Statement on Statements - Princeton Theological Seminary
Jonathan Lee Walton

The following is President Walton’s statement to governing communities of Princeton Seminary regarding institutional statements.

Since assuming this office one year ago, I have received several requests to make public statements about various social, political, or theological matters. These include defending or denouncing a particular speaker, signing declarations of solidarity with one group or another, and, of course, in recent months, making a statement regarding either the vicious attacks in Israel by Hamas or the heart-wrenching death toll in Gaza as a result of Israel’s military response. To be sure, I have repeatedly acknowledged and offered public prayers for those suffering from the many vile acts of terror, military aggression, and humanitarian crises across the globe. I shall continue to do so, just as I do every time I mount the sacred desk of the pulpit.

As president, it is not my policy or practice to send out statements on behalf of the institution in response to national or international events. A range of factors inform my determination.

First, mass shootings, natural disasters, military conflicts or other forms of tragedy and injustice happen too frequently. We are a global learning community; such events touch our immediate learning community and the Seminary’s 11,000 alums in myriad ways. Due to the news cycle or presumed impact on those in proximity, my awareness of such events may vary. Violent conflicts in Myanmar, Ukraine, Sudan, and the Middle East, coupled with violence in houses of worship and religious minorities facing persecution across the globe, affect each one of us differently. I believe the Seminary should provide space for community members to express their grief, and, in the process, each of us might learn more about the doings and sufferings of our world. In recent months, faculty have penned open letters and debated with each other vigorously. Students have created art exhibits and led prayer vigils in collaboration with the Chapel office. These are all appropriate responses. In my experience, however, institutional responses and solidarity statements from the office of the president only prove to elevate the concerns or perspectives of some while invariably, if not intentionally, diminishing the heartbreak of others.

This leads to my second point. I am honored to serve as president of Princeton Seminary, the premier theological institution on the planet. So, what I can never presume is that I speak for anyone in such a brilliant and diverse institution. I dare not limit or reduce the genius of this community to my own finite comprehension of current world affairs. Nor ought my understanding of varying forms of injustice and oppression throughout the globe at any given moment be the definitive view of Princeton Seminary.

Our role as educators is not to encourage speaking with one voice but instead to create the conditions for brilliant and compassionate learners to find and develop these critical skills. As one of my former Princeton Seminary professors often said, “The role of this Seminary is not to tell students what to believe but to teach students how to think.” Faculty, students, alums and staff represent “the institution.” An institution where views and perspectives are wonderfully varied on any and all matters.

Finally, I take this position out of deep respect for the office of the presidency, and as the steward of the institution. I view the role of a steward to empower others to live out the enduring mission of the institution for subsequent generations. Moreover, in this age of ongoing cyberattacks and digital threats against students and faculty in the forms of doxxing and media intimidation, I must take seriously my role and responsibility to ensure the public safety of the community. For these reasons, when I speak as president of Princeton Seminary, it should only be on matters that address our core mission and guiding values that have been agreed upon across the Seminary’s governing structures.

In sum, the faculty will research, teach, and thoughtfully challenge each other. Students will read, write, and vigorously debate. Then we all will learn how to better think with our hearts and feel with our minds to serve the church and world in the cause of Christ.