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.
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