Berkeley, CA – For the first time, The American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW), in partnership with the PICO National Network, will launch this summer a Public Theology Certificate Program focused on societal issues. ABSW and PICO will seek to recruit clergy, non-ordained congregational leaders as well as faith based community leaders to be part of this exciting new program. Applicants can learn more at www.absw.edu/publictheology.
The 5-course 18-month program is designed to fill the gap between what current seminary curriculum offers and the need for activist clergy to bring their spiritual perspective to the most pressing issues of the day. Classes will cover issues ranging from morality & society to community organizing. Ministers will also be expected to participate in a placement at a community organization working to expand opportunities for justice.
From the Black Lives Matter movement to the challenges of the current political climate, the country is witnessing dynamics that will shape the next decade or more of our nation’s political and social debate. That’s why ABSW and PICO have launched this effort.
“America is facing a dramatic new set of ethical and moral challenges for which traditional training/formation of clergy has found itself to be inadequate. These challenges are played out not just inside the church but also in the community. In order for contemporary clergy to be effective there has to be a new awareness on how to engage community concerns. This is why the seminary has chosen to partner w/PICO,” said LeAnn Snow Flesher, VP of Academic Affairs at ABSW.
Tension is growing in communities across our country. There is ever-increasing frustration and anger over promises made and promises broken by those in positions of power. Sadly, faith leaders have been hard-pressed to help their congregations understand and respond to these changes.
“The events of the last decade have made it clear that our society yearns for courageous prophetic leaders who are prepared to inspire, speak out, and help organize their congregations, their peers, and their communities in ways that not only shape the debate, but the outcome of the critical moral and ethical issues of the day,” said Michael-Ray Mathews, Director of Clergy Organizing, PICO USA. “Unfortunately, few seminaries are currently structured to prepare clergy for this type of leadership,” he added, “but ABSW has stepped forward and they are uniquely equipped as one of the most diverse seminaries in the US.”
The ABSW/PICO partnership for the creation of a program in Public Theology has been made possible by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
ABSW is a laboratory for building communities of Christian hope, justice, and reconciliation. We gladly welcome students from other faith traditions. Our mission is supported by a faculty that is representative of the constituencies we serve, competent in scholarship, skilled in teaching, experienced in ministry, and dedicated to the work of social justice.
The PICO National Network has a 44-year track record of equipping grassroots faith leaders and those most impacted by injustice with the tools to organize their communities to make concrete policy change that advances racial and economic justice in the United States.
Berkeley, CA, May 1, 2017 — At its annual meeting on the Berkeley campus this past weekend, the Board of Trustees of the American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW) unanimously elected Rev. Dr. James E. Brenneman as their new president. In June he will step down after three successful terms as president of Goshen College in Indiana, and will assume his duties at ABSW in August.
A year ago the school was saddened by the tragic death of its previous president, Dr. Paul Martin. After securing the services of Rev. Dr. Nick Carter to serve as President for the Interim, the school launched into a 12 month national search that ended this week in Brenneman’s selection. “We are thrilled with the breadth of experience Jim brings to the position,” said Rev. Dr. Marcia Patton, ABSW Board Chair. “He has proven success in ministry, higher education, fundraising, and scholarship. We couldn’t have asked for more.”
Brenneman is an ordained minister of Mennonite Church USA and was the founding lead pastor of Pasadena (CA) Mennonite Church where he served for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a senior associate in leadership development for U.S. Ministries of World Vision from 1983-1986. For fifteen years, he also served on the faculty at Episcopal Theological School at Claremont (CA) in Old Testament scholarship. He received his BA from Goshen College, his MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary and at Claremont Graduate University he earned both a MA in religious studies and a PhD, with a focus in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies.
The Search Committee was chaired by trustee Rev. Stephen Bils, the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast. Upon Brenneman’s election Bils said: “It was a rigorous search that looked at many qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds, but Jim excelled them all. We were impressed by the scope of his experience, the clear success he has had in fundraising, and the deep commitment he has to issues of diversity.” While at Goshen, Brenneman, who attended school and church in the Cuban quarter of Ybor City (Tampa), oversaw the percent of undergraduates who are Hispanic grow from 4 percent (2006-07) to 20 percent (2016-17) in a student body of nearly 1000 students, 38% of which are now students of color.
Reached for comment just after his election, Dr. Brenneman shared his enthusiasm for the prospect of serving at ABSW. “I truly feel like I’m coming home to a seminary among a union of seminaries similar to my experience in Southern California; coming home to California where Terri and I lived most of our adult lives; coming home to serve with other ecumenically-minded, progressive Baptists; coming home to a seminary with a uniquely diverse campus, a mission that lies at the core of my identity and life experience. I look forward to helping the American Baptist Seminary of the West realize its bold and ambitious vision for years to come.”
When asked about the break with tradition in hiring a Mennonite to lead a Baptist school, the Academic Dean, Rev. Dr. LeAnn Flesher, noted that it is an easy match: “Mennonites are historic Anabaptists whose values closely align with those of the American Baptist Churches, particularly our shared believe in adult or “believers” baptism.” She observed, “People should realize that “Anabaptist” doesn’t mean “anti” Baptist, but rather “re-baptizer,” a label which refers a shared belief of Baptists and Mennonites in adult baptism over infant baptism. Mennonites also have an historic commitment to peace which is highly valued at ABSW.” Dr. Flesher finished saying, “while ABSW’s commitment to the American Baptists is arterial to our identity, the reality is that there are nearly 30 different religious traditions present in our student body. That should make a comfortable home for Dr. Brenneman. We are genuinely excited about his coming.”
The American Baptist Seminary of the West was founded in 1871 and is the center of Baptist ecumenical theological education in the western US. It was one of the earliest colleges in California, moving successively from Vacaville to Oakland and then Berkeley, taking the name Berkeley Baptist Divinity School. In 1968 it merged with California Baptist Theological Seminary to become ABSW. Now in its 145th year the historic graduate school offers the traditional ministerial degree of Master of Divinity (MDiv) as well as Master of Community Leadership (MCL) and Doctorate of Ministry (DMin) degrees. Through its founding role in the consortial partnership known as the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) students can also receive an academic MA or a PhD degree. ABSW is recognized nationally for its diversity, being only one of 10 seminaries in the US that are designated as “multi-racial/multi-cultural,” indicating that no one racial or cultural group is in the majority.
For more information, contact Rev. Dr. LeAnn Snow Flesher, VP & Dean, 510-841-1905 ext 236, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To All ABSW Korean Students, Staff, Faculty, Trustees, and Alums:
While tensions on the Korean peninsula are decades old, recent events and statements have not only brought those difficulties into sharp relief, but alarmingly reintroduced the threat of nuclear holocaust to the escalating moment. Given the near adolescent bellicosity of the principal players in this confrontation, we all have reason to be alarmed. The growing nuclear weapons capability of North Korea and the increasingly confrontational and militaristic actions of our own government have given rise to fear and concern in every corner of the world, but perhaps nowhere greater than among those who live in Korea or who have families who do.
Today is Good Friday. It is a time when every Christian is painfully reminded of how the Prince of Peace was crucified in a time of suspicion, fear, and ignorance. We who would be Christ’s disciples are called to reflect upon and be ever-mindful of his crucifixion, seeing its message as not mere history, but as a present reality. Thus, we cannot remain silent as our Korean brothers and sisters tremble in anxiety while their nations posture and flex with such horrific weapons at the ready.
The possession of nuclear weapons, to threaten their use, or to actually do so is to play God, which is a sin. It is not only an act of unparalleled hubris, but it is to assume equivalency with the Creator of humankind. Those who are forced to live under the ominous cloud of such sinfulness suffer in untold ways. The nuclear presence and its implication of massive death and destruction only lead to psychic numbing and a disease of pessimism about the future. When leaders of nations with such weapons then threaten their actual use, the anxiety it produces is cancerous to the very fabric of that nation’s culture and identity, for the reality is that whoever is so foolish to use nuclear weapons condemns their nation to a devastating counter-attack. A generation ago we called it a deterrent and named it mutually-assured destruction (MAD). It was more than a theory then and it is more than a theory now. Its fatal flaw, of course, was that MAD assumed the other side would act rationally. We understand that flaw now, better perhaps than we ever have. We are acutely aware of the presence and consequence of irrational actors.
We must give witness to our faith. Thus, we condemn the development of any nuclear weapon. We condemn our complicity and lack of moral persuasiveness as a possessor of these weapons who would rail against others having them. It is we who made them the hallmark of power. In all cases we condemn the threat to use them, for in such threats any claim to being a wise and responsible possessor is erased.
We must give witness to our faith. We offer our compassion, concern and care to all who are forced to live and breathe in the atmosphere of nuclear threats. May God hold you tenderly and grant you courage.
Today, Good Friday, we stand in the shadow of the Gethsemane and commit to work and pray for peace, knowing that resurrection is possible.
Rev. Nick Carter
President for the Interim
on behalf of the faculty
American Baptist Seminary of the West at
The Graduate Theological Union