Ministers as Public Theologians
His movie reviews are fun, but I'd like to call your attention to his response to a conversation we're having in the comments section over at Philocrites.
In the original conversation, Philocrites posted about the Commission on Appraisal's study of theological unity within Unitarian Universalism, which led to a wider discussion of who might be able to, or called to, or empowered to, articulate such a unity. Should it be the staff at 25 Beacon Street leading the charge? The seminaries? Currently active ministers? Laymen and women?
And who finances such an effort? I know from personal experience that a $60K debt from my M.Div. leaves a Ph.D or Th.D impossible to pursue, unless I manage to hook some really rich guy who wants to support me and pay back the U.S. Dept. of Education while I study.
I'm not even sure I'd be able to quit the parish even if that happened -- I love it too much. And shouldn't a theologian be firmly located within the community of faith? IMHO, we don't need more academic theologians. We need living theology, worked out and tested against the realities of the church.
So you all know what I'm doing: I'm going at snail's pace for a D.Min., a much lighter-weight degree that will be earned in painful inches over late nights and early mornings between other ministerial duties. I hope to be able to make some small contribution to a richer Unitarian Universalist life through my doctoral project, but I certainly don't expect to add anything original or brilliant to the theological conversation.
In the comment section over at Philocrites, Fausto snottily charges that although our current crop of ministers are "wonderful and compassionate people," (talk about damning praise!) he doubts that our theological talent is wide or deep. From the sound of it, we're good at holding hands in the hospital and going to rallies, but our preaching is theologically vapid.
I had a few things to say about that, which you can read here:
But really. Not only is this assessment bone-headed because of its broad and unkind generalization (I immediately wondered how many sermons Fausto could possibly have heard or even read by a great sampling of our ministers), it shows a remarkable lack of acquaintance with the expectations placed on ministers which actively interfere with their ability to act as serious theologians.
I know dozens and dozens of ministers who have so much more theological erudition than is ever revealed in their sermons, or in their conversation. Whether Unitarian Universalist or other, I can say for sure that the ministers of my acquaintance barely dare reveal how much they know, how much they understand, how deeply they resonate with particular theological concepts, how hard they've thought about it, how much they think about it, and where they specifically locate themselves within their various traditions. Again and again, ministers find that to do so opens them to risks of accusation that they are elitist, that they are just showing off their "book larnin'," and that all this deep thinking is of no use to the everyday arts of ministry. So most ministers I know find two or three laymen or women they know also treasure theological rumination and go deeply into such exploration with them or with colleagues, while otherwise hiding their theological lights under the bushel of professional survival.
I doubt that this is true for rabbis, which may be exactly why Judaism manages to survive despite the world's ardent efforts to violently eradicate it, and Jews themselves.