This was the theme of a recent leadership conference hosted by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. After reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, the board chair of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bishop Claude Alexander, invited participants to think about who our neighbors really are. During the conference, we were challenged to examine our definition of “neighbor” and to take a hard look at our biases and the boundaries we set that may limit who we include in this group. The goal was to open ourselves up and to grow closer to those whom we don’t consider our neighbors.
I have been reflecting on this idea during the months since the conference, and I’m finding that the need to listen to new and overlooked voices resonates in all of my work — professional and personal.
Leaders of theological education work in a small niche; there are only about 275 seminaries and other institutions accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. When considering issues of importance and when exploring opportunities, there is sometimes a tendency to look inward — to turn to our own circles, faith traditions, and institutional models. Many of us confer primarily with close peers and regular stakeholders, and the trusted voices of board members, administrators, faculty, and peers. That’s important in our work. But is it enough?
How often do we invite in voices from unexpected neighbors — those who may offer new insight, wisdom, and viewpoints? Do we try to listen to perspectives that might not match our own — those who follow an approach that is different from ours, or stakeholders whose voices we tend to overlook? These may be external voices, students, graduates, those in the pews and communities in which our graduates serve, leaders of institutions.
Hear their voices in this issue of In Trust.
Hear the voices of seminarians and graduates who are seeking educational opportunities for ministering to those living with disabilities — many of them calling for greater attention to this important subject — in David Sumner’s article on theology and disability. And in “The Long-Term Effects of Student Debt,” hear how this crisis affects life decisions, families, communities, and the overall economy. Hear how faculty, administrators, and boards have roles to play in mitigating the impact of debt on graduates and the communities in which they serve.
Hear the voices of the church, denominational leaders, and the students who are seeking theological education while remaining in their own contexts in the article on schools that are following a competency-based theological education (CBTE) approach. And let’s not forget voices from the past brought alive through Martin Doblmeir’s documentaries — the prophetic voices of Dorothy Day, Richard Niebuhr, and Howard Thurman. These voices continue to offer wisdom and an educational opportunity to reflect on how we are living theology today.
Perhaps by listening to the voices of our neighbors — and taking the time to reflect on who our neighbors are — we will be inspired to think, imagine, and explore in new ways. Or perhaps by doing so we will renew our own commitments to what we are now doing.
I hope this issue inspires us all to consider which voices we are hearing, which voices we are overlooking, and which new voices we can invite in.