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VDS Purposes and Commitments

Commitments

“We are one of the few university-based, interdenominational schools for the preparation of ministers and the oldest one in the South. Our nineteenth-century founders adopted a commonplace label for theological institutions of their era, “school of the prophets,” as they sought to lift up the importance of education for clergy. Today, we accept this legacy as we live in a world of a large tent Christianity, religious pluralism, an ever-expanding understanding of the nature of the diversities in our midst, marvelous and challenging cultural differences and more.”

Emilie Townes,
Dean, Vanderbilt Divinity School

 

As a school of the prophets, VDS’ Purposes and Commitments are informed by values central to Judaism and Christianity and shared with other faiths and humanistic traditions:

…What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8)

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)    

VDS’ Purposes and Commitments are

inspirational and aspirational, individual and communal

Although expressed in communally crafted written statements, our Purposes and Commitments are not a creed that we sign on to. They are, rather, values that we seek to live into. They guide who we are and who we aspire to be, who we serve, and how we serve. The Purposes and Commitments infuse our curriculum [link to Concentrations page], our communal life, and our involvement with the public. [link to Programs and Student Orgs pages].

There are moments when we, as a community or as individuals, embody prophetic courage and moments when we fall short. Both moments occur every day, inside and outside of class, in our interactions with one another. 

Living into the Purposes and Commitments requires committing ourselves to the slow and sometimes difficult labor of building trust, sharing vulnerability; of self-criticism and self-reflection; of calling in instead of calling out. That requires practicing the following values:

  • To give freely, based upon the trust that the value of education and wisdom is not diminished through sharing.
  • To welcome all at the table of learning, making a special effort to enlarge that table for people unlike ourselves and for those who are excluded from other tables.
  • To accept that others may know more about a given situation, to realize that one may know more through others, and to accept that no one is right about everything.
  • To envision a world that is better than the one we have and to engage in learning so as to make that new world more manageable to others.
  • To pursue understanding with hope, even in the face of misunderstanding and disappointment.
  • To cultivate awareness of one’s individual and institutional history, so as to overcome inherited practices.
  • To dignify the selfhood and tradition represented by each other member of the community, irrespective of the historical, theological, and embodied differences that person may represent to oneself.

Purposes

In a global and multi-religious world, the Divinity school seeks to fulfill the following objectives:

  • to engage in theological inquiry;
  • to help persons prepare for the practice of Christian ministry and public leadership;
  • to encourage personal and spiritual formation;
  • to prepare agents of social justice; and
  • to educate future scholars and teachers, locally and globally.

To those ends, the faculty and staff of VDS are committed to educating religious leaders who are

  • knowledgeable about the traditions and practices that have formed them and the people they serve and
  • able to work creatively, constructively and critically with those traditions and practices in order to
  • lead religious communities faithfully, courageously, compassionately, wisely
  • are adept at thoughtful, respectful, critical and constructive engagement with religious traditions and the disciplines (theoretical and practical, intellectual and spiritual) that seek to nurture them.
  • able to recognize the sacred worth of all of God’s children not regardless of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation/gender identity, (dis)ability, class, citizenship status, religion, etc., but because of those features. Diversity is essential to the human race and reflects the divine image.
  • committed to addressing structural as well as individual barriers to the flourishing of creation because recognizing “sacred worth” requires it. Systems such as white supremacy, Christian supremacy, economic inequality, ecological exploitation, homophobia and transphobia, intersect to create a world that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Commitments

The Divinity School is committed to the faith that brought the church into being, and it believes that one comes more authentically to grasp that faith by a critical and open examination of the Hebraic and Christian traditions. It understands this faith to have import for the common life of human beings in the world. Thus the school is committed to assisting its community in achieving a critical and reflective understanding of Christian faith and in discerning the implications of that faith for the church, society, and the lives of individuals. Concretely, this commitment entails the education of those who will be forceful representatives of the faith and effective agents in working for a more just and humane society, for the development of new and better modes of ministry, and for leadership in church and society that will help to alleviate the ills besetting individuals and groups. It entails as well the education of individuals who have, or are helped to develop, strong resources of personal faith, without which their leadership in church and community would be jeopardized.

The school affirms its commitment to do all in its power to combat the idolatry of racism and ethnocentrism that remains widespread in our society. Positively, this includes a commitment to take full account of the contributions of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. It requires the appointment of faculty members and the recruitment of students from these groups and adequate provision for their support. The school recognizes a special connection with the contributions of the black church to church and society and a commitment to further these contributions.

The school is committed to opposing the sexism that has characterized much of the history of the church and western culture and is still present in our society. This commitment entails the conviction that women have a larger place in the ministry and in teaching than they now enjoy. It requires appointment of women to the faculty, enrollment of a larger number of women students in all programs, and concerted effort to eliminate all forms of discrimination in attitudes, practices, and language. The school regards the use of inclusive language as an expression of its opposition to gender-based prejudice.

The school is committed to confronting the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and interphobia that prevails throughout much of the church and society and the cisnormativity and heterosexism that underlie it. We recognize the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual people, and people of all genders and sexualities (LGBTQIA+) within the religious community and the need for the eradication of civil discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. This commitment involves the exploration in the curriculum of LGBTQIA+ concerns as well as affirmation and support of LGBTQIA+ people within our community.

The school is committed to a program of theological education that is open to and takes account of the religious pluralism in our world. It seeks to familiarize students with interreligious dialogue and the diverse manifestations of Christianity throughout the world, recognizing that to know one's own tradition one must know and participate in others as well. This commitment entails the appointment to the faculty of scholars in other religious traditions and from diverse branches of Christianity, as well as the provision of resources for students to study in global contexts.

The school acknowledges the close and special relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and it wants to ensure an appropriate and sympathetic understanding of the Jewish tradition. It abhors the anti-Semitism that has pervaded much of Christian history and seeks to promote productive and healing dialogue among Christians and Jews.

The school is committed to active participation in the struggles of individuals and groups for a healthier, more just, more humane, and more ecologically wholesome world. It has special concern for the oppressed, for prisoners, for the poor, for victims of warfare and militarism, for the effects of environmental destruction, and for the securing of equal opportunity for all individuals, peoples, and creatures to enjoy God's gifts.

In seeking to act upon such commitments, the school seeks to bear in mind that its fundamental task is educational. The commitment to education is primary. Even so, if such education is to be significant, the school may often be required to identify issues confronting church, society, and individuals that summon various groups within the school, or the school itself, to appropriate action.

The school is committed to conducting its work in an atmosphere conducive to free expression of opinion and judgment and in such a way as actively to enlist the insights and judgments of the church, alumni/ae, students, faculty, staff, the University community, and the larger community.

For more, see our “Living the Commitments” document   here , which was authored jointly by students and faculty in 2015. The section on Sexual and Gender Identity was revised in 2022.