John is a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts 2014 dual candidate. John comes to the Princeton Seminary community from Blyth, Ontario - Canada. Current Co-Moderator of BGLASS, he is also a Candidate for Ministry with the Presbyterian Church (USA) under the Philadelphia Presbytery. Simply put, PTS is fortunate to have such an amazing heart and mind here with us. In this reflective blog, John shares with us the culture shock he never expected and at one time could only hope for ---
Diversity is a funny thing. How diverse a community is completely depends on the person judging that diversity. For someone from a large urban center with experience in communities that have a large diversity of races, cultures, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, artistic preferences, occupational backgrounds, etc., etc., Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) may seem pretty homogenous, boring, and even dangerously unaware of its lack of diversity. For other individuals who don’t come from such a community or city center, PTS is wrought with new people, ideologies, experiences, and, loosely put, extreme diversity.
I come from a community that would identify as the latter. Statistically, the county I hail from has very few individuals that are of a visible minority (1.5% of the total population). The community in which I spent most of my pre-college years was made up of mostly recent immigrants (or first-generation Canadians), all white, almost all farmers, very few with university education, and almost all members of the same conservative, Calvinist, Reformed denomination. All of my pre-Seminary education was completed in schools started by that denomination and most of my professional and summer work experience was in ministries affiliated with that denomination. For me, it didn’t take much to experience something that was more diverse than my community.
To make matters a little more complicated, having come from such a conservative community, my theology reflected a very conservative and evangelical perspective. Not that this is a bad thing, but my opportunity to explore other perspectives was highly limited simply because of a lack of exposure. Growing up as a young man who struggled to identify his sexual orientation in such a community was difficult to say the least. I felt like a black sheep not only because of my different orientation, but also because I wanted to move away from rural Ontario, I had a passion for school, and I wanted to explore other theological perspectives.
For me, moving to Princeton Theological Seminary was a breath of fresh air. It was liberating and exciting to experience a community that was so diverse (comparatively) and theologically open. In learning about other theologies I was able to better define my own understanding of Scripture, providence, and God’s love for me. By finally having the space and resources to do that, I was finally able to explore my sexual identity in a space that was open, accepting, and supportive. The diversity of PTS was enough to break through my single-track theological experience, to create an open space for personal reflection and new personal identification, and to support my growth as a man of God seeking God’s will for me, someone who does not identify with traditional sexual identity norms.
Some have said that PTS has diversity issues and needs to expand its perspective on the diversity of God’s people and creation. I agree, but only because everyone and every institution needs to. PTS may be behind some institutions on this issue, but it is also a 200-year old institution that has some pretty dense history to work through and reconcile. There will always be institutions that are doing it better than we are, but I am a testament to the fact that PTS’ diversity development is working and has already had huge positive impacts on its students.
I pray that our community would continue to embrace opportunities to explore our diversity and not see it as something less than an opportunity. The community can only grow in this area if we all commit to recognizing our need for continual growth in this area.
Growing up, my father did something we call attitude checks. I don't know if it first started with him or a spiritual friend of his that owned a Christian camp my siblings and I used to attend. Either way, an attitude check went like this: Someone looks mad, acts out, seems frustrated. Dad: 'Attitude check!?' Us: 'Praise the Lord.' This exchange would repeat until we smiled big or couldn't avoid laughing. This may sound silly but it was a simple thing to remind us in its repetition to always be mindful of our thoughts and attitudes and what was shaping them. That's what we are to always do as believers: be mindful, consider and reconsider our attitudes. In this brief blog below, Victor Aloyo poignantly reminds us of the importance in reexamining our attitudes about something absolutely essential to every minister and ministry: diversity. After all, everybody is different so diversity is about You.
Our attempts at diversity in theological education are fraught with risk as we consider what we must rethink and what traditional boundaries must be transgressed as we prepare effective religious leaders. In our American society, the myth of the melting pot has created the illusion of cultural homogeneity and sameness in the minds of many and it supports an unrealistic desire to view our American culture as monolithic. But as institutions of theological education that are gifted with the lenses of faith and values, we are challenged to identify, reinterpret, and dismantle barriers that prevent diversity. If our mission is to prepare women and men for effective and liberating ministry in the world, we miss the mark with educational experiences that do not reflect the realities of diversity in our daily lives. As with the Peter in Acts 10:15b, we are challenged to embrace the vision of God’s realm as revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. When we do, we discover the connection between authentic, intentional diversity and progressive, transformative education. Upon this theological foundation we see the value of a reinterpreted educational mission that is committed to the vision of diversity, that cultivates new attitudes that honor diversity, and that willingly creates policies and practices that support ongoing diversity.
A commitment to any cause is only as good as the attitudes and perspectives that support it, so a second principle in our efforts toward diversity is to cultivate attitudes that honor diversity. Once Peter committed to reexamine the implications of his cultural exclusiveness in his new and changing context, he was challenged to adjust and realign his attitude. Some of the very things that he accepted as profane under the Law were now viewed in a different light under the grace of salvation. It became apparent that his encounter with Cornelius caused a change in his thinking as he made the profound theological statement, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation, anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].” (Acts 10:34-35) The beauty of this proclamation is that Peter began with a solid theological statement not a speculative human position. He stood on the firm ground of the Gospel message that provided reassurance in the unfamiliar waters of cultural diversity.
Likewise, as we consider the awesome challenge of diversity here at Princeton Seminary, we must be aware of the need for attitudinal changes in our institution. Beginning with Peter’s theological posture of will support and sustain an educational environment that prepares effective religious leaders. Unfortunately, once institutions face the full magnitude of diversity there is a temptation to adopt a “color-blind” or “a-cultural” posture that will shield us from differences rather than help us appreciate and learn from the experience. An attempt to neutralize cultural particularities in an educational environment creates instead an ethos that favors the comfort of uniformity rather than the dynamism of unity within diversity.
By The Reverend Victor Aloyo, Director of the Office of Multicultural Relations at Princeton Theological Seminary and pastor of The United Presbyterian Church and Mision Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras in Plainfield, New Jersey. Victor will also begin his doctoral studies at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His concentration will be Diversity and Inclusion in Theological Education and Structures.
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