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Imagining the Future of Theological Education: Episode 1


A conversation with Rev. Joanne Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative located at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Rev. Stephen Lewis, President of the Forum for Theological Exploration in Atlanta, bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today.

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Read the transcript for Episode 1

A Conversation with Rev. Joanne Rodriguez and Rev. Stephen Lewis

3 questions covered in this episode conversation:

  1. How can institutions be more equitable, diverse and inclusive?
  2. What role does mentoring play in theological education?
  3. Imagining the future of theological education, what would you like to see?

Episode Summary

In this inaugural episode, hosts Rev. Dr. Deborah Mullen, Professor Emerita, Columbia Theological Seminary, and Rev. Dr. David Mellott, President of Christian Theological Seminary, speak with Rev. Joanna Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary and Rev. Stephen Lewis, President of the Forum for Theological Education. The conversation considers how theological institutions can evolve from a vastly monolithic culture towards more equitable, diverse and inclusive environments. Ideas discussed included the highly practical – such as creating a working definition of diversity and allotting a portion of the operations budget for inclusivity – to more cultural efforts such as leading with persistence and accountability.

Conversational Highlights:

2:55 – How is Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) changing the face and focus of theological education in predominately white institutions?

  • Scholarship cannot be divorced from the faith community.
  • A solid grounding in community can leverage scholars’ passion to serve.
  • Collaboration among Hispanic scholars is on the rise.

5:48 – What principles are helping HTI guide and direct theological education?

  • Genuine diversity draws on an ecumenical, multilingual, multiethnic and multi-disciplinary experience.
  • Radical cooperation reflects an approach that is welcoming, listening, democratic and striving for excellence through results-driven programming.
  • Kingdom justice is equitable, life giving and transformative.

6:39 – What role does mentorship play in faculty development?

  • Every new field requires people willing to demystify the system for others.
  • Senior scholars support junior scholars, serving as outside partners of the institution.
  • Mentorship helps not just with program completion and graduation but networking in the system.
  • Partnerships with 23 PhD granting institutions since 2010 and supporting students has been shown to protect the educational investment.

8:32 – How does mentoring help support the economies of theological education?

  • Studies show it costs and average of $250K to support a student in a PhD program, yet more than 50% of PhD students don’t complete their program.
  • Studies show mentoring supports solid stewardship and use of human resources as well as stewardship.

10:45 – Are more Hispanic men and women interested in theological education, particularly PhD programs?

  • HTI alumni are forging new relationships with other religious institutions.
  • PhD students in the pipeline increased from 3 students in a consortium of 17 schools. In 2010 to 61 students in 2020.

11:55 – How is the HTI model addressing accessibility challenges?

  • Only about 3% of the world’s population is able to obtain a PhD in any program.
  • HTI is bringing a collaborative model that opens more doors to education by making it more accessible and relational.
  • After completing their programs, HTI graduates are moving into theological education institutions and contributing to teaching pedagogies and publishing, while changing cultures.

14:40 – Decisiveness is killing us. How can the religious community use the differences between us not for decisiveness, but to contribute to the world?

  • The religious community has something very important to contribute to the world. We must first get our own act together and bring a united front for lifegiving ways to participate in important conversations.
  • The mentoring, collaborative and scholarship components are helping HTI graduates after they complete their program.

17:13 How can a community of mentors raise up scholars of color?

  • The burden of mentoring students of color falls on faculty of color who are asked to do more with fewer resources.
  • The model today reflects a taxation in people of color who must do more with fewer resources.
  • Mentoring is not an individual practice. Rather a collaboration or village is required to raise up a scholar.
  • The rising tide of the mentoring boat benefits everyone.

21:29 – In a cancel culture, how can institutions draw from grassroots community to infuse culture?

  • Minorities are always on the margin. We need to learn not be comfortable on the margins. Accountability and persistence are required.
  • We need individuals who are paying attention to the needs of our communities. Curriculums must engage in the full telling of history and the mission must be lived out.

24:54 – What are four institutions creating space for BIPOC scholars?

  • Hispanic Theological Institute, Forum for Theological Education, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, Asian Theological Summer Institute.
  • People of color must represent more than the 20% of faculty they represent today.
  • Fellowships are not enough. You must be able to change culture.

27:48 – What should predominately white institutions be doing now to ensure their institutions are more equitable, diverse and inclusive?

  • A DEI framework – diversity, equity, and inclusion – is non-negotiable and a DEI culture is required for faculty and students to thrive. Recruitment, hiring and retention must be worked into the model.
  • A portion of the institution’s operational balance must be devoted to DEI and included in the institution’s direction moving forward.
  • Diversity is demanded not only in a board’s presence, but in its thinking.

34:05 – When you imagine theological education, what would you like to see happen in the future?

  • We need a landscape that is more equitable, multi-ethnic and inclusive across all fields.
  • The fear mentality must be left behind.
  • Once we dream about opportunities, we can create the opportunities.
  • BIPOC stories must be valued, appreciated and better represented in the curriculum.
  • Diversity should not be perceived as a replacement strategy for white people but about the value all people contribute to this enterprise of religious education.
  • When 50% of religious education institutions’ student bodies are people of color, we need to embrace multi-ethnic histories and contributions.
  • Embracing and empowering diversity can help create leaders equipped to navigate challenges, achieve potential and be the gift for which the world is searching.

Episode 1 Transcript

Hosts: David M. Mellott & Deb Mullen
Guests: Rev. Joanne Rodriguez & Rev. Stephen Lewis

David Mellott (00:01):

Welcome to “Imagining the Future of Theological Education” a conversation bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today. This podcast series is coming to you from Christian Theological Seminary and with support from the Henry Luce Foundation. I’m Dr. David Mellott, president of Christian Theological and my co-host is Dr. Deborah Mullen, Leadership Education Consultant and Professor Emerita at Columbia Theological Seminary .In a series of conversations, Deb and I will be speaking with some of the folks who were part of our study group and other leaders who are informing the future of theological education. We’ll chat with faculty and seminary leadership as well as foundations and researchers exploring provocative questions related to scholarship, leadership and theological education. And while our chat will span a vast range of topics, one singular thread will run through every episode – imagining what the future of theological education could and should look like. So welcome to the conversation!

Deb Mullen (01:05):

So David and I thought we would start with a little backstory on how this podcast series came to be first we want to give thanks to the Henry Luce Foundation for a study grant that we had the privilege of leading starting in 2017, where David and I hosted a series of consultations across the country on the current and future direction in theological education. And it was really during these conversations and research that it became clear that while institutions face diverse issues, they share a common challenge to think strategically and imaginatively about the future, given the landscape of theological education today. So as the grant wrapped up, we were inspired to widen the conversation in order to share insights we gleaned with others involved in theological education and how our work is evolving.

David Mellott (02:05):

We’re glad to welcome our guests this afternoon with us, Reverend Stephen Lewis, president of the forum for theological exploration in Atlanta, Georgia, and Reverend Joanne Rodriguez, executive director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative housed at Princeton Theological Seminary. Today, we’ll be exploring the increasing demands for equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout theological education, particularly as they pertain to race and ethnicity. Welcome Stephen and Joanne.

Stephen Lewis (02:35):

It’s great to be with you.

Deb Mullen (02:37):

We are really so excited to have you two in particular as what I like to call our pod pairs, and you have the distinction and the honor, and we have the awesome responsibility of hosting you as our first guests. So thank you for jumping into this with us. My first question is going to be for Joanne. How has the HTI, Hispanic Theological Initiative, changed the face and focus of theological education in predominantly white institutions? The second part of that being, you can answer in any way you wish, what role does mentoring play in faculty development and formation?

Joanne Rodriguez (03:20):

First, I want to thank you, Deborah and David for inviting us to this conversation. As I was preparing for our 25th anniversary, that will begin in 2021, we were actually putting together some different powerpoints and we were reflecting on the before and the after of HTI. HTI was started in 1996 by Justo and Daisy Machado at Emory university and the program from its original form was built with community in mind, which meant that the scholars that participated in the program had to be rooted in their communities of faith. They did have to bring the skillsets to pursue a PhD, but they had to be a combination of both. And with that in mind, scholarship could not be divorced from community and our scholars have, since that time continue to be committed to community. This has been an important contribution to theological education because there’s always been a concern of scholars that theological education is kind of divorced from the church.

Joanne Rodriguez (04:36):

And so it wasn’t a way to ghetto-ize our scholars, but it was a way for them to stay grounded to their communities. And, because they came with a passion to serve those communities and to enhance those communities. So I feel that that’s one of the major contributions that HTI has made to the larger landscape of theological and religious education, not just one institution. Our scholarship, when they write the scholars, right, we’ve seen much more monographs written by Latino scholars in edited versions or several scholars writing to one topic. We’ve seen how they collaborate with each other on different projects to make a difference in theological education. Another way in which this community; we use a term in HTI called “en conjuntos” and “en conjuntos” is not just when you translated from Spanish to English can mean together, but for us it means much more than that.

Joanne Rodriguez (05:40):

It’s a way to identify the special values and ways in which we engage in institutions of learning and practice. “En Conjuntos” for us means community focused, genuine diversity, radical cooperation, and kingdom justice. It is a term that is extremely comprehensive, and that is about identity culture, church, the academy and the world. And to be genuine in our diversity, we are ecumenical, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-disciplinary in radical cooperation and in our partnerships we’re welcoming, we’re listeners, we’re democratic, and we strive for excellence through result driven programming. And in kingdom justice, we are equitable life giving and transformative. So these are the ways in which we feel that we’re impacting theological religious education and the mentoring component of HTI, what role does mentoring play in faculty development, has been crucial. In any new field there needs to be people that are willing to de-mystify the system for others. And I think the way that HTI has mentoring was set up was the senior scholars would support junior scholars and be outside partners of every institution in which that scholar was placed.

Joanne Rodriguez (07:05):

So there was a way to make sure that that became an objective partner and mentoring that student and navigating that doctoral program, and also confronting some challenges within the institution while also partnering with the institution to better understand their programming and what the expectations were for other students. So it was a way to keep the track record. The HTI has kept in terms of making sure that any Latino student that went into a PhD program completed it and graduated., But also when they finished, they will be networked into the system. They would understand how to interact and what were the essential components of interacting in that system like writing and lecturing and teaching so that they would become a contributing partner in theological ,religious education and be able to flourish once they got their PhD done. So I think that these are all very important ways in which we have contributed to the larger landscape. By doing it this way, we have partnered with 23 PhD granting institutions since 2010, and we’re supporting their PhD students at their institutions, but we’re also saving those institutions money because we have done studies where it cost an average of $250,000 to support a student in a PhD program. And when more than 50% of students are not finishing their PhD’s, that’s a waste of a tremendous amount of resources. Whereas with the amount in which they support HTI to support their own scholars, they end up contributing faculty, individuals and or leaders in the larger landscape of theological religious education. So it is also a great program in terms of stewardship of resources, of human, of infrastructure and financial resources.

David Mellott (09:14):

Joanne, do you see more Hispanic men and women interested in theological education going into PhD programs because of the work that you’re doing? You’ve been around, you know, 25 years now so there’s a lot of excitement about the work that HTI does. And I would imagine there would begin to see some of that evolution.

Joanne Rodriguez (09:31):

Yes, absolutely. Actually some of the students that have been invited to some of our programming have gone back to institutions that are not member schools, and they have negotiated their institution becoming a partner of HTI because they have been so excited about the space HTI provides to them the networks of partnerships. So that is one way in which we’ve gotten students that are doing the PhD studies not only become an HTI scholar, but also the institution wanting to be partners in the work that HTI does. We are seeing more and more Hispanic students, very interested in theological education. So we started out in 2010 as a consortium of 17 schools. And when we began that consortium, we had three students in the pipeline in 2020, we had 64 students in the pipeline.

David Mellott (10:30):

Wow. That’s Great.

Deb Mullen (10:31):

So profound. Almost every word you’ve spoken. David’s last question about how this is impacting the pipeline on the front end and your explanation of how it’s impacting on the backend. I think the other observation is implicit in all. This is how HTI has been kind of, surreptitiously, on the down low, changing cultures in the Academy. Do you see that?

Joanne Rodriguez (10:57):

Oh, absolutely. And that’s what I was trying to bring across with the “en conjuntos” way of doing theological education. I was actually thinking about this. To many times I’ve heard leaders complain about the space in which they occupy and their partners not wanting to collaborate. My experience has been the total opposite in the 21 years that I’ve been at HTI, I honestly can say that I enjoy working with all of our partners. I think that we’ve built a very collaborative model in which people are excited about the work that we do. They feel like they’re contributing to the work that we do and that they’re changing the landscape of theological and religious education. So we have worked in a system that somewhat, you know, PhD studies in general, isn’t elitist education.

Joanne Rodriguez (11:46):

Very few people have an opportunity to participate in PhD studies across the board, not just in theological religious education, but in all fields. I believe that the stat is 3% of the world population is able to obtain a PhD. And so I think that this model presents something where, yes, it is a formidable challenge in education, but we absolutely need to make it more accessible and also relational, if we’re going to have this type of scholarship, if we’re going to do this hard work, then how does it interact with and change and transform the world and not just be in silos where only a few individuals get to participate in these conversations. So I think that that is something that’s very different that we are bringing to theological religious education.

David Mellott (12:40):

Yeah, I mean, we’ve got a little time, maybe I’d ask one more follow-up and also invite Stephen to join in about the mentoring question, because I know that FTE is also very active in that area. But Joanne, I keep thinking you’re probably by now getting testimony about how the graduates of HTI, as they move into institutions of theological education, are probably challenging or contributing to the changing nature of faculties in these institutions in terms of what publishing looks like, what’s acceptable publishing, what teaching pedagogies look like. Could you share just a bit about that because I’m sure there’s probably some magnificent stories there.

Joanne Rodriguez (13:25):

Yep. Actually we have several recent books that have come out. Jared Alcántara’s Contributing to Preaching. He just published that book and being sought out by several different institutions, as well as schools. We’re going to have a scholar in 2021 that has written a study on church and church relations. Tito Madrazo, who that book will come out recently. We know about Miguel De La Torre who and Justo González, who since the beginning have done many different either individual monograms, but monograms in which individuals or edited versions of writings where several different. The other thing that we’ve seen is that Elizabeth Conde-Frazier did a wonderful work with an Asian scholar. Their scholarship is, we’re not just looking at one perspective of it, they’re looking at different perspectives of a field and trying to be engaging in those conversations and bringing different partners to speak about how there’s similarity in some of the work and the way we engage the world and where there are differences.

Joanne Rodriguez (14:28):

And I think that’s something that in this time with the pandemics that we’re living is very important and vital to bring to this context, which is that we need to start to see the histories of people, the connections that we have as human beings, and where is the difference, and how even in that difference can benefit each other with the difference and not be so divisive. The divisiveness is killing us and we have something important, not just the LatinX community, but the theological community, the religious community has something very important to contribute to the world and so we first have to get our act together and then building a United front to bring a different beat, a different perspective about how we engage in these conversations to bring more unity and more life-giving ways of participating in these conversations. And I think HTI scholars do that in their institutions.

Joanne Rodriguez (15:34):

So I talk to presidents and deans all the time. And one of the things that one of our presidents told me when we were having a conversation was that the HTI scholars of faculty, they had hired we modeling the mentoring that they were receiving from HTI with their own students and how that was making a difference in the progress that their students were making through their master level programs. So even in the practice of what they’ve learned in HTI, they bring that to their situations as well. So there’s the mentoring component, there’s the collaborative component, there’s the scholarship component that they are doing more “en conjuntos” within and outside of their situations when they are in professional meetings in their guild.

Deb Mullen (16:24):

For our listeners, because I can Google while you’re speaking, thats maybe A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation with Dr. Conde-Frazier and Steve Kang as the editors, the multi kingdom. Absolutely. That’s one of the texts out of many. So HTI scholars in the past 25 years, 53 of them have published over 116 books.

David Mellott (16:58):

FTE’s done a lot of work around mentoring as well. What kind of developments have you have you seen in faculties because of the mentoring work you’ve been doing?

Stephen Lewis (17:04):

Thanks for having me, David and Deb, and it’s good to join my colleague Joanne in this conversation. I mean, I think what we’re saying in mentoring is that mentoring continues to fall on the responsibilities of scholars of color, disproportionate for mentoring the next generation in particularly women and men of color. And so I think there’s a kind of taxation that happens among faculty of color who have to compete and be productive in their writing alone, so with their white colleagues, but had this extra burden of having to do more with fewer resources. And so I think that’s one of the things that we see. I think the other thing that we are seeing is that everybody who thinks they are a good mentor or not and I think we recognize that, you know, increasingly there’s an art to that.

Stephen Lewis (18:01):

There’s an art to good mentoring and there is a kind of skillset. And that goes along with that as well. And then thirdly, what I was saying what we’re seeing among faculty is that mentoring is not an individual act, but it is the act of a village. It takes a mentoring community, it takes a village or a mentoring community to raise up scholars. Most of us did not get to where we are on our own. And that goes for those who are on faculty and who we’re serving executive leadership. There has been a web, a network of people who have poured into you positively, or maybe even negatively about what you decide that you’re not going to do when you get into your respective roles in that regards. But it does take a community of mentors to kind of do this. So those are three things that I would say that we’ve seen in the mentoring space.

Stephen Lewis (18:54):

Just one thing of note we’ve been working with Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, with a grant they’ve brought some autobiographical reflections from scholars of color about the experience of being mentored in graduate schools. We’re in the process of publishing this piece, it has about 30 essays. The book will really be comprised of who should mentor, talk about mentoring in power and creating conditions for mentees to thrive. And I think was particularly about this particular piece on mentoring that it focused on there too, that highlights the unique challenges faced by doctoral students and faculty of color. I think what we also see with this particular piece are the challenges that ingrained in the kind of systemic racism and the web of that with regards to kind of colonist racism and violent systems, both within the Academy and in the structures that predate a lot of these kinds of programming. So that’s a piece that is forthcoming that we’re really excited about next year. So there’s not more to be said, but I’ll stop there.

David Mellott (19:56):

That sounds like an excellent resource and very much needed. I often think about not only my own experience, but also watching new faculty members entering into a community. And it’s almost like we are going to drop somebody in and then we’re just going to see what they do. And so we just observe them, but we don’t offer any systemic support for these new faculty members instead of, it’s almost kind of a new testing ground to say, well, let’s see if they can right-size themselves and learn the ropes without us doing anything, rather than saying it’s to everybody’s best interest that they succeed and that we help them succeed. So I think that’s really important.

Stephen Lewis (20:34):

Yeah. I mean, particularly when you look at the bottom line with Joanne is just raise how much people are investing in a student with regards to the doctoral programming. And, you know, you talk about the wraparound support that alone, the kind of financial and other kinds of implications for training folks. So, yeah, mentoring, I think benefits everyone, the rising tide of the mentoring boat improves mentoring for everyone. So I think the degree in which schools can do a better job at that, or commit to that, I think they can see the kind of benefit of their return on their investment.

Deb Mullen (21:09):

Just if I could get a word. The fact that both of your organizations have been at this. And I would want to say not only, but certainly primarily transforming culture in the Academy as I have observed your organizations over these years, that’s what you’ve been doing. And you know, in this climate of cancel this, cancel that, cancel culture. It’s not been your approaches to cancel, you know, or to disregard or, you know, disparage that for programs all along. There’s plenty of constructive criticism to go around, but rather the ways in which you have engaged transformation, I think, innovatively, and drawing, as Joanna said, and I know, Stephen , this is a part of your work too, drawing from the community, from the grassroots to infuse the culture of these institutions that have not, as David said, been attentive, you know, cause that’s not the culture. That’s remarkable that wasn’t a question that was, you know, that was a praise report.

Stephen Lewis (22:10):

We appreciate that.

Joanne Rodriguez (22:12):

Thank you, Deborah.

Stephen Lewis (22:13):

Yeah.

Joanne Rodriguez (22:14):

Yeah. I agree with you. I think that first of all, what we’re facing is not new to our communities. We’re always on the margins. That’s the reality, you know, and if we learn to live, not learn to get comfortable there, but learn that this is not new, then when these things happen, we also look for opportunity. And so what are the opportunities for our community now? And when do we speak up and challenge, you know, in the word is challenge and challenges in two ways, it’s accountability and persistence because it’s not going to change overnight. So HTI and FTE are very much needed in the academy because there needs to be individuals that are paying attention to the needs of our communities. We will not be needed anymore when every institution has multi-ethnic representation of administration, faculty, and leaders at the institutions. That’s when we won’t be needed anymore. When curriculums have multi-ethnic representation within them. When the full telling of histories are told at institutions, and when the mission is really lived out, not just spoken about. We are partners in this. We don’t come as a marginalized community. We come as partners to these communities. That’s when FTE and HTI and other Isaac, an Asian group and the native American, because we can’t leave them out of the conversation as well. That’s when we won’t be needed anymore, but we are absolutely needed now. And we need to come to the table saying, you need us and these are the reasons why we need to be at the table and working and partnering to address these concerns for our community, because we are not separated from these other communities. We need each other. And we are better when we are paying attention to the needs of everyone in the community. So I don’t see, it’s a lot of work, but I refuse to be in the place of, Oh, this is new or this is different. No, this is not new. This is not different. This has been, sometimes it gets a little easier and sometimes it’s full force ahead attack and it’s unfortunate, but this is the reality of our communities

Stephen Lewis (24:50):

Just to build on Joanne’s point, HTI FTE NAITES, for those who are not familiar, the North American Institute of Indigenous Theological Studies, as well as ATSI Asian Theological Summer Institute. These four institutions have been working on creating space for BIPOC scholars and theological executives for quite some time within the theological education. So these four institutions should be on every PWI radar screen. If you’re not familiar with these institutions, you need to get familiar and there should be no excuse why you’re not. For 60 years FTE has being kind of working at this and these are the institutions. Partners have come alongside doing the kind of deep, intentional work that needs to be done for the respect of constituency that they serve. But what we realize to your point, Deborah, is that less than 3%, 2% and 60, 68 to 2020, where we have 20% faculty color, we know that fellowships alone are not enough.

Stephen Lewis (26:03):

And what these institutions have been doing is creating… and for the industry, not for one institution, but for the industry in terms of the identification, that support, and the supply of quality, diverse theological executives and faculty member for the industry, which means that PWI institutions have outsourced that responsibility. We have not even attended to that responsibility. In the 21st century, if you’re going to be a world-class theological faculty and you have to have a diverse faculty. So we realized that fellowships and not enough that you have to be able to change culture. But when researchers are the pipeline for executive leadership in higher ed and graduate theological education. In particular, where do they go to learn the stuff of organizations, where do they go to be able to address the kind of systemic barriers in the institutions that mitigate their ability to have the kind of diverse theological faculty that they need?

Stephen Lewis (27:08):

Where do they go in order to learn change researchers that are trained in these kinds of things. So, you know, these kinds of institutions, HTI, FTE, ATSI, and NAITES who’ve been working to do this work primarily in historically around the, the scholarship and the support and the supply, but more work has to be done on how do you leave kind of a systemic institutional change. Because we know Peter Drucker’s famous Quip, which is, you know, culture eats strategy for breakfast, which is to, say that your best laid plans, even in graduate theological education as a theological executive will be undermined because of your culture.

David Mellott (27:48):

Steven, you kind of provide a great segue for kind of our next question. So what do you think predominantly white institutions should be doing right now to ensure that their institutions are more equitable, more diverse, more inclusive, especially in light of where we are right now? I think there’s probably lots that can be.

Stephen Lewis (28:07):

So I’ll just name three things and I’m gonna let Joanne jump into this. I think part of what PWI need is that they need a DEI framework. That is the say they need to develop a working definition of diversity or Diversity Equity Inclusion, and establish a framework for assessing their strategic and operational decisions. That’s baseline. Like if you don’t have a working definition across your institution, about what we mean, what we think, what we value in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, then you’re just giving lip service to this whole reality. The second thing is, is that they have to tend to a DEI culture. That is how do they create the conditions in their institutional culture for BIPOC scholars and administrators and executives to thrive. In other words, they got to create a culture that is about addressing the systemic barriers, the attitudes and behaviors that gets into what policies and procedures do we need to attend to.

Stephen Lewis (29:08):

As it relates to the faculty handbook, as it relates to the curriculum, as it relates to our PhD programs. It’s about looking at the reward and the incentive structures within our institution. Because this is a meritocracy within a lot of higher education, but particularly this reward and incentive structure for work production, behavior and support work, do we want to de-incentivize and what kind of behaviors do we want to incentivize? And then it’s about prioritizing recruitment hires, retention based off of their school’s, kind of, working definition and framework of diversity equity inclusion. And then finally, what I would say is that all of this means nothing if you do not allocate a portion of your institution’s operational budget towards this commitment. Don’t tell me what we can do, and that we’re committed to X, Y, Z. Show me a balance sheet, show me your budget. That would demonstrate to the degree in which you actually committed this. So you can’t do these things and not allocate a portion of your budget towards these things. That’s not the way the institutional change, or how are you going to change or how culture will happen if you don’t put your money where your mouth is, what would you say, Joanne?

Joanne Rodriguez (30:24):

I totally agree, but I would even go further to say, not a portion. This has to be part of your financial plan moving forward, because what happens is, is that you start small and it’s still on the margins. And I also think that the board, you know, we talk about faculty, we talk about the president, we talk about administration, but the board is who hires the president and the board who makes decisions about the direction of an institution. The board also gives money to the institution. And so how diversified is the board, not only in their presence, but also in their thinking. And the reality is, is that we also have to be realistic about those expectations. And sometimes they don’t start quickly. It’s like a submarine and move it in the water. So I think it’s, where’s your low hanging fruit in each institution and make a conscientious effort to begin, to give direction.

Joanne Rodriguez (31:24):

And like you said, put your money, you know, put your actions to where your words, because we have institutions that write beautiful mission statements. We have individuals within institutions that really want to do right by that institution. And yet they can’t because the institution is too driven and another path. So we also, as multi-ethnic people, I don’t like the wording of color because white is a color. So I refuse to use that term. As multi-ethnic people who want to put our words into action, we need to discern where are we getting some traction and also to discern, if we’re not getting any traction and an institution, we are valuable enough to move and go somewhere else and not be so fearful about staying in an institution that continues to kill us. There are a lot of scholars that are dead inside. They’re going through the motions.

Joanne Rodriguez (32:27):

And because we have a community, we have to come to the community and we have to be a community also. And when I say that, it’s like, we support each other and we find ways, create new paths. And like I said before, there are opportunities in this pandemic and we have to think about the opportunities and not think, well, we have to stay in this and die because this is the only way to do this. This is our reality that we do have to deal with, but it’s not the only reality. So how do we find the places that do allow us to thrive and do allow us to take maybe baby steps and also understand that it takes persistence and it takes accountability. And it takes time. I’ve been at this for 21 years and we’re just getting to a place where we’re starting to see some advancement. So this doesn’t happen overnight at these institutions. And we have to be realistic about our expectations.

Stephen Lewis (33:29):

And I would just add to what Joanne said, David, that it’s not a zero sum game. I mean, Joanne’s right. It’s about where are the low hanging fruits and where do we start? You’re not going to change your entire institution overnight to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, but you can figure out where can we start, where are the small places where we can start and experiment and then how then can we feed that and grow that over time and expand that within to a larger organization. So, Joanne, I agree with everything that she said, it’s right.

David Mellott (34:05):

So imagining the future of theological education, what would you like to see happen?

Joanne Rodriguez (34:11):

I really love this work. It’s crazy that I say that, but I really do love it. I get excited by the growth of the scholarship. I am excited about the partnerships, excited about the opportunities. And I just want to see us continue to move to a landscape that is more equitable. I don’t expect it ever to be perfect. That’s unrealistic. It hasn’t happened since the beginning of time, but I dream of something more inclusive. I really look forward to seeing more panels that are more multi-ethnic represented and any one of the fields that we begin to write more collectively and share ideas in different fields in history and biblical studies and theology. So see more of an interaction between these theologies and between the biblical studies and between the histories. I think that would be very exciting. And I also would like to see more engagement in every other field.

Joanne Rodriguez (35:16):

I think theological education brings a lot of value to every other field out there and discipline. And I would like to see more of that multi-disciplinary work and there’s opportunities for that instead of us working in silos, not only with the church, but with law and health and histories of telling of histories and the art forms, we have so much to contribute. And I think we really are missing out on a lot of opportunities that would make theological education much more exciting. And we wouldn’t have to be in adversity mode that we think we could be in a very opportunity based mode all the time, but we’ve kind of adopted this fear mentality that is out there in the air. We have a word in Spanish and it’s not a good word, but it’s like Laughing) and I don’t know if I should mention or not. (Laughing) It’s Pendejada, you can’t really, you can’t really like define it, but it’s out there, it’s in the air. And so I think we need to get out of that fear zone and think more like we have opportunities and we need to dream about them. And once we dream, we can create, you know, we think about dreams and the Bible, People dreamed and then it to happen or how the Holy spirit kind of impassions your heart for something. We have that. So why aren’t we using that capacity instead of being in a fear mode?

Stephen Lewis (36:54):

Yeah, I would just say the future of theological education. My hope is that it is a place where BIPOC stories are valued. They appreciate it, and they are more represented within our curriculum about what black and Brown and other diverse groups of people have been thinking about God; Who’ve been wrestling with the ideas about God and who have been really trying to answer the questions on behalf of their community’s well-being. I want to see that more reflected within the future theological education. I want diversity to not be perceived as a replacement strategy for white folks, but it’s a place where we see that diversity is about the valuing that all of us can contribute to this particular enterprise. And to know that we each have a particular role, I mean so much within theological education, just even, how do we present it is from one particular center, one particularly history.

Stephen Lewis (37:55):

It’s about Tracing Christianity that has come through Europe and as if no other places on the planet had any histories about how this particular tradition was kind of formulated. In the 21st century, like, we can’t be okay with that. When 50% of our student bodies are already persons of color, they want to be able to see and hear stories and hear theological reflections that reflect who they are. Within the disability community they have this idea that nothing for us without us is really about us. So if theological education cannot at least embrace that type of mantra, then I think that it will be a deficit to what could be in the future. And so my hope is that, you know, that we have a future that also recognizes that the center is plural, that there is no one particular center and that we move beyond our idolatry of the forms in which theological education is delivered and recognize that always has been.

Stephen Lewis (38:58):

And hopefully that we can continue to support and to resource the multiple ways in which theological education needs to be delivered into the future. And that is about embracing and valuing the multiple forms in which the theological education can be and should be shared and be a resource for the diversity’s of communities that are looking for the kinds of leaders that will help them navigate the uncertainties, the challenges so that they can reach their greatest potential and thrive, and be a gift and be the medicine that the community and broader world are in search of a moment.

Deb Mullen (39:37):

You know, there’s this expression, all good things must come to an end as a richness and a depth of wisdom and experience that’s been shared here today for which there are hardly words. And to say that this is the beginning of this series and that you two have brought the kind of, I want to use this word because I like it, gravitas to this conversation is absolutely so encouraging. This has not been a hand ringing kind of session. I mean, so much of what we have seen in other places is this hand ringing, you know, and this pronouncement much premature about theological education being dead. And certainly it has not been an experience that I have participated in to pronounce that premature death. And in fact, our study, in fact, reinforced that there is so much good stuff going on out there that our institutions could really benefit from, learn from, thrive on. But because it’s outside of the purview of these monolithic communities with this monolithic epistemology, with this monolithic culture that often gets missed. And so this podcast and continuing the conversations that we’ve begun with our study group is a way of widening the possibilities of more of this kind of hopeful and not just hopeful words, but productive conversation to go on.

David Mellott (41:05):

I was just going to say that, I think during this time of pandemic, we’ve had lots of challenges, certainly, but one of the things I think that’s come out of it as we have learned to navigate more online experiences and online teaching is that we’ve learned a lot of things about ourselves as institutions. And we’ve learned about some capacities that we’ve had maybe that we didn’t think we had, but we’re also learning things about the fact that when you teach online, the instructor has to enter into the world of the students, not simply have the student come in, the professors world where we sit in a classroom and we invite all our students in instead of actually literally see into their worlds. And I have to figure out how to navigate that conversation in that location. And secondly, I think that this engagement with online education has fostered greater conversation around education and around epistemology about how do we know what we know and how do people learn? And I’m not saying we have all the answers at this point, but I, it excites me to think that we’re talking about education again and about how people learn, because I felt like for so long, we’ve just taken it for granted at great, great cost. So I do think there are lots of things to be excited about at this moment in history to these comments today, your comments today just make me even more excited. So I’m so grateful.

Deb Mullen (42:25):

That’s a great way to end, you know, an important conversation that will go on and we know it will go on, but we have to with great humility and appreciation. And thank you, our guests, our friends, Reverend Stephen Lewis, and Reverend Joanne Rodriguez joining us today. It’s almost ridiculous to say that you have given us a lot to think about as we face the future of theological education, but it has to be said because it’s such good stuff that we want to pass it on. So the conversation is by no means over and there will be more episodes in this series, but we are grateful for those who began with us on this maiden voyage. We hope our listeners will check out what is to come from this place.