Since August 2013, the Kingdom Diversity initiative at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) addresses two issues: raising the voice of diverse cultures and of women on its campus.
Bruce Ashford, provost of SEBTS, said, “At the cabinet level, we began to discuss how we in the seminary community could best reflect God’s love for His world and best minister to our given context.
“In order to do so, we need for our seminary community to reflect the future kingdom, which will be composed of worshippers from every tribe, tongue, people and nation … To be able to minister to multiple cultures and ethnicities in the United States that God has sent us, we need to have stakeholders from those cultures and ethnicities – such as non-Anglo faculty members – who speak into the life of our seminary helping to shape our curriculum, our courses and our campus environment.”
Toward that end, Southeastern hired Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity, Edgar Aponte, director of Hispanic leadership development, and two female faculty members, Denise O’Donoghue, assistant professor of ministry to women and Adrianne Miles, assistant professor of English and linguistics.
Walter Strickland works as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s special adviser to the president for diversity.
Strickland said SEBTS is trying to equip “each faculty member to apply the content of their discipline to contexts beyond their own, as well as draw upon the cultural experiences in the classroom to enhance the ‘reach’ of the course content.”
This will be done through faculty development workshops and curriculum reform. SEBTS believes its faculty will assist students to better serve people who do not share the same ethnic and cultural background.
The school has added “Black Theology” (January 2014), “Hermeneutics in Spanish” (January 2014), “Reaching Hispanics Around the Globe” (January 2014), “Ministry in an Urban Context” (Summer 2014); and expects to add “Multi-Cultural Church” (Spring 2015) to its course content.
Southeastern wants to raise historically underrepresented voices on campus by working to be comprised of 20 percent culturally diverse faculty, staff and students. Currently, 26 percent of the students are women and the seminary is seeking to increase that number to at least 35 percent by 2022.
Outside of the school’s parameters, SEBTS’s goal is to build and strengthen partnerships with diverse churches, church networks and educational institutions.
This means being a servant to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches as a resource to help foster diversity within the church and the broader denominational environment.
“Diversity itself is theological … In the doctrine of creation, God created … multiplicity – a profusion of variety – so theologically, there is value in diversity. Period,” Ashford said. “The unity-in-diversity we see in the Trinity is reflected in the unity-in-diversity we see in creation.”
Recently, SEBTS awarded 23 individuals with Kingdom Diversity scholarships, a fund established to honor president, Daniel Akin. These gifts range from nine full-time, 13 part-time and one $1,000 partial scholarship. Seven scholarships were awarded on the doctoral level, 10 on the master’s level and six on the collegiate level.
“On average, students of color tend to be more financially in need and Southeastern seeks to help relieve the financial burden of ministry preparation,” Strickland said. “These scholarships are another way to demonstrate that the recipients are valued on Southeastern’s campus.”
The individuals receiving these scholarships come from Central America, Korea and the Dominican Republic. They represent a variety of cultures such as African-American, Asian and Hispanic.
Eight of the scholarships were awarded to women and 15 to men. Two of the most sought after scholarships went to African-American and Hispanic women, one pursuing a doctor of education and the other a master of divinity.
In an article at ChristianityToday.com, Strickland said, “We are simply more comfortable [with] people who are like us. The challenges that thwart meaningful relationships between diverse believers are real, but by God’s grace and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God’s people are enabled to display His redemptive power by simultaneously embracing and transcending the differences that enrich the tapestry of the Kingdom.”