So that’s what I tweeted yesterday after receiving a letter from Luther Seminary saying that they “regret that [they] will not be able to offer [me] admission into the [Doctor of Ministry Program in Congregational Mission and Leadership] in 2011.” The reason? Because I’m a Unitarian.
We were certainly impressed with the quality of your background and the importance of your work and ministry. However, the essential theological underpinnings and commitments of the program are deeply Trinitarian in nature. Therefore, the consensus of the committee was that we would not be able to serve you well with the program given your Unitarian commitment.
Okay, two things. One, as anyone who’s studied for the Unitarian Universalist ministry at a Christian seminary knows, Trinitarian theological “underpinnings and commitments” do not keep motivated UU students from being served by a particular program. If that were the case, it would be impossible for UU ministerial students to go to practically any Christian seminary. And two, the test of any program that claims to train people to have an impact on congregational systems is, I believe, whether or not the content of that program would be applicable to congregations of any tradition: Christian, Jewish, and, yes, even Unitarian Universalist. Think of the Alban Institute here.
The bottom line is this: if this program is really about helping congregations become more missional in what they do, and if that mission is to help fulfill what Jesus sought to bring about (the Kingdom of God, i.e., the Beloved Community) here on Earth, then whether or not one is a Unitarian Universalist shouldn’t matter. I doubt it would’ve mattered much to Jesus. If fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve been turned down by a Lutheran seminary. It happened in 1998, too. I was all set to live in the shared student housing at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago when I moved to Hyde Park to start the M.Div. program at Meadville Lombard. Once I got to Chicago, however, I was summoned to the housing office at LSTC, where I was told by some representatives of the school that I wouldn’t be allowed to room with Lutheran students. Why? Because a year or two earlier a Meadville student helped a gay Lutheran ministerial student come out of the closet and eventually convert to Unitarian Universalism. More than ten years later Lutherans are much more accepting of gay and lesbian ministers. Too bad they aren’t more accepting of Unitarian students.
Oh, and full disclosure. I was baptized a Christian in a Lutheran church. I have fond memories of being raised in the Lutheran Church in America, which, according to Wikipedia, “was often considered the most liberal and ecumenical branch in American Lutheranism.” I guess that’s where I get my obviously misguided notion that an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminary would be a little more liberal and ecumenical in their admissions policy.