seminary while black
The Witness

Seminary While Black: How One Institution’s Toxic Culture is Causing a Black Exodus

Ally Henny

The culture at Fuller Theological Seminary is toxic to black students, faculty, and staff. The seminary sees itself as a racially diverse and inclusive institution, but it is full of the same poison that pervades white Evangelicalism. Fuller is so invested in white normativity that it cannot see the myriad of ways in which they foster a toxic environment, even in their efforts to be progressive.

As a black student, I have had to sit through weeks of lectures and readings on so-called “modern theology” that centered white European thought with all other theologies shoved into a lecture about “contextual” theologies.

The systematic theology textbook is required for four core classes in the Master of Divinity program and it is a colonized mess. James Cone appears on three pages; the same number of pages as Bach (yes, the musician). Karl Barth appears on 40 pages. I couldn’t find any black women in my text, and the authors didn’t even bother to mention one name in the two sentences they dedicated to womanism.

I could say much more about Fuller’s colonized curriculum, but that’s only part of the problem. Black students have complained about Fuller’s lack of diversity for decades. Decades.

It’s not that black scholars don’t want to teach at Fuller, because they do. However, the administration gives African-American applicants the runaround.

The few African-American faculty that are hired end up leaving. Fuller has lost seven black faculty since 2011. It has also lost three black faculty and several other black staff in the past 18 months. The School of Theology has only one black professor and zero African-American faculty now.

On Campus

Fuller’s Pasadena campus is not a safe place for black students[1] because Fuller mishandles incidents of racial impropriety that involve its white students and employees. Black students have had to sit through lectures in which professors have ignored or even justified colonialism and other forms of racism. These professors refused to clarify or apologize and the administration ignored the incident.

One professor thought it was okay to use the n-word in a lecture; the only consequence was his time spent in diversity training. A black student experienced racial aggression from a white student and had to sit in class with that person for hours after she reported it to campus officials.

Black students at Fuller Pasadena, regional campuses, and online have made demands[2] and participated in meetings with the administration to address black student concerns. The administration, including seminary president Dr. Mark Labberton, have offered platitudes and hollow apologies, but have done very little to right the injustices that Fuller’s culture continues to perpetuate.

Weary but Fighting

Black students at Fuller Theological Seminary are tired. We are sharing our experiences with racism at this institution using the hashtags #ToxicFuller, #SeminaryWhileBlack, and #BlackExodus. We aim to hold Dr. Labberton and the rest of the administration accountable to the vision of diversity that they promote to black students. We will no longer allow this institution to continue to take our money on a wish and a prayer of being given scraps from the table of inclusion.

We ask black seminarians at other institutions to join us in this fight. This is bigger than Fuller. Black seminarians across the country are experiencing marginalization at predominantly white institutions. Many of us have decided to leave these spaces. Those of us who are choosing to stay and fight know that it’s an uphill battle. This is a moral issue that affects the witness of the Church.

You can bring awareness to these issues by utilizing your social media networks to promote the following hashtags:

  • #SeminaryWhileBlack
  • #ToxicFuller
  • #BlackExodus

If you are a black seminarian at another institution or know other black seminarians, please share your #SeminaryWhileBlack story to join the fight for racial justice at Fuller and beyond.

[1] So far, there have been no reports of racial incidents happening at Fuller’s regional campuses or online.


46 thoughts on “Seminary While Black: How One Institution’s Toxic Culture is Causing a Black Exodus

  1. Kathy L.

    Did you just say that you wanted blacks to segregate themselves?

    What happens after all the black students segregate themselves into their black institution? Does this mean… what does it mean?

  2. Kathy L.

    I saw only desperate self pity.

  3. Joe

    I read everything, but complaining that there was not more info in an evangelical ST book on James Cone is like complaining there’s not enough info there on Niche.

    The author is clearly not educated on matters of systematic theology and should’ve read the book closer. She would’ve realized the thoughts, areas, and creeds that are covered in any basic ST actually come from nonwhites.

    This is a common assumption amongst entry-level theology students. It appears she is taking on the lens of whitewashing in applied it to the entire text. If she would take time outside of the reading to dig into the authors that Are readily referenced in any ST, she would see those people are not just European.

    This makes the second straw man article I have read by the same author on this site, she is nothing but divisive and very misinformed.

  4. Jasmin Turner

    Amen Andrea amen! ??

  5. Patryce

    Transfer to Howard University School of Divinity. I agree with Jeremy. It’s one thing if you worked there, but you’re trying to learn. I don’t think the seminary can be changed from the inside. I’m sorry for the micro and maco-aggressions you have experienced. I hope your learning experience has not been too negatively impacted.

  6. Joe

    And they will know we are Christians by our love

  7. MrsInHim

    People of all colors groups are wasting their time at Fuller and other “liberal” seminaries. All I can say is that I am so glad to be delivered from the utter bondage and confusion of “liberal” theology, and finally being led to learn about truly liberation in Covenant Theology and the doctrines of Sovereign Grace. OMGosh what glorious truths God is revealing to me about HIMSELF, His amazing Word, and design for men and women in every nation, tribe, and tongue!

  8. MissMarlysInHim

    Just to clarify, I concurred with JUSTIN COHEN!

  9. MrsInHim

    I believe you’ve missed the real issue, as has the young lady complaining. The real problem is that all so-called “liberal” theology and related institutions are MAN-CENTERED instead of CHRIST-CENTERED, and thus, the fight for “recognition” and so-called “justice” will only grow! People who are truly in CHRIST see the holiness and glory of God as the focus of human energy. Thus, there exists the glory of God in ALL people groups and cultures! Those in Christ know that racism is just one of the many sins lurking in our own hearts! ALL, in some ways, are racists!
    The answer, as is for ALL sin is CONFESSION and REPENTANCE! No sin is to be justified!
    The problem with liberal theology, is its too high a view of man, and a too low view of Christ and HIS Word. This inevitably leads to a low view of ALL sin. A MAN-CENTERED theology will always have human “groups” at odds with each other, and jockeying for status! because liberal theology at it’s core, is worshipping MAN and making up its OWN rules, its OWN identity, and its OWN boundaries (e.g. feminism, women pastors, gay pastors, LGBT rights, etc)–and not worshipping the Eternal UNchanging God.

  10. MrsInHim


  11. MissMarlysInHim

    I concur!

  12. MissMarlysInHim

    “What in the world was she doing at a liberal institution like Fuller in the first place? ” I was wondering the SAME thing!!! ???

  13. Jeremy

    I’m not one if these students, but why must we always fight for a seat at the table when we can build our own. Stop going to these institutions made for Anglo Americans and expect to be treated like you’re welcomed there. If we pull our collective efforts together like they do, change our mindset about what we can do then we can build our own stuff. It’s clear that it’s time for African American seminary students and those that can support them to create their own thing. And maybe that already exits, if so why aren’t Af-Am students going to those Institutions?

  14. Paul N Larsen

    What do you mean by black, Asian, LGBT, indigenous, poor, oppressed etc brothers and sisters? You meant that in generic terms, not religious ones, right? Certainly practicing LGBT champions are not and cannot be brothers and sisters in Christ, correct?

  15. Paul N Larsen

    Using Fuller as an example of seminary bigotry is a straw man. What in the world was she doing at a liberal institution like Fuller in the first place? Studying critical race theory? The Witness disingenuously represents one person’s Fuller experience as the norm for evangelical and reformed seminaries which, though flawed, have endeavored to improve the minority experience but, alas, it is never quite good enough, is it?

  16. Franklin

    So maybe a constructive way to approach the situation is to help the university to compile a library list of “diverse” theological voices that may be missing. OR as PhD students, ones who want these voices heard should contribute to the base of knowledge and produce textbooks and materials that give a platform for “diverse” voices. According to this article, there is no indication that anyone did that or is doing that. In fact, the only “diverse” voice mentioned was James Cone.

    And what describes a theologian? Would Ravi Zacharias, or Carver Yu qualify as a theologians or does the author just desire a black voice only? And, does the black voice have to be an American black voice only? The book “Diverse and Creative Voices: Theological Essays from the Majority World” could be a textbook start for suggesting to the university which offers many “diverse” voices on biblical theological topics.

    By the way, many early church theologians were of African decent, were they not included in the textbooks or discussions?

  17. Frank

    You’re quite the keyboard warrior.

  18. So the Bible

    Andrea we could go back and forth but it is quite clear we would get nowhere. I do not need to “go back to school”, nor am I unaware of the reality of racism in the world, of course there is. And yes, grammatical historical hermeneutic is solid as was much of the teaching at the Reformation. Was it all solid teaching? No. Was there slavery in America from its founding till late 1800s? Yes. Did some people try and use the Bible as a validation for their wretched behavior? Sadly, yes. Does any of that have to do with a solid hermeneutic or solid biblical teaching that I was talking about? Nope.

    See the problem we have isn’t race, it’s a misplaced identity by believers, of all people. We are all in the same family, that is we are partakers and heirs with Christ because we are IN Christ. Sure, we should be aware of each other’s suffering but what I happening here is beyond that and has entered in to the cultural political war, the more aptly named “identity politics”. The liberal side of Christianity has fallen prey to this kind of thinking and as a result have left Scripture or rather a solid hermeneutic for exegesis and exchanged it for culture. One’s own identity, or one’s feelings, one’s “offense” has taken center stage not Christ, His power, and His example.

    See, Christ, who knew the most unwarranted offense, endured it and opened not his mouth. He avoided the political, he said pray for those who persecute you, pray for your enemy, turn the other cheek, and ultimately rely on me cast your cares on me. He did NOT say, protest, get political, go transform the world. Nope, we are told to BE transformed.

    But again, we could go back and forth, but I won’t. This is my last response. End of the day let your identity and comfort be in Christ and Christ alone. Forget the color of theologians and worry about the inspired words of God.

  19. Ben Puckett

    While “Rob Bell’s Sister’s Friend” is a very funny name, you comment is incredibly unhelpful and overall dismissive of the real issue the author is writing about. If this is all sarcasm then I am naive to how mean people can be, if this is real then I wish you would reel it back in a little bit to what the author is actually saying.

    What I’m saying is this is confusing, unhelpful, and I am confused….

  20. Ben Puckett

    (I’m not sure if I’m commenting in the right spot, but oh well)

    It seems like you had somewhat of an interest in the article since you clicked on it and read the first sentence. I recommend trying to read the rest, but not from your own vantage point, but from the author’s. I believe this type of active listening is extremely respectful to the person speaking. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, just understand them. And giving people that respect and patience is part of loving them as Jesus calls us to love others as ourselves.

    Yo Matt! Big fan of Night of the Living Dead Christian and (My) Imaginary Jesus. Thanks for all the great PCB talks.

  21. Ben Puckett

    Whoa cowboy. Take a moment to think of this from her shoes before speaking from your side of things (and championing your own privilege). This woman is not weak or fragile. Writing this article and standing up against this is very strong and brave.

    And saying “this is a vague and nebulous accusation based in paranoia fed by the politico-media complex” seems kind of vague and nebulous…

    How can this be acquiescence when she literally is not accepting it, but standing up against it? So lastly, according to your thoughts Ally should start her own seminary and ignore white supremacy?…That is horrible advice coming from a place of “hostility and apathy for black persons.”

  22. Andrea G

    Bad example. The fact that you are unable to understand WHY there is an “Afro-Centric” elementary school in the first place demonstrates your need of learning more American history. You know you have full right to be a segregationist but you have no right to attempt to shame students in doing things your way (isn’t that what your arguing against?). Learn active listening and then come back and try again. Well, after you actually read the article your commenting on…

  23. Andrea G.

    Matt- right! stupidity is often staggering…

  24. Andrea G.

    Right! Frank, did you pass comprehension in secondary school? Her first sentence is clear and understandable. Clearly, you read only what you like and could care a less about another’s perspective that is different than yours. Your engagement, at best is distraction at worst, well Dan makes an observant point. Go ahead, stay sleep if you must.

  25. Andrea G

    The online statement and the article is strong. To tell a person, who is subjected to racism on their campus, after they spent money to an institution who claims to be diverse and inclusive, to leave and build a new school is insulting and just stupid. She is strong, no question. Your lack of understanding and human decency is disgusting. A great example of showcasing male bravado and false superiority by insinuating lack of strength and questioning the authors feelings/actions. Stay seated and learn.

  26. Andrea G.

    Historically solid? No indeed. Sounds similar to those who say “good ol days” (when Black folks were being lynched). To disagree about inerrancy is one thing but to be oblivious to the hurts, pain, blatant racism, gender distortion, anti-LGBTQ etc… and NOT understanding how that equates biblically is more than questionable. The inability to state your lens plus your ignorance or miseducation of christian history of US people of color is quite telling. You are a part of the problem, your misinterpretations of ancient texts are clear go back to school.

  27. Andrea G.

    Union Theological Seminary welcomed Cone cheerfully. Too many of us disagree with your opinion, but understand your entitled to it, regardless of how distorted it may be.

  28. Remember when Seminaries taught the Bible?

    ^^^ He’s not wrong.

    Actually, this article reveals a great deal of the culture of Fuller. Their first mistake was a departure from Biblical inerrancy. Of course, the school is overrun with political and culture warriors and not leaders in the Church, at least not sound Bible teaching churches. Instead they pump out people who teach the Bible as a suggestion, and a tool to be twisted so that it is still “relevant”. The culture’s view of homosexuality, racism, misogyny, and the like take center stage in leading these people, rather than Christ and His Word. Why? Because they are no longer in the world but have become “of” the world. Sadly. I live right down the street and have friends who attend Fuller, and have seen how these once solid Bible believing Christians (or so I thought) have moved from the Bible as their source of authority and instead replaced it with some very subjective and culturally acceptable ideas.

    All this article does is reveal the failure of a once solid seminary (though its been years), by the words of the students who find racism in how they are taught theology, the study of God, rather than finding the truth God has revealed in His Word. It’s not about race when it comes to theologians of the past. It just so happens that many white men were the leaders in the church and during the reformation when everything changed, for the better. Not better, because they were white, but better because the Bible was made accessible to the masses and with that came a grammatical-historical hermenuetic, and solid Bible teaching. It’s a terribly sad thing that this is overlooked based on race. When studying theology, I’m neither thinking about nor would I know the race of the NAME that I’m reading. It’s not like the commentaries say, “John Stott, a white man’s commentary”….

  29. Frank

    I live next door to an Afro-Centric Elementary School. It probably would be no use to explain to you what that means…

    Should I go in there, as a minority in the neighborhood, and DEMAND that they change virtually everything about the school so that it fits my culture and makes my kids happy? Should I make it my mission to expose to them, and the community at large, the bias and racism that is present in that school? Should I write a blog, labeling them racists, white-haters, and a whole host of other things?

    Or should I decide whether or not I want my kids there, and act accordingly?

  30. Frank

    I said she was unable to learn? I think you need to read first, think second, then comment third.

    The formula/content of this article is too trite and simplistic. But nevermind.

    The colleges I graduated from did NOTHING to tailor anything to me. And I didn’t expect them to. But that’s largely because I went as a student, not a social justice warrior looking for a fight.

  31. matt mikalatos

    The irony of accusing someone of being unable to learn and only “learning what you like” coming from someone who admits that they didn’t read the article is staggering.

  32. Justin Cohen

    James Cone should rarely, if ever, be referenced in a theology text and then only to be identified as abberant.

    Cone’s teachings are not theology.
    The so called “Liberation Theology” is actually an anthropology couched in spiritual cliche’s to mask it’s communist / socialist political agenda.

  33. Joel Hamme

    So Love Sechrest (sp?) must have left. That is too bad. It is a real problem that only a self-consciously inclusive environment will solve.

  34. Pastor Timothy Curtiss

    Thank you for the article. I can see your points. I spent 4 years as an associate minister in an urban black church. I am what you may classify as white. I learned a lot while there and the experience shaped my spirit and mind. I realize that racism is systemic, structural, and many times unnoticed by the dominant culture (ie. white Euro culture in our country). It is unnoticed until we spend time walking with our black, Asian, LGBT, indigenous, poor, oppressed etc brothers and sisters. Once I did such my eyes were opened and my interpretation of the Scripture and culture changed forever. Keep up the good fight. I am with you and so are many others.

  35. William

    From the online protest statement: ‘Culture of anti-blackness: hostility and apathy for black persons is the norm.’

    Like most of the examples of Fuller’s toxicity, this is a vague and nebulous accusation based in paranoia fed by the politico-media complex. No one is forcing you to give money to Fuller or to attend classes there. If you don’t like the institution, find one that suits you. If you can’t find one, create your own. Attacking an institution for being other than you’d like is weak and petty. It’s an acquiescence to white power.

    Be strong and create something. Weak and fragile people write puerile protest statements in an effort to get the strong to acquiesce. If that’s your tactic, all you’ll ever get are scraps from the table of strong and reluctantly generous people.

  36. Frank

    Of COURSE I am, Jaye. I call out an author for blind broad-brushing, anger, hatred and racism – and I’m the problem. Yeah – makes perfect sense.

  37. Ulf Lidman

    I have two degrees from Fuller. As a white, European male I feel ashamed that I did not see the struggle of my fellow students. From the bottom of my heart I apologize for not hearing the life stories of my black brothers and sisters. To feel discriminated against by an institution where you invest time, effort and money to further yourself hurts like hell. I know what it was like as a LGBTQ person at Fuller and that was extremely difficult. All discrimination makes an institution toxic.

  38. Jasmin Turner

    So, where do we go?

  39. Joel Stockamp

    You decided to sin when you chose to engage by mocking a sister in Christ. You’ve ignored the content of the critique and instead attempted to suggest that this woman is somehow overreacting. You imply that she’s making demands she never made and, rather than actually engaging with and wrestling with her words, you’ve set up a straw man to knock down.

    She never demanded that white men be erased from the study of Christian history. She never suggested that the faculty must reflect her own thoughts. She did point out places where Fuller has failed to live up to it’s aspirations and the effect of that is damaging to all who call Fuller a home.

    You lack the courage to sign a name, but your sins are there for all to see. Fortunately, there is a path forward. You could choose to repent and apologize. You need not agree, but I would implore you to be humble when hearing a critique that has clearly stuck a point of pain in you. Christ points to a better way than what you have chosen.

  40. Jaye

    You admitted you didn’t read the article, then you made a “stupid, played-out accusation” because you didn’t like the first line. You, sir, are the one that is in need of learning something more than what you want to learn. Stop projecting your biases on other people. You’re telling on yourself.

  41. Josue Calderon

    I am a Fuller alum, and also Nican Tlaca, Indigenous to the Southwest of what is now known as the United States, a Person of Color. I am not Black, but I am with you in this struggle. I remember sitting in theology classes, focused around the greatness and the love of God, and simultaneously observing students of color be dismissed when they offered responses. I saw their contributions being lessened by students. I myself have been ushered out of white students’ homes because we can be ushered out. Some Fuller Community members have blinds pots, others experience white rage and white fragility in the face of being called out on their racial superiority, and some I have come to understand are driven by the need to stay in positions of power and influence.

    I have thought about ways to raise consciousness among white theologians and white faculty. While they hear, they do not listen. I think our efforts and energy would be better spent in creating spaces for Black students and people of Color to hear other Black and Brown theologians teach from different perspectives.

    In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

  42. Rob Bell's Sister's Friend

    As a womyn of whiteness, I totally agree. I wish Fuller would realize that the last 2000 years of Christian tradition has been stained by the overwhelming presence of WHITE “””men”””” and should therefore be forgotten and left on a shelve. Who needs to read anything by these people when they cannot live up to modern standards of inclusivity? There is literally nothing I can learn from them because they aren’t like me. Furthermore, as I am SURE you are all aware, I have heard that there are people who have differing beliefs still employed by the university. These needs to stop. From one mother to another, and a Virgo rising, please leave this toxic male cold white institution as fast as you can. Much love and thoughts.

  43. Frank

    Of course I’m a racist, Dan. In other words, you don’t agree so you fall back on that same stupid played-out accusation.

    Come up with a new line, a new scapegoat, anything.

  44. Dan

    Frank — I read your first sentence, stopped, scrolled up and re-read the first sentence of the article, and then realized you’re a racist.

  45. Frank

    Read your first sentence and stopped.

    Obviously you only learn what you want to learn.

    Sounds like you need to find a school that only teaches what you like.

  46. Cameron Dobbins

    Why would anyone want to go to Fuller in the first place!? They’ve abandoned sound doctrine decades ago.

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