Dear Fuller Seminary,
I am grieved to read the recent LA Times article which describes the expulsion of a Fuller student because of their same sex marriage. As an alumni I’ve consistently looked back at my time at Fuller with gratitude and appreciation for the ways I was shaped, the opportunities that have been opened, and the many deep relationships that were formed. Fuller was a place of theological diversity, rich academic learning, and sincere commitment to the ways of Jesus. At Fuller I learned to deepen my relationship to the Bible and appreciate the range of theological perspectives within the global church- always balancing sound exegesis with a hermenuitic of God’s love in context. Since my graduation I have only grown in my appreciation for my time at Fuller as I currently find myself deep in the work of local pastoral ministry in Oakland, California.
So why am I writing to you?
Because I can’t not.
If there was anything Fuller taught me it’s that the work of theology, study, ministry, and faith is not always black and white. Over the centuries Christians have debated various issues and changed their “position” many times. Even within Fuller’s own history this narrative is played out. When Fuller was first founded in 1947 women were not allowed to receive theological degrees, something that I might add has a stronger biblical precedent than LGBT+ exclusion. By 1968 (almost 20 years later!?) Fuller thankfully changed its position and opened up all its degree programs to women. I wonder how Fuller can have a nuanced and inclusive approach to women in ministry, or divorce for that matter, but not LGBT+ inclusion? This is tragic and to the determent of not only LGBT+ folks, but to the broader church, as we are cutting off a part of our body.
I believe the rigidity in which Fuller is currently responding to non-traditional (from a culturally American perspective) forms of relationship goes against everything Fuller stands for AND is deeply harmful to the witness of the church to the world. Furthermore, I know first hand that there are many LGBT+ people who’ve attended Fuller and I believe there are numerous faculty and staff that believe inclusion is a more loving, ethical, and theologically sound approach.
One of the details within the LA times article that grieved me the most was that it was Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson who sent the letter of expulsion. How sadly ironic. I have tremendous respect for Dr. Thompson as both a professor and as a female leader in space that has not always been open to women. I’ll always remember sitting with other students on the steps of the to the Old City Jerusalem as she shared about the history and reality of Jesus’ subversive time on earth. Multiple times on our trip Dr Thompson corrected bad history and shared about the various nuances and diverse interpretations that we were encountering all around us through tour guides and biased sources.
It’s with these experiences in my heart that I’m writing to you. I’m not sure as to why Fuller can’t see, that at the very least, diversity of perspective is needed on this issue. Though I myself strongly believe in the “affirming” position, I understand that not everyone is there. But why take such an extreme and harmful position?
Maybe there are wealthy donors who don’t understand the experience of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters and who will pull their financial support from Fuller if it becomes more inclusive. Maybe some of the board or the faculty haven’t done the work or heard the stories of how exclusion has harmed so many and how inclusion reflects God’s love so beautifully. If that’s the case, please, please, please reconsider. For many people these policies are life and death issues. At our church, an affirming and deeply Christ-centered community, I’ve seen over and over the healing, redemptive, and just work of God as we welcome all to the table, and as we elevate the ways of love above exegetical rigidity.
To faculty and staff who might be playing it safe in the “tension” while Fuller expels and excludes people, please step out on their behalf.
To students and alumni, it’s our time to speak out and share the ways God is creating a global church where all are welcome as guests and participants.
I’ve always spoken very highly of Fuller and pointed many friends your way. I believe our world needs Fuller more than ever, but only if Fuller can continue to step into the diversity of thought and faith as it has in the past. Hopefully it won’t take a painful lawsuit to bring about inclusive change.
Chris Scott, MDiv
Oak Life Church / Pastor
2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Fuller Theological Seminary”
Thank you for your beautifully crafted letter to Fuller. I appreciate your point about accepting women into ministry and the biblical precedent that many have used to keep women out.
I too am an alumni upset by this decision. As a straight man I found my way back into Christ’s community through a church that welcomed the West Hollywood community with open arms during the AIDS epidemic in the mid-80’s. I have never felt the presence of the Holy Spirit so strong in any other place than there. It was in that overwhelming love and inclusion that changed my mind and shaped my theology of inclusion as well as an open table.
So thank you for your words. I hope they reach the hearts of those who need to read them and be transformed by them. Peace be with you.