Excluding others—whether women, gays or people of color—is bad for human communities, says Thistlethwaite. The sin of exclusion is fundamentally corrupting to churches and communities: they are not experiencing the full breadth of human gifts and human liabilities that come through inclusiveness.

Photo by Dick Fish/Smith College
Strike banner calling for “power to the people” in front of Mary Ellen Chase House.

The Age of Religion

Although political observers 25 years ago predicted that religion would disappear almost completely in the 21st century, Thistlethwaite contends that this is the “age of religion.”

Religious fervor and religion have increased significantly as forces in local, regional and world politics, especially in the last decade, in the United States and other countries.

The effect on theological education, she says, will force more change in the next decade than at any time since the Reformation.

Seminaries, especially the mainline institutions, are “singularly unprepared to deal with the new place of religion and its relationship to broad social and political forces,” says Thistlethwaite.

Mainline institutions tend to be insular and preoccupied with each one’s own narrow niche in religion, she says. “The net result is that most seminaries are preparing pastors for a church that is disappearing in a world that is bleeding from a lack of visionary religious leadership. These institutions will either need to change to respond to the need for a different kind of religious leader for the 21st century or they will wither with irrelevance.”

Although she disagrees with the focus of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian seminaries, Thistlethwaite says “These institutions are more often seriously taking stock of the global and interfaith implications of theological education today.

“I think it is also the role of seminaries in the mainline to step up to providing lay education for this emerging world and to foster imaginative responses among lay people in their own church leadership.

“It is imperative for seminaries to educate laity in the deep truths of the Gospel to help them resist manipulation by crass political strategists who want to use the churches to ‘get out the vote’ for a particular candidate or party.”

Next year, after two five-year terms as president, Thistlethwaite plans to step down from her post as president and return to the classroom, where she taught for 16 years at CTS prior to becoming president.

“Ten years is enough,” she says. “It’s an incredibly difficult job. People who have not sat in these chairs have no idea how difficult it is to be a seminary president today.”


Patrick O’Neill is a freelance writer who lives in Garner, N.C.

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