Gordon Conwell
The campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts. (Photo: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Gordon-Conwell Seminary Alumni and Staff Protest Loss of Black Professor

By Adelle Banks

A group of alumni and staff of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and other regional clergy are expressing concern that the school decided not to renew the contract of its sole Black full professor. 

The Rev. Emmett Price III was the founding executive director of the seminary’s Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience, which was launched in 2016 at the school’s South Hamilton, Massachusetts, campus.

In a letter Monday addressed to the “Gordon-Conwell Community,” President Scott W. Sunquist said that Price’s contract was not renewed as “part of hundreds of decisions required to develop a balanced budget, pay our bills, and prove to our accrediting agencies that we are economically viable.”

Four days earlier, 20 initial signers of an open letter told Sunquist: “We write to you so that you are fully informed as to how Dr. Price is valued and esteemed within the Church and the wider community, and how these actions are part of a larger pattern of devaluing of Black labor by predominately white higher education and Christian institutions.

“We understand that these are times of tight finances, but as Scripture says that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. We fund what we value.”

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Besides several who attended or were employed by Gordon-Conwell, the signatories include the Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches; the Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, director of the African American Studies Program at Colby College; and Bishop Talbert Swan, director of social justice for the Church of God in Christ.

Many other alumni, pastors and denominational leaders from diverse backgrounds have added their support for Price, said the Rev. Kenneth Young, a Black alumnus of the school and associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

The Rev. Emmett Price III, left, and the Rev. Kenneth Young pose together for a photo at the kickoff event for the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. (Photo: ISBCE / Facebook)

Young said the concerns arise in the wake of the national racial reckoning after the death of George Floyd and a greater awareness of increasing diversity and inclusion of Black people.

“We don’t understand,” Young said of the end of Price’s contract, “why does this happen to him?”

The alumnus said he recalled past instances where the school’s Black students have pushed for a sole Black professor to be hired and retained. Currently, he said, there are three full-time Black staffers on other campuses — including a dean on its Boston campus, an Old Testament instructor, and an associate professor of counseling on its Charlotte, North Carolina, campus — but now none based at the South Hamilton location, which is the oldest and sole residential campus.

“This has been a very painful decision for our community given the many ways Dr. Price has blessed and impacted us,” Sunquist wrote in his Monday letter. “We pray God’s blessings on Dr. Price in his next area of ministry and teaching.”

The president said the school had reduced its budget by approximately $2.5 million in the last two years, reducing the faculty by a total of of six people during that period.

Sunquist added that the school’s board “is a beautifully diverse body of believers” and the institution is devoted to working with people of color.

The Reverend Emmett Price III

“We are also committed to having a student body across all of our campuses that reflects the global church,” he wrote. “We continue to work to provide a safe and thriving environment for Black students.”

The signatories of the open letter said that even if it is too late to restore Price to his roles at the school, they seek further action from the seminary.

“We invite you to begin the work of repairing lost trust and making restitution for harm,” they wrote. “For this to happen, Gordon Conwell will need to formally interrogate and explicitly acknowledge systemic failures and structural racism at the school. We seek both a public apology and tangible commitments to demonstrate that Gordon Conwell takes these matters seriously and is committed to moving forward in a new direction.”

The seminary did not immediately respond to additional request for comment. Price also could not immediately be reached for comment.

Young said that Price, a pastor and an expert on Black Christianity and on music of the African diaspora, was instrumental in helping the seminary work with Black churches on revitalization and youth ministry.

The Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience was one of four partners that received an almost $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment for the Boston Black Church Vitality Project while he was the institute’s executive director.

Adelle Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.

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9 thoughts on “Gordon-Conwell Seminary Alumni and Staff Protest Loss of Black Professor”

  1. I can’t help but wonder why those so concerned about the released prof don’t just offer him a position. Hey Colby College, give him a call; you even have an African American Studies Department which would be a perfect fit. Hey Church of God in Christ, hire this man in your department of social justice. Hey, Council of Churches, why not fund the position? This kind of compassion is easy when you are lobbying to let others pay for it.

    Technically, a contract prof is first in line to go. A contract prof knows that when he takes the contract. Surely, these folks don’t think a tenured prof should be let go to keep a contract prof on the faculty. I bet it doesn’t work that way at Colby College.

    We should be reading, if anything, that this great, effective teacher has moved on to greener if not other, educational pastures. These tough budget cuts are being done everywhere in higher education.

    1. Many private colleges and universities, both religious and secular, are facing financial challenges and have been for quite a while. Several have closed or merged with others. And yes, a non-tenured professor on contract is always let go before a tenured professor; the latter happens only in case of dishonesty or if a department is being ended.

  2. If there is more to the schools side of the story they won’t want to publicly release that information for legal purposes. Kinda puts them in a no win situation where they will end up being a media punching bag.

  3. The article reports that the faculty had been reduced by six persons. What about the other five? Are they of less worth than this gentleman?

    I also don’t understand the reference to a Black Christian. Galatians 3:8 says,

    [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    Did Paul forget to add, “However there are Black Christians and white Christians”

    Silly me. I thought we were all just Christians.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      The culture and experience of Black Christians is different from that of White Christians and should not be ignored. The rich history and influence of the Black church – from which we were blessed with such leaders as MLK, whose reach expanded beyond the borders of the church – should be studied and acknowledged.
      But perhaps most importantly – if we are all just Christians, why do our churches remain so segregated? Why is the Black enrollment at so many evangelical seminary programs – when the Black community is statistically more “religious” – so dismal?
      I encourage you to read a few books and blogs written by Black Christians on their experience in the evangelical world. (Ed Gilbreath’s “Reconciliation Blues” comes to mind). It would be great if we could go beyond saying “we are all just Christians” to actually ACTING like it.

  4. “We invite you to begin the work of repairing lost trust and making restitution for harm,” they wrote. “For this to happen, Gordon Conwell will need to formally interrogate and explicitly acknowledge systemic failures and structural racism at the school.” Says who?

    I am trying to find where in the NT or Church history are these type of demands. We are to love Justice and Mercy for all. Unfortunately, if you are under contract, you are the first to go. The seminaries are struggling. 5 others were let go. What of them?

  5. Arthur Fhardy

    My internet search for the names and skin color of the other 5 has come to an abrupt end with no results to show for one minute of googling. Hmmm.

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