News & Insights

The July 6 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education included a reflection by Brandon G. Withrow about why he left his position at Winebrenner Theological Seminary.

He left his job behind because he left his faith behind.

While I don’t know Withrow, and the story is undoubtedly more complex than he can explain in a short column, it’s rare that a faculty member is so forthright about his own abandonment of faith, and how it can lead directly to unemployment.

On his personal blog, Withrow has links to some of the reaction to his column, which he says has been generally positive.

The article offers a view points that boards might want to consider:

  • Withrow left his seminary teaching position quietly, without making a fuss. Realizing that he could no longer in good conscience teach religion from within the seminary community, he chose to step away. Withrow should be commended for his discretion.
  • Withrow might have been able to stay on forever, quietly disbelieving, while retaining his teaching position. Instead, with the support of his spouse, he chose to resign and reinvent himself. For a faculty member with a full-time job, this is a bold choice, because there so few academic positions. He may never have another full-time teaching job.
  • There is both sadness and satisfaction in Withrow’s departure. I personally find it sad when a person loses his faith, but it’s oddly satisfying to know that Withrow is content with his choice, confident that he acted with personal integrity.

There are undoubtedly many seminary faculty that have quietly made a different choice. Faced with the prospect of unemployment or underemployment, they choose to stay on even when their sincere commitment to the school’s mission — and the mission of the larger church — is gone.

I wonder if there are ways that seminaries could commend Withrow’s road less traveled without celebrating his loss of faith.

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