Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Letter from the Dean

In previous online versions of Perspective, I have written about what February’s United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis might mean for Perkins, I would like here to offer a personal reflection.

Among the experiences that have influenced my understanding of theological education are the years I spent on varied theological faculties — at Yale, Wesley, and Duke — along with teaching at Howard and at Methodist seminaries in South Korea and Russia. Even more formative in some ways was my own experience as a seminary student.

Like other of my classmates, I arrived with a strong sense of calling. I had attended innumerable Bible studies and worship services, had participated in a range of mission projects and conferences, had taught Sunday school and led a fellowship group, and had worked in a church since my freshman year in college. Nevertheless, seminary was not entirely what I expected. In particular, there was no party line when it came to a number of critical issues. Instead, I was expected to think critically, not simply to absorb the right answers. I had done this to an extent in college, of course, but the requirement was taken to a whole new level when it involved core beliefs and practices.

My first year in particular was challenging, both intellectually and spiritually. In retrospect, however, I am deeply grateful for that challenge. It started a process of reflection and growth that continues to this day. It is not that the center of my faith shifted radically. It did not. But I came to realize that I needed to think at a much deeper level, to take account of a much wider range of sources and influences. In particular, I learned that a satisfying theology requires the incorporation of all of one’s knowledge. Otherwise, one’s theology is —knowingly or unknowingly — in tension if not at war with the rest of one’s thinking. My seminary experience also taught me that it is possible to respect and appreciate others with whom I did not agree because, in time, I got to know them as people, not simply as positions.

While I greatly value those years, I will say also that they were made harder than they needed to be by what seemed a too common “us vs. them” mentality. The day I showed up on campus, I felt that I was being required — especially by other students — to decide which armed camp I would join. Perhaps it was not a fair impression, but that is how it seemed to me as a young student right out of college. I was full of questions, but I found that I could not freely ask them without risking rebuke. I came willing to be persuaded, but not wanting to be silenced.

I look back on that time with profound appreciation, not regret, and every difficult experience was counterbalanced by some other that was good. In particular, my seminary years gave me a strong sense for what theological education should be and in what spirit it ought to be conducted.

Regrettably, such a spirit was too little in evidence at General Conference. Given human nature, given the long history of conflict, given what was at stake, given the format for “conferencing,” perhaps that result was inevitable. Nevertheless, it was disappointing. I said to someone at the time, “I am glad that I am already a Christian, because there is little here that would convince me to become one.” There were exceptions, but they did tend to be exceptions.

Another disappointment, much less commented upon, was the level of discourse. I learned in seminary that a solid argument had to give fair weight to Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. (Or, one could argue, that while primary, Scripture has to be interpreted in light of tradition, reason and experience.) A great quantity of Scripture was cited, and there were many appeals to personal experience, plus a nod here or there to tradition. I do not deprecate these, but they form at best an incomplete argument. Notably absent from the debate on either side was an appeal to science, which is the most reliable (not infallible; scientists are humans, too) means by which to study nature. Any convincing argument about human sexuality has to reckon as much as reasonably possible with the full range of available knowledge on the subject. This is true regardless of one’s theological orientation, just as it would be for one’s interpretation of, say, Genesis 1-3.

Above all, I came away from St. Louis with renewed gratitude for Perkins. We are by no means perfect, but we do endeavor to be a community in which diverse opinions may be voiced and sincere questions may be addressed with grace. Moreover, we strive to teach our students to think both deeply and broadly, so that they might cultivate a theological understanding that encompasses all of reality. To do either — much less both — takes hard work and requires emotional and spiritual maturity, but anything less is both anti-intellectual and sub-Christian. It is unsurprising that we sometimes fall short of this high ideal. More remarkable are the many ways in which we already come close. I am incredibly grateful to be part of such a school.

Grace and peace,

Craig C. Hill

Dean, Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Where Do We Go From Here?

By Dean Craig C. Hill

Following the called General Conference in St. Louis in February, those of us in the United Methodist church find ourselves in a season of deep uncertainty. The decision to adopt the Traditional Plan has enormous but as of yet unknowable implications for our future as a denomination, for our local churches and for every United Methodist institution, including, of course, its theological schools.

The question “Where do we go from here?” remains unanswered. As annual conferences meet, as churches and United Methodist organizations absorb and react to the news, and as we and other United Methodist schools of theology continue to engage in intense conversation, the answer will gradually emerge.

During this period of uncertainty, it is especially important to reiterate what we at Perkins can say with confidence. That begins with an affirmation of key and unchanging values, on a sustained commitment to Perkins’ mission of being “an academy for the whole church in the world,” and on a heightened emphasis on civil dialogue. Specifically:

Respect, wholeness, civility, honesty, understanding, inclusivity and love have always been, and will continue to be, the way we strive to live in community with one another at Perkins. Servant leadership — that shared desire to serve that brings students to Perkins and connects us to our alumni serving the wider community — remains a core value. Servant leadership begins with a desire to know and understand. Its essential character is humility. It is nondefensive and other-oriented, the opposite of the egocentricity and tribalism that so dominate contemporary American culture. We will continue to honor “the other” and to learn from those with whom we may at times disagree. We cannot serve those whom we do not know nor care to understand.

That means that we aim to prepare Christian leaders not just for the United Methodist church but the “Big C” universal, global Church and the “little c” local congregation. Of course, we prepare leaders not just to serve in the traditional ministry but also in the wider world and in ways that go beyond the walls of our churches. Along these lines, I’m excited about the work of faculty member Robert Hunt with the Global Theological Education (GTE) e-Academy. In its initial phase, the project is capturing some of the leading theological voices in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa in short video segments and making them available to students globally — including, of course, here at Perkins. It is more critical than ever that genuine dialogue occurs across the church. Similarly, the launch of the Baptist House of Studies, led by faculty member Jaime Clark-Soles, is offering a nexus of support for our Baptist students that will connect them to resources in the Baptist world. In short, we are reaching out, not pulling back.

Ideally, a theological school is one of the increasingly rare places in which people of varied background and opinion can respectfully disagree, debate without personal rancor and then share lunch and worship together. On our best days, we are generous in trying to understand others. We never assume that, because someone’s beliefs differ widely, that person can simply be written off, much less demonized. You’ll see that in this issue. Read the Student Roundtable to learn how the embrace of our caring community has been transformative for students. The lively and fierce yet affectionate debate between progressive faculty member Susanne Scholz and conservative faculty member Billy Abraham will make you think and even make you laugh.

Dialogue such as this — across differences and yet truthful and respectful — enriches and enlivens our community. Those are the kinds of conversations we want to encourage at Perkins. Conversations between people who disagree can teach us as much about ourselves as they do about others. “Echo chambers” are more comfortable, but they merely confirm what we already think we know. Challenging conversations across the church aisle stretch us and teach us, and they give us the chance to stretch and teach others. I have been gratified on several occasions to hear former students say that Perkins did not so much teach them what to think as how to think for themselves. That, plus the ability to understand others with differing viewpoints, are critical skills for future leaders.

In this time of uncertainty and transition, we can expect turmoil and even some anxiety and apprehension. The question becomes: What can we at Perkins do to continue to bring hope to the world? In part, we can affirm our basic values, strive to serve as an academy for the whole church in the whole world and recommit to civil dialogue.

Finally, Perkins is, and will continue to be, a place of caring. We do not always live up to our ideals, but we do genuinely care for one another at Perkins. After all, the standard Jesus left us with was not mere tolerance, but love. Or, as Paul put it, “If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Important as it is, knowledge will never be a substitute for character.

People come to Perkins School of Theology to learn, to grow, to become part of this community and to pursue excellence in scholarship. That has not changed and will not change.

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

The Gift of Giving

By John A. Martin, Director of Development

Rarely a week goes by without news of some seminary or school of theology in financial trouble. Sometimes, those difficulties are self-inflicted, such as by getting deeply in debt, and other times, complications come because of external influences over which the school has very little control.

Perkins is fortunate to be part of SMU, a financially stable university. One of the seven schools that compose the University, Perkins is proudly held up by the president and provost as a model of theological teaching and scholarship. Bridwell Library, one of the finest theological libraries in the United States, continues to attract scholars and researchers from around the world. It also serves the Perkins student body and faculty extremely well.

However, Perkins, like all schools of theology, has financial needs. Currently, we are completing the second year of a three-year, current-use giving initiative called Pony Power. The University is raising an average of $50 million per year over three years in money that can be expended for current initiatives. Fifty million dollars in current-use giving is the equivalent of having a disbursement from an additional $1 billion endowment! Funds of that amount allow the University to reach even greater opportunities than we have up to this point.

Perkins’ part in this is $2.5 million, which includes a goal of $315,000 for the SMU Fund for Perkins, a fund which Dean Hill can use at his discretion to move Perkins forward in a variety of ways.

In the current Pony Power initiative, we are asking all Perkins donors to consider making a gift or pledge to a current-use project at Perkins. While we value endowment, capital and planned gifts, and will continue to seek them, we are emphasizing current-use gifts at this time.

Dean Craig Hill has remarked on a number of occasions that our greatest needs are:

• Student financial aid; and
• The SMU Fund for Perkins, which can be used by the dean where needed most.

Both of those priorities impact the number and quality of students attending Perkins. We want to help our students not be burdened by great personal debt, as they follow God’s call to study at Perkins. Our tagline is “Called to serve, empowered to lead,” but it is difficult to lead if encumbered by a large debt load. The cost of seminary education discourages many outstanding candidates from applying. In spite of that, increasing numbers of students are applying to Perkins. God is still calling people to minister to a needy world.

Margot Perez-Greene, associate dean for Enrollment Management, notes, “It is imperative that we make scholarship funds available to our incoming students. They are stretched to the maximum between study, ministry, work and family. We want to help these leaders get well trained and out into ministry settings.”

The Perkins Executive Board has raised $567,000 over the last 24 months for special scholarships benefiting outstanding Master of Divinity students. Every Executive Board member has committed to giving so that Perkins can attract and retain outstanding students.

But we need the help of each graduate and friend of Perkins! I am asking you to join the Executive Board in giving a special gift so the dean’s priorities can be realized.

To join the effort, please visit or contact me at:
John A. Martin, Perkins Development, PO Box 750133, Dallas, TX 75275-0133; 214-768-2026 (direct line); or email me at

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Student Roundtable

A seminary is more than a place for intellectual pursuits; it’s also a community and a laboratory for personal growth. In divisive times such as these, the ability to form relationships across barriers and differences becomes even more important to the church and to the world. With that in mind, Perspective invited seven current Perkins students for a roundtable conversation with Dean Craig Hill and facilitator Mary Jacobs, and asked about their experiences as members of the Perkins community.

How have you changed or grown after joining the Perkins Community?

Zack Hughes (M.Div. ’20): Perkins has changed my life. I came into Perkins as an agnostic. I wasn’t really sure where I was going in terms of vocation. Now, I’m in a confirmation class at an Episcopal church near my home. Basically, Perkins has given me a completely new perspective on my spiritual and religious journey. I’ve learned that my conception of Christianity — the conception that I had rejected in favor of atheism — was basically a straw man version of Christianity. Perkins has opened my eyes to the rich history of Christianity, the complexities, the nuances. The people of the community — the professors, the staff and the students — have given me some incredible examples of the Christian life that I can aspire to.

Kathy Hines (M.Div. ’20): You know, Zack, I had no idea about your background, and I didn’t even care. You are the kind of person who’s open and caring. That’s all I knew. It’s just honest community here.

Zack Hughes: I never felt like I wasn’t accepted, even though I was a Unitarian Universalist who didn’t profess Christ. If anything, people just found me a curiosity. They approached me with love and care.

Sandy Heard (M. Div. ’19): I was a little naïve when I arrived at Perkins. I thought I would learn all the answers here. At one of my first classes, I started arguing with the professor. I said, “You just presented three different perspectives. What’s the right way?” He said, “They’re all the right way.” I thought, “That can’t be!”

Instead of learning “the answers” at Perkins, it’s more about fostering that creativity and imagination already within you — the knowledge you already have, the revelation you already have about God and truth. I was able to grow in my ability to articulate my thoughts of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit working in the church and in our lives.

Kathy Hines: I have never felt so much a part of something as I do here at Perkins. I’m excited about the people who are open to receive me and want to get to know who I am. My experience at Perkins is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I’ve been exposed to people from all over the world. From all facets of technology, science, education, religion. You name it, I’ve met them. I’ve talked to them and become life-long friends with them. There’s something about the campus that brings people together. It’s real community in every sense of the word.

Dean Craig Hill: Your experiences show me that Perkins is doing what it should be doing: equipping the whole person. There’s a fallacy that can easily arise in theological education — that the only important thing is to learn to think the right things about Jesus. But the most important thing, as Paul tells us in Philippians, is to have the mind of Christ. It’s not enough to think the right things. None of us is going to think all the right things. We’re all going to be wrong about something. We need each other. A Christian learning community that doesn’t embody that has failed significantly. But if this is a place where you’re loved, where you’re embraced, where people see you first as a child of God — that creates the opportunity for transformative conversation.

Flor Granillo (M. Div. ’19): Perkins has been healing for me. When I entered this community, I came in pieces. Broken in pieces. Three months before the first day of classes, I lost my child in an accident. At Perkins, the doors were open and I was embraced. That healing process has brought me back to life. I feel empowered, I feel ready, really ready, to serve and go out and do anything. Nothing stops me, nothing. I can speak to anyone. I can go and sit with anyone and I can speak about what God has done for me. That came from Perkins mostly, because I’ve been here for three years … those three years have been just transformative.

Wallace Wyatt, III (M.Div. ’21): At Perkins, I’ve grown to embrace diversity. As an undergraduate, I went to a very small HBCU in Daytona Beach, Florida, where African-Americans made up over 98% of the student population. We were very, very competitive — I call it a “crabs-in-the-bucket” mentality. Everyone was trying to get to the top, but not realizing you were pulling someone else down on the way. Perkins is different — more like a salad bowl. Everyone represents something different within the salad. We all work together, understanding we are still uniquely different. That’s my biggest takeaway.

That’s a great metaphor! Is there something about Perkins that discourages that “crabs-in-a-bucket” mentality?

Wallace Wyatt: It’s like everyone here is on a race to get to know the next person. If I’m in the refectory and there’s a student I’ve never met before, I never get the sense that person is looking at me and wondering, “Why is he here?” Instead, they’re looking at me saying, “Hey, I wonder who he is. Let me go and get to know him.”
Sandy Heard: I think people come here seeking the best out of others and expecting them to come with love. In any discussion, we’re not against each other. The assumption is that we are all for seeking truth. This is an environment where that’s encouraged.

Ashley Smith (M. Div. ’21): I have an expression: I came to Perkins with this box that I put God in.

I came from a Bible-based church that was very literal and very evangelical. Perkins really opened my eyes as to other ways to interpret things and other people and other walks of life. It really affected me in the beginning, because it was just very shocking. I felt confused. Nothing was lining up with what I’d been taught before. I wondered: “Am I in the right place? Is this for me?” I was really struggling. Especially in my Old Testament class, because it was just being interpreted in so many different ways than I was used to.

Perkins opened my eyes to realize that we can’t contain God. The experience definitely just made me love more, accept more, be so much more open than I was before and not feel afraid to ask questions, because I’m not going to be judged. People here were really welcoming, and they were just so gracious about my struggle and didn’t take offense to anything I asked. They knew my heart and they knew where I was coming from, so just being able to speak freely was amazing, because how are you going to learn if you don’t ask the hard questions?

Sketer Riungu (M.T.S. ’19): I’ve changed a lot in terms of my thinking. In Kenya, I am an ordained minister and was serving in a church, which was a very difficult church. Also, I’m a mother. I had to leave my three children back home with my husband, who was just starting a business.

I worried, with my accent, how was I going to manage? But people don’t care the way you talk, they are ready to listen. At Perkins, I was introduced to pastoral care. These classes have transformed my life. Before, I didn’t know anything about self-care. All the time I was working, working, working, because it was all about my weakness. I had to please every member in the church, and most of the time I forgot about myself, so I can say that my ministry and my life have been transformed.

I’ve also grown in terms of learning how to accommodate other people who have very different beliefs — just sitting down and listening to them and loving them. It has been an amazing experience.

How do you accommodate without compromising your own beliefs?

Sketer Riungu: I can allow people to give their views. That does not need to change me. Yes, I will listen to you, I will love you, but deep inside me I know who I am and what I believe.

Sandy Heard: I came a little fearful of my age. I’m 41 – and I’m coming into a seminary with a bunch of people right out of undergraduate college. The first semester was hard. At the end of the very first day of Systematic Theology, I broke down in tears and said, “I’m in the wrong place. I can’t do this.” I didn’t know half of the words that were being said that first day. I panicked.

I was sitting next to someone who is 18 years younger than me. He turned to me and said, “You got this, girl.” He wrote down his name and phone number on my syllabus and told me, “We’re going to do this together.” I didn’t expect to have such a strong bond with people who are part of a totally different generation than me. I’ve really connected with this other generation, and I’ve learned so much from them.

Many of your observations relate to finding a sense of belonging at Perkins. That is so important to us as humans but can also lead to tribalism — an “us-versus-them” mentality. Is there something about Perkins that avoids that?

Kathy Hines: SMU has an uplifting statement, “World Changers Shaped Here.” I accept the quest personally, because if I dare to be here and stay here, I’m not going to just keep it for myself. I dare to go out and change the world and be a part of that mission to change the world, making a difference.

So there’s connection, but it’s not an insular kind of connection. It’s outward-looking.

Dean Hill: Right. When the culture of an institution promotes an “us-versus-them” mentality, that is exactly not the kind of place that will form people who have the mind of Christ, who can demonstrate and live out the life of Christ in the world.

Charles Wesley had a wonderful way of putting it: “Unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” Neither is enough by itself. If we don’t live out what we’re teaching, we’re failing. Yes, we can and must always strive to do better, but it’s wonderful to hear that that’s happening here at Perkins.

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

An Era Like No Other

By Sam Hodges

When the 1969 entering class of Perkins gathered for a group photo, the men wore coats and ties. Most of the women did, too. Still a small minority, they had been left out of the administration’s one-page mimeographed instructions for how to dress for the photo. So, to get a laugh and make a point, they wore coats and ties over their skirts. Some added contrast by carrying handbags.

Copies of the photo still get circulated, and there’s one in the Bridwell Library archives.

“That picture is about visibility,” said retired United Methodist Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who helped organize the coat-and-tie rebellion. “We wanted the administration to know we were there. We wanted to be seen and heard, and not be invisible.”

She added: “The dean was not happy.”

There’s a hippy-tinged witticism that goes: If you remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. But Perkins students of 1968 and 1969 vividly recall how the school changed them, and how they, influenced by a supercharged atmosphere of current events and social movements, pressed the school to change. Personal growth and pushing the envelope — actions that characterized the era.

“It was a time of ferment, and it was a time of learning,” Huie said. “It was an exciting time in many ways.”

Fifty years ago, the U.S. still reeled from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. The country had seen urban riots and the counterculture extravaganza of Woodstock. The Vietnam War had altered presidential politics and prompted campus demonstrations nationwide.

The Perkins administration specified “coats and ties” as the dress code for a group photo of the entering class in 1969, failing to give any instruction to women students. Most of them donned coats and ties, too, as a protest of the slight. Bridwell Library photo.

Perkins was no Berkeley, and the faculty was still all male, and all white. But the Baby Boomers who had come to the seminary were restive about the war, civil rights, women’s rights and more.

The Rev. Lovett Weems, who would go on to a long, distinguished career in seminary education, helped lead a 16-mile march against a proposed anti-ballistic missile system while still a student at Perkins. The Dallas Morning News covered the April 27, 1969, protest.

Weems said Vietnam loomed as a matter of discussion and deep concern for him and many other Perkins students. (The school would, as part of a nationwide event, postpone classes on Oct. 15, 1969, in favor of “consideration and evaluation” of the Vietnam War.)

But in talking about his Perkins days, Weems also underscores how much certain courses and encounters with professors meant to him. He still recalls the prayer Professor John Deschner offered in class after the death of theologian Karl Barth, Deschner’s mentor.

Weems said faculty would invite students to their homes, and he remained in touch with some professors after finishing at Perkins. One was Albert Outler.

“Outler read just about everything I wrote on Wesley,” Weems said. “My philosophy, when he’d objected to something I’d written, was to edit by deletion.”

The Rev. John Holbert came to Perkins from Grinnell College, where activism against the Vietnam War was intense. He spent some of his early time at the seminary registering Hispanic voters in west Dallas, hoping for election results that would help end the war.

His interest in politics didn’t flag, but Holbert fell in love with Hebrew and the Old Testament at Perkins, finding a mentor in Professor Bill Power.

“I took Hebrew because it looked funny,” said Holbert, who would earn a Ph.D. at SMU and teach for 33 years at Perkins. “My whole life changed. Suddenly, I became very interested in biblical things, and I took every bit of Hebrew I could.”

Retired United Methodist Bishop Robert Hayes, Jr., and the Rev. J.D. Phillips were among a small group of African-American students at Perkins in the late 1960s.

“I bought an Army jacket and grew an Afro. I was all about the (civil rights) movement,” Hayes said.

Hayes and Phillips had come to Perkins from small, predominantly African-American Huston-Tillotson College in Austin. Suddenly they found themselves on the SMU campus with thousands of students, the overwhelming majority of them white.

“It was really leaving one culture and going to another,” Phillips said. “There were a lot of adjustments that I don’t think a person could understand — except someone like me, who was going through it.”

Phillips and Hayes found Perkins to be a welcoming enclave at SMU. But not always.

“I remember one class where the professor said something we thought was derogatory,” Hayes said. “The next time we met, we sort of commandeered the class to have a rebuttal. Everything was supercharged at that time.”

Hayes and Phillips remember joining other black students in pushing Perkins to hire a black professor. Meanwhile, Phillips began to read James Cone’s black liberation theology, and Hayes became comprehensively more serious about his studies in his second or “middler” year, challenged by the strong faculty Perkins had.

“You had all these names who are legendary in Methodist theological education,” Hayes said. “They sent us out into the world to do ministry.”

Concern for civil rights was hardly limited to African-American students. The Rev. Robert Huie, Janice Huie’s husband, was on the Student Social Action Committee at Perkins, which raised legal defense funds for two Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) workers facing prosecution in Dallas.

The Rev. Lovett Weems (front of column, right side) led a protest march of a proposed anti-ballistic missile system in 1969 while a student at Perkins. Photo courtesy Lovett Weems.

Bob Huie remembers his activism, but also his exposure to Barth – particularly Against the Stream, a collection of the theologian’s post-World War II writings.

“That fit right into the way we saw theology’s role in the late ’60s,” he said.

Janice Huie discovered female theologians while at Perkins and read and discussed their books with other female students. Those students made their own push, this time for Perkins to hire a female faculty member.

But Huie gratefully describes support she got from the men, including Ron Sleeth, professor of her homiletics course.

“He taught me not to copy men, but to find my own voice,” she said of studying preaching with Sleeth.

“His permission-giving was hugely helpful.”

The Rev. Donna Lindberg worked her way through Perkins in that period, at one point taking an overnight shift as a telephone switchboard operator at Baylor Medical Center. Lindberg, too, experienced the visibility struggle. She heard professors say, “Gentlemen, take your seats,” at the beginning of class, with no acknowledgement she was there.

But for Lindberg, who went on to be a United Methodist district superintendent, the quality of instruction was beyond dispute. She recalled a theology course taught by Deschner and Schubert Ogden.

“A marvelous team,” Lindberg said. “They really gave us a broad perspective, from two polar opposite perspectives, in teaching systematics.”

Bridwell Library contains student publications of the era, and they are something of a time capsule. They reflect all the social concerns, but also students’ efforts at poetry (one anonymously submitted an obscene poem and caused a campus flap), short stories and their reviews of books by Sartre, Bellow and edgy movies such as “Midnight Cowboy.” Student Caroline Brewer contributed a powerful essay, “Cool Reflections on a Hot Summer,” about her experience doing interracial ministry in the Mississippi Delta.

Perkins had been changing all along, but the students of ’68-’69 had an accelerating effect, said the Rev. Joseph L. Allen, a retired faculty member and author of a history of the seminary. Students served on committees for a major self-study that led to curriculum and governance innovations.

In 1970, Perkins hired its first African-American faculty member, Nathaniel Lacy, and that same year broke ground by hiring Alfredo Nañez, an early Hispanic alumnus, as professor of practical theology and Mexican American studies. Two years later, Phyllis Bird became the school’s first female faculty member.

For the Rev. Charles Millikan, vice president of spiritual care and values integration at Houston Methodist Hospital, attending Perkins in the late 1960s was a “tremendous” experience. He felt himself stretched by the faculty and by fellow students.

“As much as we talk about world changers at SMU, they were world changers in their day,” he said.

And, as the need arose, the female students wore coats and ties.

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Worthy Opponents: Susanne Scholz and Billy Abraham

By Mary Jacobs

You wouldn’t expect Susanne Scholz and William J. “Billy” Abraham to be good friends. You might
even wonder whether the two Perkins faculty members could manage a civil conversation.

Scholz is a professor of Old Testament, a feminist who’s currently teaching a course in Queer Bible Hermeneutics. Abraham, who is Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies, defends his theologically conservative understanding of the Christian faith. On many issues, the two Perkins faculty members couldn’t be further apart. Yet their friendship, which began in 2013, has endured.

Here are excerpts from a lively and wide-ranging 90-minute conversation with Scholz and Abraham on what makes the friendship work.

Tell me how you became friends.

Abraham: It started in a faculty meeting. I was on my usual soapbox about intellectual and theological diversity at Perkins, and I said, “Maybe somebody like me should teach a course with Susanne Scholz.” There were gasps around the room. Jaws dropped. But you got in touch with me and we met over tea. I found it very challenging. I think you were worried about giving a platform to this stodgy, doctrinaire, dogmatic, orthodox Christian.
Scholz: Worse! I had been warned. (Laughs.) I was warned that you would turn around every statement I’m making into something else, and I wouldn’t recognize it anymore. I didn’t like that idea.
Abraham: It took a while for us to get beyond the stereotypes.

What got you past the stereotypes? You ended up team-teaching a course in the fall of 2015 on Postmodern Biblical Historiography.

Scholz: I think we are both very European, in that we believe in this intellectual endeavor within this anti-intellectual culture. American culture has no patience for intellectual debate. It basically says, ‘Let’s just stop talking and do it; let’s get it done.’ Billy and I are very abstract conceptual thinkers. That’s our strength, and we appreciate each other on that level.
Abraham: I’ve always had a significant curiosity about people who disagree with me. I wanted to get clarity on the alternative vision that Susanne’s work and her intellectual illuminations involve to harvest the best insights for my point of view. Some of it was just chemistry. This is where friendship comes in. To be able to meet over a glass of wine and rhubarb pie.
Scholz: With a little ice cream, yes.
Abraham: That is important. It’s not just confined to our work. People at Perkins care for one another, across these divisions. I’ve called Susanne about family issues. A few years ago, when the University issued a directive from on high that I found troubling, Susanne was the first person I called, to test my instincts.

Your story invites comparisons with the friendship between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia — two Supreme Court justices famously at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Do you see any parallels?

Scholz: You can call me Ruth.
Abraham: I do like Scalia’s philosophy of law. Regarding the Constitution, he was an originalist.
Scholz: When you listen to the confirmation hearings of the Supreme Court justices — which I did, as much as I could, because I found them so fascinating — you realize that they were making hermeneutical arguments. The things Billy and I disagree and debate over are not just theological issues.
Abraham: I am originalist in reading the Scripture; I care about the author’s intent.
Scholz: This is where our deep differences surface. I actually say in my classes, “The Bible is the word of God. But what do I mean by that?” The Bible is metaphorical language; it’s not historical language. I’m not talking history as we understand history at Dedman College. As an academic, we have a shared vocabulary and shared assumptions, and they are not to say that the Bible is historical fact.
Abraham: I think this is the heart of theology. I think we can talk perfectly legitimately about God doing things: raising Jesus from the dead, becoming incarnate, speaking to the prophets, sending me to Texas for my sins. The assumption that God doesn’t poke his nose into history or do anything beyond what happens naturally or through human action — I think that’s a highly dubious assumption to make theologically.

You are each from parts of the world where conflicts over ideas had life-and-death consequences. Is that part of the equation here?

Scholz: Yes. I was raised in post-Holocaust Germany.
Abraham: And I’m from Northern Ireland.
Scholz: I think it’s fruitful and essential to have interaction across the aisle. I couldn’t even fathom thinking along the same lines as Billy does, and yet there it is. There’s a human who’s thinking in a very different way. I think we need this kind of interaction. That’s the value of a democratic system.
Abraham: We also share a broadly liberal arts conception of theology, that theology should be part of the University; it shouldn’t just be confined to a school of theology on the edge
of the campus or seen as a kind of upgrade of a Sunday school. We both think theology is a very important discipline. The reality and character of God really matter. These issues have social and political implications, and we both want to have an accurate account of them.
Scholz: We also share a kind of irreverence and a willingness to challenge the orthodoxies in our respective areas. We’re each willing to go with what we’ve concluded is the position to be defended, even if it’s going to incite people left and right. I thought that was very German. But apparently, it’s Northern Irish, too.

One of the most divisive issues in the United Methodist church right now is human sexuality. This is a key area where you disagree, yes?

Scholz: Yes. With all the joviality, we’ve sort of bracketed that subject. I think we should be for justice. For reasons I can’t fathom, Billy is set in his position. To me, it’s a nonissue.
Abraham: It’s not a nonissue, because you consider my position to be morally offensive and homophobic, and damaging to people. That’s a big issue.
Scholz: I know.
Abraham: And I don’t want you to back off that.
Scholz: I’m not backing off.

Let’s talk about what you have in common.

Scholz: Here’s what I think we agree on: democracy, free speech and thought, pedagogy and taking theology seriously.
Abraham: We are both really serious scholars. We’re not happy to simply get tenure and then take it easy. We also both love gossip — figuring out what’s going on in the higher echelons of the University.
Scholz: We both have a sense of humor. We love to argue. We love to hear good arguments. We like to challenge, and we like to investigate, ponder, reflect and analyze, so we both love our work. I mean, I think he’s always wrong and he thinks I’m always wrong on the content. But the form matters too, right?
Abraham: We have very different views, but, at the end of the day, we are prepared to step out and say what we’ve received may need to be revised or rejected. We both have a love of scholarship and a very strong sense of respect for each other’s scholarship. There’s a very deep respect here — that what we’re about is radically different, but it’s worth doing, and it’s worth doing well.

Is there something about Perkins that fosters this kind of friendship?

Abraham: Yes. I think our ability to get together is
part of our DNA at Perkins, which goes back to the complementary work of Schubert Ogden and the late John Deschner, faculty members at Perkins for many years beginning in the mid-1950s. I think they helped create Perkins as a place that was prepared to say, “Look, we’re going to have differences, and we’re going to lock the doors and work those through. I disagree with him from top to bottom, but I consider Schubert Ogden to be one of the finest liberal theologists of the 20th century. Deschner studied with Karl Barth; he managed to get Barth to take John Wesley seriously. To me, those two were a symbol of what Perkins was about. To be able to be part of this community with that kind of intellectual horsepower, it’s fantastic.
Scholz: At the academic level, theology is staking out your territory, testing the waters with your thinking
and your arguments. I think we agree on that. I’m glad that there’s space for me and some other progressively inclined theologians here. But I think Perkins could be stronger in the progressive realm of theological studies. Perkins may seem very liberal because we are living in a state that’s still fairly conservative. But in other circles, we’re viewed as moderate.
Abraham: I think it would be a tragedy if Perkins became identified as a school that primarily stoops for a progressive agenda.
Scholz: That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, in terms of the progressive academic discourse, we are tame as a group.

We live in divisive times. Is there something your story can offer the rest of the world?

Abraham: When one works as a scholar, you work hard at a problem. You live in that silo. You don’t really know the fullness of your own issue until someday someone steps up and says, “I don’t even want to put the issue that way. I have a completely alternative way of thinking through what’s at stake.” So, there’s a sense in which self-knowledge depends upon the kind of conversation across the aisle that we are talking about.
Scholz: I think our story teaches us to keep talking.
I think Perkins could do an even better job of communicating our diversity and maybe fostering more actively this kind of across-the-aisle conversation. It could be our cutting edge. The millennials want this kind of conversation.

“We both have a sense of humor. We love to argue. We love to hear good arguments. We like to challenge, and we like to investigate, ponder, reflect and analyze, so we both love our work.”

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Perkins Names 2019 Seals Laity Award Recipient

Perkins School of Theology announced John M. Esquivel as the recipient of the 2019 Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award. He was recognized on March 28 during the opening worship service of the three-day Perkins Theological School for the Laity in Perkins Chapel.

The Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award is presented annually to a layperson in the United States who embodies the Christian faith and commitment of service to Christ in the church, community and world as exemplified by Judge Woodrow B. Seals, a distinguished layperson whose interest and energy were instrumental in establishing the Perkins Theological School for the Laity. Selection for the Seals Award is made by the Perkins Lay Advisory Board.

Esquivel is a faithful United Methodist, a community leader, a philanthropist and an advocate for civil rights. He retired from the Shell Oil Company, where he served as chief ethics and compliance officer and associate general counsel. A member of First United Methodist of Houston, he was elected in 2016 as Lay Leader for the Texas Annual Conference and serves actively on the bishop’s Extended Cabinet. He is a longtime member of the Board of Trustees for the Houston Symphony, has served as chairman of the Greater Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Justice for Our Neighbors Houston, and is a member of the boards of the National Council of La Raza and the YMCA of Greater Houston.

“John Esquivel is a person of deep faith with an impressive record of leadership in the Houston community and in the United Methodist church,” said Priscilla Pope-Levison, associate dean of External Affairs at Perkins. “He is devoted to making Houston and the world a better place through his work in civil rights, advocacy and philanthropy.”

“John serves faithfully and actively not only in his home congregation, but also in the broader community and in the world,” said Jan McClendon, chair of the Seals Laity Award Committee and a member of the Perkins Lay Board. “I was particularly impressed with John’s commitment to global ministry. He and his family have gone on mission trips to 14 different countries in addition to their work in the U.S.”

Esquivel also has a family immigrant story connected to the United Methodist church. In nominating Esquivel, the Rev. B.T. Williamson, assistant to the bishop of the Texas Annual Conference noted, “John proudly traces his origins in the United Methodist church back to his grandparents who lived in San Antonio, Texas, and who were active participants in the Wesley Community Center.”

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Perkins Names Louisiana Bishop as 2018 Distinguished Alumna

By Bruce Tomaso

Cynthia Fierro Harvey (M.Div. ’99), bishop of the Louisiana Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, was chosen as the 2018 recipient of the Perkins School of Theology’s Distinguished Alumnus/a Award. The prestigious award was presented to Bishop Harvey at a dinner banquet on Nov. 12 at Perkins.

The Distinguished Alumnus/a Award recognizes Perkins graduates who have demonstrated effectiveness and integrity in service to the church, continuing support for the goals of Perkins and SMU, outstanding service to the community and exemplary character.

“At a time when our Houston-Galveston Extension Program is experiencing a resurgence, it is especially fitting that this year’s honor should go to one of its first graduates, Cynthia Fierro Harvey. Bishop Harvey epitomizes the best of a Perkins education through her outstanding leadership and commitment to developing relationships across all levels of the global church,” Perkins Dean Craig C. Hill said.

“Among countless other acts of service, she bore the weight for the denomination of the earthquake in Haiti and navigated recovery and support from numerous hurricanes and floods in her episcopal area,” he continued.

“Bishop Harvey has been a strong supporter of Perkins, both in and beyond Louisiana. Particularly noteworthy was her early advocacy for connecting Perkins with church-related colleges and universities in the region, beginning with Centenary College and leading to cooperative agreements last year with eight other schools. We could not ask for a better partner in our shared work,” Dean Hill added.

In nominating Harvey for the award, Bishop Kenneth Carter, episcopal leader of the Florida Annual Conference and president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, expressed his appreciation for her leadership and formation at Perkins.

“I know Cynthia’s mind to have been deeply shaped by the significant theological education she received at Perkins,” he said. “I also know her to be a woman of integrity who lives for others as a sacrificial and servant leader. (She) is an exemplary graduate of Perkins and a prominent example of the influence you are having in God’s world.”

The Rev. JoAnne Pounds, pastor of Mer Rouge United Methodist Church and Memorial Bastrop United Methodist Church, both in Louisiana, praised the bishop in her nomination letter for her “grace-filled” leadership.

“The day I first met Bishop Harvey I was immediately impressed,” wrote Pounds, herself a Perkins graduate (M.Div. ’14) and member of the Perkins Alumni/ae Council. “She makes the effort to not only know the names of the clergy, but also important human details about each of us. This fosters and models deep, rich relationships.”

“Her passion for the future of the church is evident in her investment in the youth of Louisiana, and the way in which she encourages, embraces and empowers young clergy such as myself,” she added. “She is absolutely remarkable and inspiring.”

Harvey has been bishop of the Louisiana Conference, which encompasses the entire state, since 2012. In that ministry, she serves as spiritual shepherd to more than 118,000 worshipers in 486 congregations.

Previously, she was associate pastor of The Foundry United Methodist Church in Houston (1992-1996), executive pastor of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston (1996-2008) and director of missional excellence for the Texas Annual Conference (2008-2010).

She served as deputy general secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the church’s worldwide humanitarian relief organization.

She is a member of the SMU Board of Trustees and the Perkins Executive Board, which provides advice and counsel to the dean; supports relationships between faculty, students and the church community; aids in recruiting, monitors the school’s performance; and assists in networking at the local, regional and national levels.

Harvey was born on May 5, 1959, in Big Spring, Texas. In 1981, she married Dean Alan Harvey, a financial adviser. Their daughter, Elizabeth Grace, is married to Tyler Reames. They make their home in Dallas.

The recipient of the 2017 Perkins Distinguished Alumnus/a Award was Bishop Michael McKee (M.Th. ’78) of the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Friends We Will Miss

These four members of the Perkins community, who touched numerous lives through their many years of service, passed away in recent months.

Former Council of Bishops President William B. Oden passed away on  December 22, 2018, in Highlands Ranch, Colo., with his family surrounding him. Bishop Oden was elected to the episcopacy by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in 1988. He served the Louisiana Conference from 1988-1996 and the North Texas Conference from 1996 until his retirement in 2004. Bishop Oden was president of the Council of Bishops from 2000-2001 and served as the Council’s Ecumenical Officer from 2004-2008. He was well-known to the Perkins and SMU community, having served on the SMU Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2004, as Bishop in Residence for Perkins from 2004 to 2008 and as a member of the executive board for SMU-in-Taos. Bishop Oden’s family asked that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to the William B. Oden Scholarship at Perkins.

The Rev. Page A. Thomas (B.D. ’61), who served in multiple capacities at Bridwell  Library for nearly half a century, including as director of the Center for Methodist Studies, died March 8, 2019, near Fairview, Texas. Thomas was well-known throughout SMU for his enthusiasm, energetic charm, professional integrity and affinity for Western wear. Thomas received a B.A. in 1958 from Hendrix College, where he served as a student pastor and was ordained a Deacon (1959) and Elder (1962) in the North Arkansas Annual Conference. In 1961, he earned a B.D. [M.Div. equivalent] from Perkins. He held the record for the longest single appointment in the United Methodist Church: 46 years at Bridwell Library. Thomas began working at the library just four months after graduating from Perkins. His professional interests included Methodist history, historical research, rare book cataloguing and archaeology. In his free time, he enjoyed blacksmithing, fishing, raising horses and volunteering at the Heritage Farmstead in Plano.

The Rev. Bruce Weaver (B.D. ’47) died on February 18, 2019 in his home in  Carrollton, Texas, near Dallas, at the age of 97. He was the Perkins Distinguished Alum in 2001, and a leader in the North Texas conference and the global church. Weaver was the founding leader of the Russia Initiative, reviving Methodism in the former Soviet Union. After his passing, many United Methodists from the U.S. to Russia recalled his long life and ministry with gratitude.

Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, called Weaver “one of the most remarkable and effective United Methodist mission leaders of the late 20th century.” The Rev. Sergei Nikolaev, president of Moscow Theological Seminary of The United Methodist Church, called him “the single crucial reason” for the rekindling of Methodism in Russia. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Bruce Weaver Fund at Perkins, or to another charitable cause.

The Rev. Dr. Bert Affleck (B.D. ’58), a retired professor of practical theology and director of supervisory studies at Perkins, died March 13, 2019 at age 84. Affleck began his career as a church pastor, then served as campus minister at McMurry University from 1961-1964. He went on to Drew University, where he earned a Ph.D. in church history, then returned to McMurry for a second lengthy stint as chaplain. He also taught in the Department of Religion and co-wrote a religion textbook, Exploring Religious Meaning, which would go through six editions. At Perkins, Affleck served as Intern Program director through 1997 and directed the Course of Study School. Even in retirement, Affleck found ways to serve, helping with a church start as part of a North Texas Conference.

Affleck’s wife of 61 years, Patsy, was a secretary to the director of Bridwell Library and coordinator of Perkins Chapel before her death in 2016.

Perspective Magazine Summer 2019

Save the Date

The Art of Resilience: Latinx Public Witness for Troubled Times

September 20–21, 2019

The Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions of Perkins School of Theology will host a two-day event that will gather Latinx scholars, artists, religious leaders and community activists to explore how academic research, religious practices, the arts and public engagement address the current social climate of Latino/a-phobia, gendered and race-based public policy. Daisy Machado, Union Theology Seminary of NYC; Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Duke University; and Fernando Segovia, Vanderbilt Divinity School, are featured keynote speakers. Arts of the spoken word, visual and musical, as well as interdisciplinary panel discussions, will all be a part of this rich, expressive event. For more information, contact Isabel Docampo at


The Third Annual ArkLaTex Lecture

October 7, 2019

The lecture is cosponsored by The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence and Williams Memorial United Methodist Church of Texarkana, Texas. This year’s speaker, the Rev. Dr. Paul Scott Wilson, one of the most respected and recognized teachers of homiletics in North America, is Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College of the University of Toronto. He lectures and preaches widely in Canada, the United States and Europe. He is a past recipient of the United Church of Canada’s Davidson Trust Award for excellence in teaching and scholarship and a past president of the Academy of Homiletics.

For more information, contact the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at


Perkins Fall Convocation

November 11-12, 2019

Come to this two-day event featuring three keynote speakers: author and TV host Rick Steves; Founder and Executive Director of Gateway of Grace, Samira Izadi Page; and President and Founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Celestin Musekura. The speakers will be joined by additional workshop leaders and panelists focusing on mission. To receive email updates about this event, please visit and click on “Fall Convocation for Church Leaders” after completing the registration form.


2019 Annual Advent Worship Service

December 5, 2019

An Advent Service will be held Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, at 4 and 8 p.m. in Perkins Chapel, 6001 Bishop Boulevard, on the Southern Methodist University campus. The event is free and open to the public.


United Methodist Studies Certification Hybrid Course

January 2-4, 2020
This hybrid course is geared for a wide audience — confirmation class leaders, new and longtime United Methodist church member and United Methodist certification students. Perkins faculty will cover the basics of United Methodist History and Theology. Request email updates at


United Methodist Children’s Ministry and Christian Education Certification Program

January 5-10, 2020

This program is open to laity and church professionals seeking United Methodist Certification in Christian Education and/or Children’s Ministry through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). Request email updates at


United Methodist Church Youth Ministry Certification Program

January 5-10, 2020

Certification applications opened August 1. Early Registration for PSYM and Certification will open August 22. For information, visit


Perkins School of Youth Ministry

January 6-9, 2020

Since 1988 Perkins has coordinated training programs exclusively designed to resource those in the church whose ministries focus on youth and young adults. Join us at PSYM 2020. Visit for more information.


Perkins Theological School for the Laity

March 26-28, 2020

Join us for three days of study focusing on the Bible, theology and spirituality with Perkins faculty and guest speakers. Request email updates at


2020 General Conference

May 5-15, 2020

The 2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be held in Minneapolis, Minn., and members of the Perkins community will attend. Please stay tuned for more information.


2020 Commencement and Conferral of Degrees

May 16, 2020

Perkins School of Theology will honor graduating seniors during the University-wide Commencement ceremony at 9:30 a.m. in Moody Coliseum. Following Commencement, Perkins will hold its annual Celebration of Degrees and Academic Achievements at 2 p.m. at Highland Park United Methodist Church.


South Central Jurisdictional Conference

July 15-18, 2020

Perkins faculty, staff, alumni, students and friends will gather in The Woodlands, Texas, for the 2020 South Central Jurisdictional Conference. More information will become available soon.