Beliefs have a way of shifting with time and learning. A regular part of my job is to spend time on college, university, and seminary websites. Indeed, an editor in my field has to know quite a bit about institutional affiliations. No matter how much secularists dislike it, our institutions of higher education tended, historically, to be founded by religious organizations. That’s not unexpected since the very idea of higher education grew organically from the concept of monasteries as the places that preserved learning. Many, if not most, universities have grown away from their founders’ faiths. Harvard University, for example, was founded largely for the supply of Congregational and Unitarian clergy. Not officially affiliated, it nevertheless owed its founding vision to religious needs in the colony. The fact of moving away from religious traditions is understandable in the cases of universities because learning is essentially a secular enterprise now.
Seminaries are a little different. When searching for my first (and, to date only) full-time teaching job, I was acquired by Nashotah House because I was Episcopalian. All the faculty were. I’ve been turned down for a good many jobs over the years by seminaries silently stating that I wasn’t Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist or ________ (fill in the blank). Ironically, as I’ve come to know many seminary faculty members through work, most of them are not of the same denomination as their institution. Quite often they are Bible faculty, which, when you think about it, is pretty surprising. Denominations, especially Protestant ones, draw their lines in the sand over their interpretation of Scripture.
All of this leaves me wondering what it really means to belong to a religious body. After Nashotah House sympathetic Episcopalians were difficult to locate. Even those in the academy seemed to accept my sudden disappearance with a studied lack of curiosity. I’ve sat on the sidelines for a decade and a half now, watching others play the game. Some win. Many do not. Some have denominations that open up for them. Others do not. Looking back at the origins of higher education, those of us who studied the original academic field are now considered non-essential even among the non-essentials. And yet society feels like it’s reeling because of its lack of understanding regarding what religion is. There are few places to go to learn what your particular brand teaches. But then again, beliefs do have a way of shifting over time.