I graduated from Christian Theological Seminary with a Masters degree in Theological Studies. It is the progressive, ecumenical seminary in Indiana, or, rather, it was. As I was graduating, a new president was coming in. His name is Matthew Myer Boulton. I was informed that he had an evangelical background, had married, and converted to Disciples of Christ via his wife. As expected when there is a change in new leadership, I heard a few nervous grumblings. However, as I was too preoccupied with finishing my final semester, I rather pooh poohed the grumblings, which turned out to be a grave error.
This is not to say, I did not have initial misgivings. Quite the contrary, I had enormous trepidation, particularly on the day of our commencement. Boulton had invited a guest speaker to deliver one of the most pronounced, jaw-dropping reprehensible screeds I have ever had the misfortune to be inundated with.
The speaker, Rev. David Hampton, who was reportedly getting his honorary PhD for monies contributed to CTS, took the platform and essentially delivered a tent revival diatribe,which had the chutzpah to mix New Age claptrap phraseologies with dyed in the wool, sawdust on the floor, ho-de-ho backwoods melodramatics. The speaker, from the kitsch named organization: Light Of The World, made every effort to promote himself and his organization as the group most responsible for having notified the world at large of the hate crime brewing in Florida under the guise of George Zimmerman. Additionally, we were told that it was Light of the World, which had single handedly reversed public apathy regarding the tragic case and had stirred up support for Treyvon Martin’s family. Like Mighty Mouse, Light of the World had come to save the day. I half expected every sentence to end with a shrewdly timed Aa-ya aa-ya. I have to give credit where credit is due. Hampton knew how to work the herd.
Unfortunately, he followed this up with an even more divisive and ill-timed screed on gay marriage, which ended with an erroneous comparison of that to looming mortal sins. The worked over crowd was equally divided between cowardly amens and pent rage.
Boulton himself added to the mounting cheese ratio, posing with each of us like some cardboard cutout standee that we could get our polaroid taken with for a mere ten bucks. The cruelest irony of all was Boulton, through perfectly preserved plastic smiles, presented himself as gifting us our degree, when in fact, this was the first time I had even interacted with him. It was my thesis board and my educators who encouraged and nourished me toward the earning of that degree and they were conveniently out of sight, out of mind, out of heart.
Perhaps, Boulton will add this to a potential mounting list of penances to come.
I predominantly grew up in an evangelical denomination and officially converted to Catholicism in the early 90s. Although CTS is a Protestant seminary, its reputation for academic excellence, rich ecumenicism, and progressive theology drew me to it. What I found at that school, amongst the faculty, was challenging, richly artistic educators who I will always cherish. For me, this felt like that rarity of rarities: an authentically Christian education.
Naturally, there was much variety in the student base and among those was a charismatic, evangelical faction who I did not relate to, but from a distance, was open to (given my background). Still, most of those aforementioned students were Masters of Divinity (MDIV). Therefore, my interaction with them was secondary, given that I was majoring in theology.
Of course, it is a given that with such a diverse student body, some tensions arose, which I will share if only to give a well-rounded portrait of the target student base that Boulton and Trustees seem to be catering to in order to follow the money.
a. Church and the Arts. A rather impassioned complaint delivered to me via the cafeteria, from a fellow student, re: the class which had “way too much art, and not enough church!”
b. Same class. Student objected to how much money the medieval gothic churches spent on art. “After all, that money could have gone to the poor.” The professor, in a manner far more couth than I ever could have mustered, suggested that her perspective was, perhaps, filtered through a 21st century, western lens:
“Think about it. For the faithful of that period, the most important part of their life was the cathedral. For us, it might, for instance, be a sports arena. Would you propose that we NOT build the Hoosier Dome, take all the money raised for the dome, and give it to the poor?”
“Because even less affluent people can go see some of the sports events.”
“Very good, yet all classes of people were welcome into the cathedrals. For them, it was akin to entering a different world. It was the closest they could get to a state-like unto heaven, while here on this earth. Even, in the worst case scenarios of abject poverty.
“‘Yes, but images are blasphemy.”
“Let me ask you this. Have you ever gone to a showing of a religious movie? Or, does your parish have bible-based coloring books?”
“Well, that image on the cinema screen is, indeed, an image, as images in a coloring book are images. Would you consider these to be blasphemous?”
No solid answer was forthcoming, but there was not so masked grumblings in the cafeteria.
c. First day of class in scripture studies. We had to give our name, year of study, focus of major, and denomination. The Student in front of me opted :
“I am open to CTS’ ecumenical spirit as long as you’re not Catholic or Jewish.”
My name was called next and I was compelled to report that I was Catholic with a mixed heritage, which included a Jewish grandfather.
d. Christian-Jewish relations. Last day of class. Rabbi Sasso asked students if they had anything they wished to share re: our trip to the Holocaust museum. MDIV student volunteered:
“Yes, I really learned a lot ! I think now some Jews will get to go to heaven.”
If CTS really wanted to put its ecumenical money where its mouth is, it would perhaps consider bypassing those questions of denominational affiliation. This has a tendency to open that us vs them, one of them can of worms, especially among students who do not subscribe to or share the school’s self-proclaimed ecumenical banner.Naturally, there were instances, among such students, towards aggressively expressed naiveté (or downright ignorance), accusatory questions regarding your denomination, and blatant misconceptions borne of someone from the outside looking in. This, of course, occasionally puts one on a kind of defensive, balanced with the resistance to engage in apologetics (which, admittedly, I am hardly inclined to, having an acute aversion to dogmatics).
The bulk of these exampled students were from the charismatic, evangelical quarter. With enrollment undeniably down, it appears that Boulton and the Trustees believe this admittedly enthusiastic base is the key to increasing the membership. We get the impression that follow the $ is the new CTS rallying cry. Even less surprising is the inherent attitude amongst more conservatively inclined evangelicals. The more extreme among them (and there are quite a few) give the impression that they do not come to seminary to be educated, especially in that which they have not been exposed to. Rather, they come to seminary to reinforce preconceived notions, have a place where they can engage in charismatic-styled worship service and get the opportunity to fine-tune sermon making, much of which is solely attached to hyper realist, face value readings of sacred texts.
While the theological and academic side of CTS has always been open to and made room for charismatic chapel worship and/or in-class expressions, the reverse, not so surprisingly, unfortunately does not exactly add up to an altogether reciprocated welcoming or openness. Alas, the latent flag could well be that old song: “I don’t like what I don’t understand and it scares me half to death.”
With Boulton and Trustees honed-in, aggressive targeting of progressive academic faculty and administration (letting go of virtually entire staffs), they inspire perception of reflecting that conservative, charismatic agenda. Boulton and his sycophants do indeed give the distinct impression of seeing the charismatic base as the potential financial future of CTS. However, to quote Jacques Ellul, there is a radical incompatibility between money and Christ. He recommended to his disciples that they have none. For Paul, it was there to simply give away. Money in itself is a force of deviation. It is one of the main objects of covetousness, which is the root of all evils and sins. We have opted for a new bondage.
One could and will argue, that this is the real word and a school. It is not a church. However, CTS seems to be fashioning itself as a church. If it is a church, then why is it maximizing a financial terrain of such pronounced importance? Especially, at the cost of inflicting harm? Or, at the cost of denying well-being, security to others (aka the faculty and admin whose employment Boulton and company have summarily terminated)? If CTS is now a church, is it Matthew Myer Boulton’s church? Perhaps it is time for Boulton and board to change the name since it no longer appears to be organically Christian or of theology. It no longer even appears to be remotely, contextually Disciples of Christ (or of that denomination’s inherent characteristics). Matthew Myer Boulton’s Light of the World Seminary may be a more apt name and appealing for those so inclined. There is also the distinct possibility that Boulton may be the face of a sacrificial scapegoat. Rumors consistently portrayed the previous president, Edward Wheeler, as consistently ignoring the Board of Trustees, while simply doing his own thing. There is a faction, which portrays Boulton as simply accommodating the Board and using the opportunity to plant his own people.
Under the guise of Boulton’s manifesto; The Sustainability Plan, Boulton and trustees have laid claim that all actions and decisions have been dictated to by the school’s financial crisis, despite a considerable endowment (reported figures range from seventy-million to one hundred million) and the recent, hefty sale of a painting whose monies were allocated to the school. As one insider put to me: “That money will not last forever.”No, I would imagine only around a half century. Surely, with such allotted time, a different, more complex, but morally superior route could be found that did not include the all-too-easy and cruel expunging of the institution’s academic faculty.
Naturally, transforming an academic seminary into a church could hardly be accomplished alone and among the new CTS draftees are the wives of the aforementioned Light of the World speaker Hampton and Boulton’s wife. There is nothing like a dash of nepotism to generate across the board, infectious optimism.
I should include the fact that the bulk of the CTS student body, regardless of beliefs Boulton and company seem to subscribe to, is far removed from the likes of which I have described. Indeed, I have rarely encountered and thrived in a climate of such profound exploration. CTS, at least in its theological sides, was an authentic body of collaborative seekers in the classic sense and a beautiful alternative subculture.
However, that metaphoric serpent entering the garden, in order to muck things up is, alas, as old as time itself.
In the space of three short years, Matthew Myer Boulton and trustees have taken horn-in-hand and lead a charge akin to the harbinger of death gangbusters. Their first defense for havoc reeked is a predictable and ultimately sophomoric one: the opposition is resistant to change. That defense is likened unto the social media hornets (aka yahoo and youtube commentators) who sophistically claim to be victims of racism for received criticism regarding their racist expressions. In short, the cry is: “Our antagonists are narrow minded for being narrow minded about our narrow mindedness.” It is an acutely clever and shrewdly manipulative accusation.
No official charges can be concretely made that Boulton and crew are espousing a racially motivated agenda. After all, he appears to be catering to an ethnic student body, albeit a religiously conservative, charismatic one. However, few, if any faculty of color or ethnicity have survived his carnivorous plundering. Has a single African American faculty member survived the carnage? I have heard not, but do not know the complete accuracy of this charge. Among the epic list of ransacked faculty, virtually all are either openly of the LGBT community or are openly supportive of the LGBT community. Paradoxically, and possibly even hypocritically, the trustees, Boulton, and faculty did vote recently for a committed openness towards the LGBT Christian community and continued opposition to marriage amendments (HJR-3), but was CTS merely joining the decision of the DOC? As regards Boluton and the trustees, It may serve as the quintessential, public example of having one’s cake and eating it as well.
The minuscule list of survivors comparatively pales and possesses little, if any, progressive traits. Naturally, this was done in the name of CTS’ new pennant: The Sustainability Plan, which seems to hold little water next to Boulton’s hiring of a high powered RCC lawyer and public relations webmaster. Boulton’s still-on-decreased payroll sycophants and a small, but considerable wave of right-leaning pious apostolics give the appearance of enthusiastic cheering in subscription to his espoused loyalty towards brick and mortar institution over flesh and blood people/faculty/administration (Boulton excepted).
One of the earliest victims of this new sanctimonious 7th Calvary Brigade’s destructive path was a member of my thesis committee: a woman, whom I believe to be in her early sixties, and near retirement. Her retirement package and salary robbed of her, she has been two years looking for employment, alas (and apparently) to little avail. This is a woman who once studied with the eminent and well-respected ecumenical theologian Hans Kung. No public reason was given for her merciless dismissal.
Boulton’s leadership behavior seems to model one of extreme patriarchal severity. Indeed, he may be channeling the worst of abusive Vatican-styled hierarchy. Boulton leaves us with considerably pronounced vibes of having given Bishop Thomas Olmstead and the Vatican Rottweiler a literal and serious run for their money.
Perhaps more accurately, Boulton and trustees appear to be imitating a mantled sheen of thuggery. While they may not have resorted to anything so extreme as Bishop Ratzinger’s model of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (silence through book burnings of anti-status quo nuns and theologians) all the key elements of suppressive muzzling are so gloriously intact that Boulton’s ostensible path echoes the Rottweiler’s prototyped blueprint of bullying, silencing, and banishing of church theologians. Rumors abound of spying, setups, and threats being issued with faculty severance packages. We cannot know for sure because transparency is not one of Boulton’s tenets or virtues. Delegation is an opaque Boulton trademark. Encased in ivory tower, the president is surrounded and guarded by backslapping subordinates.
In lieu of this, the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s 1970s Mass becomes increasingly and tragically relevant:
God said it’s good to be poor
Good men must not be secure
So if we steal from you
It’s just to help you stay pure.
God said it’s good to be meek
And so we are once a week
It may not mean a lot
But oh, it’s terribly chic.
God made us the boss
God gave us the cross
We turned it into a sword
To spread the Word of the Lord
We use His holy decrees
To do whatever we please.
Matthew Myer Boulton is a Doctor of Theology, the president of CTS, has a Professor of Ministries from Harvard Divinity School, is a published author of books on Protestant Theology, has testified before Indiana’s Judiciary Committee, has done considerable work with the Desmond Tutu Center, and has received supportive accolades from the Indianapolis Star, Nuvo, and Huffington Post. Yet, looking at his CTS activities leads to an inescapable conclusion that the math does not add up. Is the legacy of Matthew Myer Boulton, his lackey trustees, and small army of patriarchal cheerleaders going to be one of thugs with fierce whiteout in hand? Their attempts to diminish, wall-up, disappear, abandon and erase those that they envision as aberrant and heterodox will certainly have impact, if indeed, the rumors prove factual. Yet, it is perhaps, not the impact they would imagine. Maximilian Kolbe once told an Auschwitz prison guard to please stop and think about his choice and how it would affect him one hundred years hence. Despite claims to the contrary, Boulton does not appear to think in such terminology. He lives and acts as if karma, penance, repercussions have all gone the way of the dinosaur, or the way of a dead God. Naturally, if God is dead, reaping what one sows is highly improbable.
Despite impressive and heinous weaponry, CTS’ expanding list of victims wear the honorable armor of a rich bloodline. Perhaps, the Divine Shirt of Arrows will prove to encompass them. Pulled down and left for dead, they may dream themselves into that state of sparkling facets, rising from the dirtied earth of crimes committed against their soul and being.
When a new boss comes into a place of employment, we expect he or she will replace staff members. However, when that boss is taking over an institution, which claims to be Christian, it is natural to expect him/her to conduct themselves like a Christian leader. At least, Ebenezer Scrooge took considerable pains to keep Bob Cratchet’s employment secure and this was before Scrooge’s conversion. Having sacked most, if not all of Christian Theological Seminary’s administration and faculty, without expression for the future welfare of those whose lives have been decimated, this abuse of power has rendered Ebenezer as docile as Mr. Rogers. What are we left with?
We are left with the cataclysmic sound and vision of Boulton’s happy, happy, joy joy facade, leading his campfire seminary in a ghostly rendition of Kumbaya, but be forewarned: those guitar strings could very well be fashioned from the slivers of a bloodied saber.
** Disclaimer. This article is a subjective opinion piece. In no way, do I make claim that these expressed opinions are shared by others. While, some of my information was gleaned from CTS students past and present, no information was given or shared by its faculty (past or present).
*** While at CTS, I created a body of work, some of which was done in collaboration with my studies there and a response to my time there. These are given below.