Andover Newton

With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

As California this year becomes the eighth state to legalize “recreational” marijuana (as opposed to “medical” uses), what do American religious groups have to say about this cultural lurch?

Not much, says an accurate complaint in The Christian Century’s Jan. 3 cover story “Talking About Marijuana -- in Church.” Author Adam Hearlson laments that churches are hesitant to openly discuss such a pertinent issue, and implies they should consider support for liberalization. 

It's past time for the news media to consult religious thinkers about this.

Church wariness is reflected in the fact that the “mainline” Protestant magazine itself identified Hearlson only vaguely as “a minister, writer, scholar.” In fact he teaches preaching and worship and directs the chapel at the nation’s oldest seminary, Andover Newton (which after years of decline is about to shut down and be absorbed by Yale Divinity School).

One obvious story peg is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned Obama Administration policy, giving federal prosecutors discretion to enforce anti-pot laws, even in states where it’s legal. Both parties in the U.S. Congress have kept such laws on the books, and Department of Justice concern did not originate with the Trump Administration (.pdf document here).

Leaving aside libertarians who insist government should simply leave us alone, proponents offer three key arguments for an open “recreational” market:

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It's closing time: Symbolic date invites press analysis of liberal Protestant seminaries

It's closing time: Symbolic date invites press analysis of liberal Protestant seminaries

Attention religion-beat scribes: Nov. 12, 2015, carries high symbolism for “mainline” Protestantism, which for centuries exercised such broad influence over U.S. faith and culture.

On that date Andover Newton Theological School, the oldest U.S. institution for graduate-level clergy training with a 208-year history, announced it is no longer ”financially sustainable” due to falling enrollment and must sell its leafy 23-acre campus outside Boston.

The school, which has “historic” links with the United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches, plans two more years of operation while it ponders two radical proposals: either relocate and merge within a larger institution (preliminary talks are under way with Yale’s Divinity School) or else switch to ministry apprenticeships with basic coursework but no full-service residential campus.

As explanatory sessions ensue with Andover Newton students on  November 17 and December 3, and with alumni on November 20, it’s a timely moment for newswriters to assess future prospects for America’s Protestant seminaries.

The ever-solid G. Jeffrey MacDonald (himself a U.C.C. minister) reports in Religion News Service that to preserve an $18 million endowment, Andover Newton is paying its bills through a mortgage line of credit. Based on an interview with Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, MacDonald says  this and seminary trauma elsewhere is “the fallout from decades of declining membership numbers in mainline denominations,” noting that their seminary enrollments have dropped 24 percent since 2005.

At Andover Newton, enrollment totalled 271 students in the last A.T.S. report. Only 40 percent were full-time and only 25 percent lived on campus, compared with the 450 full-time students a generation ago. Enrollment is 63 percent female, and the average student age is 49.

The school requires no creed of the faculty, and instead defines itself doctrinally by “core values” like integrity, innovation, openness, understanding, academic freedom and the sustainability of creation. The school emphasizes “multifaith education” and 10 percent of its students are non-Christians (variously identified as Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Muslim, agnostic or atheist).

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