The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in July that courts could not legally enforce the tenure contracts of two professors who had been dismissed from Lexington Theological Seminary when the school's endowment dropped. The court ruled that a seminary is a religious institution and invoked the ministerial exception, which prohibits courts from interfering in religious personnel decisions.
"The state should not interfere in the decisions that a religious body makes about who will educate its leaders. However, though tenure may be a legal rope-of-sand in the courts, it continues to have important moral weight in seminaries."
Daniel Aleshire, executive director, Association of Theological Schools
"Tenure allows for greater academic freedom and it keeps especially talented faculty members tethered to the institution, which is good long-term for the seminary. But that academic freedom, like tenure anywhere, can be bounded according to a confession or a statement of faith."
Owen Strachan, professor, Boyce College
"At Southern, tenure is a commitment to the faculty member that the institution would like to make a lifelong investment in him or her, not an escape from doctrinal or performance accountability. There are clear guidelines for remediation or removal if necessary."
Russell Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"Seminaries should give tenure to attract good minds but they can make it conditional. Contract requirements can range from ordination, to adherence to a creedal statement but not ordination, to high academic standards as a condition with no religious requirement."
John Witte Jr., professor, Emory Law School
"Given the court ruling combined with the economic woes of many seminaries, I am happier to have a five-year renewable contract than either a possibly disappearing tenure appointment or an adjunct position, both of which seem to be increasingly more frequent."
Scott Thumma, professor, Hartford Seminary
"In a school with a religious mission, tenure is a direct threat. Seminaries have no state control that professors need protection from. And tenure takes control from the board of directors, who must ensure that the purpose and mission is followed."
Brad Dacus, president, Pacific Justice Institute
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingA Tale of Two New York City PastorsOne formed me. The other entertained me.
- From the MagazineEve’s Legacy Is Both Sin and RedemptionThe first woman tried to get free of God. But when she aligned herself with God’s purposes, she became the ‘Mother of All the Living.’
- RelatedDon’t Pretend the Ugandan Homosexuality Law Is ChristianNot everything that’s a sin is a crime—let alone one punishable by death.
- Editor's PickTheological Education Can’t Catch Up to Global Church GrowthUnless seminaries leave the ivory tower for local leaders in the public square. Like these ones have.