For almost 40 years the GTU has been a significant part of my life, a part that underscored the theological notion of vocation that each of us is called in a particular way by God to enter a path that will enable us to grow and to use our skills and potentials to make a significant contribution to the world, along a path that will lead us to our own fulfillment.
This idea of vocation or “call” has shaped my own personal history, especially where the GTU is concerned. The GTU has called me three times, the first in 1975. As I searched for graduate programs in theology, I heard a buzz about an institution called the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, a place where the study of theology and the practice of faith seemed real and integrated in significant ways. Being a practical person, interested in studying ethics, I was particularly attracted by a part of the GTU called the Center for Ethics and Social Policy, committed to the idea that theology and ethics could make a difference in the world if engaged with public policy/ business/ politics/ public life and the practical world. Answering that call, I became a student of the GTU in 1976, and joined the staff of the Center for Ethics and Social Policy. That call became my lifetime commitment: to marry the theological, the ethical, and the practical together in real and compelling ways.
The second call came to me in the year 2000, quite literally, as a call, while I was professor and dean at Georgetown University. My good friend and colleague, Professor Marty Stortz, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and GTU, called to say, “Jim, the GTU is seeking a new president, and I want you to consider taking this position.” With an on-going, deep affection for the GTU, I looked anew at this institution. The world of theological study had changed, but the GTU’s mission remained clear. Created to bring together differences and to seek commonalities among diverse religious paths, denominations, and traditions, the GTU was focused on ecumenical work and, increasingly, interreligious work; it was committed fundamentally to seeing that theory and practice, the academic and the practical, were integrated. The GTU had evolved into an institution on the cutting edge. I answered that call to return to and to lead this amazing institution into its ever-evolving future.
The third call from the GTU comes to all of us here tonight—a call into the future of the GTU. Of late, the context for life and faith, and of theological education, has been shifting dramatically. Our denominations cry out for clarity and understanding. Our multireligious world requires new skills of leadership and new models and methods of analysis and study as we are called to respond to ever-increasing acts of religious violence and ignorance. The technology and media of our world make new demands on and offer challenges to what we do.
The beauty here is that the mission of the GTU remains the same. Yes, we need to adapt. We must respond to new and demanding contexts, but our commitment and fundamental mission are the same: to meet the world as it presents itself to us, and to allow that world to be the context of our theological study; to relate religious differences and commonalities to one another; to be inclusive and diverse–religiously, racially, ethnically, gender-wise, class-wise. We are called to be community, deepened and expanded by our commitments of faith and our loyalties to our traditions and to new missions; we are called to be peacemakers. Called into the future of the GTU, I believe strongly that we are prepared and that we are poised to flourish going forward.
Join me in saying YES to the call of the Graduate Theological Union today and for our future.