To What Will (We) Compare This Generation?

July 2, 2020 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

What do you think of when you read the opening line of this week’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 11:16 as Jesus asks the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation?” It reminds me of what must be a perennial parental saying that goes something like, “Today is tomorrow’s memory, make today worth remembering!” Did your mom or dad say something like this to you? There is little doubt that generations that follow will find this a year worth remembering, but how and what will they remember also depends on us.

In the midst of at least two pandemics endangering the health and well-being of humanity, one a virus passed through droplets from our bodies and the other an ideology and sickness of white supremacy somehow impressed into our DNA that we spread in our communities, families and policies, we may neglect to see some other history-making events happening around us.

In fact, two historic biennial meetings took place last week. One was 224th General Assembly of the PC(USA), where we elected Co-Moderators who are blazing new trails, and another meeting led by three Presbyterians, the 2024 Biennial meeting of the Association of Theological Schools(ATS) and its companion organization, the Commission on Accrediting (COA).

Presbyterians may not be familiar with why the ATS/COA, but as I have said for over a decade, these organizations matter greatly to our mission and ministry in the PC(USA). For example, the ATS is the only non-Presbyterian organization named in our PC(USA) Book of Order. In G-2.0607, the Final Assessment and Negotiation for Service, section “c.” requires that those preparing for ordination must produce a transcript from a theological institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools acceptable to the presbytery, showing a course of study including Hebrew and Greek, exegesis of the Old and New Testaments using Hebrew and Greek, satisfactory grades in all areas of study, and graduation or proximity to graduation.

On Thursday of last week, June 25, the standards for accrediting and accompanying policies and procedures were revised to enhance the quality, clarity, and flexibility of member theological schools in the United States and Canada. They called it a “Once-in-a-generation Motion.” Only three other times in the century of the ATS and its predecessors have the standards been revised this dramatically. In 1936, they fit on one page. That number multiplied to 30 pages in 1972 and then 85 pages in 1996. By 2019 the standards were nearly 100 pages. The action last week refocuses the standards on core educational principles rather than specific institutional practices and reduces the page count to just18 pages!

Leanne Van Dyk

This all took place with three Presbyterians in key leadership roles: Brian Blount, President of Union Presbyterian Seminary, served as president of the board of the ATS. Leanne Van Dyk, President of Columbia Theological Seminary, served as chair of the board of the Commission on Accrediting. Frank Yamada, former president of McCormick Theological Seminary, is the Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools. Numerous other Presbyterians were also involved in key roles in the lead up to the meeting and decisions made.

Dr. Yamada’s Opening Plenary of the Association address is his own answer “to what will this generation compare?” (Listen from 9:25- 22:20) In it he starts with 1918, the year that American and British troops entered Germany and signaled an end to end World War One, but also the year of the advent of airmail, a widely affordable automobile, the invention of the zipper and toaster as well as dreaded “Curse of the Bambino” that began when the Boston Red Sox traded star player Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The Red Sox went from winning five of the first fifteen World Series titles to 86 years without a title! Finally, Yamada adds the great flu pandemic to the 2018 list of momentous 1918 events in his 2020 address as well as the 1921 Race Massacre in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK known as Black Wall Street. In the latter, hundreds of African Americans were killed, and at least 1,000 houses were destroyed over two days: May 31-June 1, 1921. He concludes his introduction and history lesson by saying, “Life was very different in 1918; there is no doubt. Life was different but in some ways, history repeats.”

Frank Yamada and Brian Blount

Frank goes on to share how history is repeating now that I have included in an extended quote below. What will future generations remember about this moment? Frank puts it this way (emphasis added),

These are the moments around which history books are written and re-written. This is a moment in which failures of leadership become glaring reminders of our unwillingness to face realities right in front of us, where leaders emerge from the pulpit and the synagogue, from the halls of the academy and the streets and the public square to point to a better way. This is a moment.

We stand at the center of possibly a once in a lifetime, as Frank puts it, “convergence of social, structural, and moral crises.” Leadership … leadership from our pulpits, academies, streets, and public squares are needed now as much and maybe more than ever for this moment.

God in your mercy….

Grateful, Lee

Opening to the Rev. Dr. Frank M. Yamada’s Executive Director of ATS’s Address, June 24, 2020:

History repeats. Through an insidious virus that takes the lives of millions of people with inadequate responses from people and systems that were (are) incapable of addressing the health crisis medically, the human crisis morally, and the social crisis structurally. History repeats through the massacre of black lives in communities all in the name of preservation of a system of white supremacy that simultaneously sought to preserve one way of life and destroying the lives of people of color; denying them the basic values of human dignity, community, and sufficient means to attain and to sustain that life.

Life was very different, but history repeats. In theological education, this statement is also true. In 1918 the question about theological schools that would hold for decades holds true for today. Was the enterprise financially sustainable? Was the quality of the schools and the practices of the schools sufficient? Were the schools training leaders for the Church in ways that would meet the needs of the Church and society?

All of these questions have become even more poignantly relevant, given the convergence of social, structural, and moral crises that we are currently facing. What is also true about the past is that theological schools, embedded in each of the mission statements of the broad family of ATS schools, are the focus on the formation of religious and moral leaders who can lead in these times of significant change and crisis.

This is a moment.

These are the moments around which history books are written and re-written. This is a moment in which failures of leadership become glaring reminders of our unwillingness to face realities right in front of us, where leaders emerge from the pulpit and the synagogue, from the halls of the academy and the streets and the public square to point to a better way.

This is a moment.

 

The ATS Biennial Meeting opened last week with a webinar on Tuesday, June 23, Black Lives Matter: Where Do We Go from Here? That is probably a great place to start our next steps too.