerous depression for the better part of a year. Most days I felt numb to the world. Other days, the physic pain was so intense that I felt it physically. I turned to alcohol to deal with the pain. My performance in graduate school dropped. I stopped showering. And as time rolled on it became harder to convince myself to not end it all. The pain was too much and it was lasting too long. Perhaps whatever was on the other side of death would be a respite from the torment I experienced every day.

I was lucky. Being a graduate student placed me in close proximity to mental health professionals. I received help to get my life back on track, and new skills to affirm and love myself. However, everyone doesn’t have that chance. Everyone doesn’t have easy access to mental health professionals, and many people don’t live to tell the story.

Now, I take responsibility for my environment. That’s why I distanced myself from those folks and other places that dehumanize LGBTQ people. Anyone who has cannot accept me as I am has limited access to the intimate spaces of my life. And while there were other factors that caused me to experience such a low state, the final blow came from Christians. The people that were supposed to be a source of blessing ended up pronouncing a curse. And that curse almost worked its dark magic on me.

But again, I was lucky. Many LGBTQ people do not escape the curse that is placed on them by their pastors, deacons, and other members of the Christian community. Many are on drugs, homeless, and commit suicide, all because people discuss them in ways that are dehumanizing. Read the statistics about Black LGBTQ youth here. These are your brothers, sisters, friends, and family. It’s foolish to think that hateful speech wouldn’t impact people who are in close relational proximity to. Our careless words and lack of compassion are driving people to their graves.

Your jokes aren’t harmless. Your opinions aren’t just some benign thought thrown into the wind. We can hear you. We hear the remarks you make about us. We hear the “opinions” that are laced with hate and disgust. We read the tweets and the Facebook statuses filled with prayers and commitments to “biblical living” that function more like pronouncements of death to a group of people who you refuse to understand. We hear, we remember, and we hurt.  For a people that believe life and death is in the power of the tongue, the spoken and written word is often used to pronounce death and destruction on those that do not fit into their small view of the world.

Even if you don’t understand or disagree, people lives aren’t jokes. The Caitlyn Jenners and Verdell Wrights of the world are within earshot of you. You may be laughing someone off of a cliff.

Seminary, Divinity School, Bible College: What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between a Seminary, Divinity School, and Bible School?

It’s a good question to ask. Most people go to seminary, bible school, or whatever you call it to prepare for work in ministry. What follows is a brief break down of the differences between these types of theological education, as well as the pros and cons each present. At the end, I’ll give my personal viewpoint.

Keep in mind that these are general definitions and explanations. There are exceptions to them all.

Divinity School

  • A school of graduate-level theological education that is attached to a university.
  • Offers graduate degrees (M.Div., MTS, STM, etc.) and perhaps certificate programs.
  • Bachelor degree needed prior to admission.
  • Students can apply for federal funding.

Example(s): Howard University School of Divinity, Duke University School of Divinity, Candler School of Theology at Emory University

The main thing to keep in mind about a divinity school is that is it often a part of a larger body of schools within a university. For example, Howard University has a divinity school, a law school, a school of social work, and communications. This harkens back to the old days when theology was viewed as a major discipline for general education. This doesn’t mean that divinity schools can’t have denominational roots. Often, they divinity school retains the denominational character of the university’s heritage. It just means that a divinity school’s primary connection is to the university that it resides in. Because of their attachment to major research universities, there is a tendency for divinity schools to be moderate to liberal leaning in their theology. A notable exception to this is Regent University School of Divinity, which is conservative evangelical leaning.

Pro(s)

  • Exposure to a multitude of perspectives, beliefs, and resources.
  • Generally more freedom to pursue higher-level academic work.
  • Offers the main degree needed (M.Div.) for ordination in most mainline denominations.
  • Academic support for terminal degrees.

Con(s)

  • Most have to charge graduate level prices due to the connection to the university.
  • Can be very “heady” and focus on theory, with less attention to practical realities of ministry.

Seminary

  • A school of graduate level education that is primarily affiliated with a denomination.
  • Offers graduate degrees (M.Div., MTS, STM, etc.) and perhaps certificate programs.
  • Bachelor degree needed prior to admission.
  • Students can apply for federal funding.

Example(s): Wesley Theological Seminary (Methodist), Capital Bible Seminary (Multi-denominational, but evangelical in perspective), Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopalian)

Divinity schools and seminaries share many traits. The major difference is the institutions with which they are primarily connected. Seminaries serve as the training arm for a denomination’s ministers. Methodists tend to go to Methodist schools, Baptists tend to go to Baptist schools, and so on. This is all depending on the individual goals of the student, of course. Some seminaries, like Princeton Theology Seminary, are known for the high level of scholarship that they produce. That doesn’t mean that seminaries aren’t academic; that’s far from the case. It’s just that programs at a seminary will be more geared toward practical ministry practices. Because of their denominational affiliation, seminaries tend to be more moderate in their theological identities. That is, unless the denomination its attached to is extremely conservative (the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Theology Seminary) or extremely liberal (The United Church of Christ and United Seminary).

Pro(s):

  • Ability to extensively experience one theological tradition.
  • Less bureaucracy (don’t have to deal with university systems).
  • Tends to be a little less expensive than a divinity school.
  • More focus on practical ministry.

Con(s):

  • Less access to resources to research other Christian traditions.
  • Less support for non-traditional ideas and/or theological positions.
  • Possible to feel like a “fish out of water” if you don’t belong to the seminary’s denominational tradition.

college seminary

Bible School

  • Post-secondary education (but usually not graduate level).
  • Primarily for people that want to have a deeper understanding of the Bible from a faith perspective.

Example(s): Washington Bible College, Emmaus Bible College, Eternity Bible College

Bible colleges used to be popular in the United States. Now, they are few in number. Some are accredited (meaning you can apply for federal funds), but a good number are not. They offer a theologically–based education, but they tend to lean toward fundamentalism[1]. If you’re seeking to be ordained, this isn’t the choice for you. But if you can find one that has a robust general education program, this might be worth a look.

Pro(s):

  • Tend to be far less expensive, and therefore more accessible, to people who want college education.
  • Tend to have small populations.

Con(s):

  • Many aren’t accredited.
  • Tend to teach the Bible from a more fundamentalist position.

Bible Institute

  • Provides training programs for people that want to understand Scripture better.

Pro(s):

  • Inexpensive.

Con(s):

  • Completion of a program isn’t useful for other endeavors.

Most of these schools aren’t accredited, so they won’t be helpful to anyone that is seeking ordination. Also, the theology tends to be very, very conservative, with little to no chance to study broadly. Many don’t require a high school diploma to enter. The notable exception to all of this is Moody Bible Institute. Moody is accredited and offers undergraduate and graduate degrees.

As for my story, I went to a divinity school and a seminary. I attended Howard University School of Divinity to complete my Master in Divinity. Then, realizing that I needed some extra work to prepare for doctoral studies, I went to Wesley Theological Seminary to pursue a Master of Theological Studies. As you can see, my goals had an academic bent, so I went to schools that allowed me the freedom to do just that.

Generally, I advise people against theological education unless they are (1) getting scholarship and/or grant money to go and (2) they absolutely need it for their career goals (ordination, doctoral studies, etc.). I touch on why that is in a previous blog post.

So there you have it. Was this helpful? Any more questions? All put the good ones in another blog post.

[1] A quick definition from Wikipedia: “a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.”