Skip to main content

About this collection

This extensive oral history includes interviews from 79 scholars who discuss the founding of the Graduate Theological Union and issues in theological education before, after and during the 1960s. The interviews were conducted in 1993-94 by Ray F. Kibler III, a Lutheran minister and archivist, who obtained funding from the Lilly Endowment to conduct the project.

The Graduate Theological Union (GTU) began as a partnership of four schools in 1962 and evolved into a consortium of six Protestant and three Roman Catholic schools, along with Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and other centers of learning. The core schools included American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW), Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP, Episcopal), Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (DSPT), Franciscan School of Theology (FST), Jesuit School of Theology of Berkeley (JSTB, now Santa Clara University), Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS), Pacific School of Religion (PSR, non-denominational), San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS, Presbyterian) and Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM, Unitarian Universalist).

(Photograph of signing the common library agreement on March 22, 1971.  From left, Kenan Osborne, FST; Richard Hill, JSTB; Sherman Johnson, CDSP; Adrian Heaton, ABSW; Charles Cooper, PLTS; Janko Zagar, DSPT; John Dillenberger, GTU; and Arnold B. Come, SFTS.)

The original October 7, 1992 proposal by Kibler  reads:

The 1960's: Remembering Theological Education Then. For Now: lessons from an Oral History Project in the Member Institutions of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), Berkeley, California

Sponsored by Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS), for the GTU. Funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc.

The Need
Why? It was 1968. Nearly all Americans were in turmoil over the war in southeast Asia, racial strife in numerous American cities, and redefinitions of gender identity and expectation among young and old. In response, many (not all of them under age 30) banded together in what some termed a "counterculture," a movement said by some to have all begun in 1964 with the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley or during the next three years in Haight Ashbury or in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Throes of change emanating from these specific places via the popular media to the whole nation transformed nearly every feature of American life. No American institution would remain the same.

Thinking of all that had begun in northern California, a teacher of American history said in 1969 to his students: "Someday, you're going to have the horrible job of writing down all this stuff." Only two decades afterwards did a few scholars who lived through the era--for "the 1960' s" is more the dubbing of a social revolution than simply an increment of time--begin to interpret seriously "the 1960's" impact on religion in America in general. As a beginning, several of the essayists who contributed to Altered Landscapes: Christianity in America, 1935-1985 (Eerdmans, 1989) told how many churches and religious institutions went through dramatic change during this period. But countless verbal testimonies remain to be preserved before anyone can take up that work of "writing down."

Why record their testimonies? It is well said that few American religious institutions went through such tumultuous changes during "the 1960's" as did the seminaries and that few people experienced such tumult over these changes as did their faculties. Certainly, an American seminary in most times or places has served to conserve the tradition of its constituency but as well to reinterpret that tradition in order to make it relevant as the "cutting edge" of its ministry to society. Historically, American religious leaders have known well the creative tension between these two emphases.

But "the 1960's" violently divided these two tasks from one another as neither before nor--yet--since. Many students and teachers came to American seminaries not to accept the tradition as much (if even at all) as to challenge and change it. It can be argued that while in time it would be found all over the U.S., that because the Free Speech Movement and Haight Ashbury were right there next to a whole consortium of seminaries, this situation happened nowhere more than in Berkeley. Faculty and/or students there, whether they split apart or joined together, either resisting or accepting those many revolutions which "the 1960' s" brought to all Americans, found that theological education was being transformed by redefinition but not often by consensus.

Be it creative tension or battle, the split spilled over from the seminaries to the congregations. For example, a set of minutes here and there from a judicatory in California tell the curious reader that loyal members in pews and not a few pulpits weren't impressed to say the least with what on earth was going on in their seminary. Angry letters to the seminary board tell a bit of the story. It wasn't last week's peace march; no, it was that Friday night "KEGGER" the student body advertised in their newsletter, a copy of which crossed the desk of the judicatory executive who griped that this nonsense never happened when he was there and then insisted that the denomination shouldn't send another dime to that place! But seldom available to the researcher are meeting records or copies of memos from quarreling faculty members. If these even exist at all, they usually only allude to private faculty arguments over a seminary's present and future mission, revealing memories probably alleged according only to someone else's faulty memory.

When embracing "the 1960's and their seminaries and congregations, some GTU faculty sought to be progressive and relevant. But some others found it difficult to reconcile tradition and relevance that way. Some saw exciting potential for their denominations, if only congregations and those judicatory executives would be open to the spirit of "the 1960's"! But some others gave up on "church" completely. Some were--and remain--quite enthusiastic about the innovative changes in faith and practice which they helped to bring about, or about the traditions they managed to conserve, or about both. But some others have not yet been able to live with their memories of "the 1960's" at all--like one GTU faculty member told me only recently about his colleague who has found it too painful to talk about the subject until just now. Such emotions are felt throughout the U.S., but they might be expressed nowhere more than in Berkeley.

Why record their testimonies now? Two dozen years have passed since 1968. Some older faculty are still living in retirement, a few on their deathbeds. But when they die, their testimonies will die with them. A couple have said to me that, years later, they now are ready to tell their stories. My experience indeed in conducting oral interviews has been that thoughtful older persons are both pleased and honored to give away what they know in the hope of being a help to others who want to listen to them. Some other faculty, young teachers 24 years ago, have experienced the space of sufficient time since to interpret now what went on and what they thought and did then. They too are ready to talk.

Why record their testimonies at all? Who says "the 1960's" won't happen again? The military actions in the Persian Gulf are a reminder that the U.S. is still at war. Los Angeles in 1991-so reminiscent of Watts in 1965--is evidence that racial strife has only expanded. Increasingly intensifying argument over Roe vs. Wade and renewed efforts to legislate or condemn the Equal Rights Amendment together with politicians' definitions or redefinitions of "family values" all demonstrate that Americans never have and perhaps never will come to agreement on gender identities and expectations. The "counterculture" may never appear again as it did in "the 1960' s," but nonetheless it has forever transformed the American people. Who says that some unprecedented "counterculture" won't appear in America again?

The church, with religious institutions in America in general, must be ready. When a social revolution like "the 1960's" appears in the 1990's or beyond, seminary, judicatory, and congregational leaders must at once address the era. Their response in substance will of course be unique and therefore will not be a repristination of any other. At the same time, in the manner by which it is formulated, that response does not need to repeat unwittingly the violent divisions of "the 1960's." For all the more, it is very important that such divisions not appear this time. American religious institutions, especially including the seminaries, are on far more shaky financial ground in the 1990's than they were in "the 1960's." With this particular fiscal reality now always looming over the ecclesiastical horizon, if they are to survive for future mission and ministry the institutions cannot afford any kind of rift with their supporting constituencies. Whether called a creative tension or a battle, any split between conservators of a tradition or innovators within or outside it will not be helpful.

The better way is to listen to the voices of those who have already met the challenge nowhere more than in Berkeley: to learn and to communicate their example of their theological method more than to adopt the substance of their theological assertions. This is what the oral history project, "The 1960's: Remembering Theological Education Then. For Now," seeks to do.

The Geographic Scope
Being specific to the GTU, this project is focused on continuity and change in the greater San Francisco metropolitan area as both a pioneer and exemplar for the subject. It features the GTU as a unique place for American theological education in "the 1960's" because of that consortium's intentionally interactive ecumenical character and structure, located where many Americans first think "the 1960's" began. But since that era actually appeared among and affected all Americans, this project also identifies the GTU faculty as case studies for faculties who served at the time in American seminaries nationwide, particularly in such urban settings as Chicago or metropolitan New York.

The Results
A first set of each completed recording and transcription will, of course, be presented to each interviewee. A second set, of all faculty and staff of GTU member schools, will become the property of the GTU library to be preserved and made accessible in its official archives. A third set, of PLTS faculty and staff, will be submitted to and become the property of the PLTS archives.

These transcripts will of course be as useful to churches and institutions are they are accessible. Therefore, a fourth set (the property of PLTS) will be used for publication through a second project. The project director will be in communication with the Lilly Endowment on this matter and likely may present a proposal for this project in January. This project will produce a published and marketed volume which might feature several commentary essays by faculty of the GTU member schools on the interviews which are included by interviewee permission.

The Audience
Typically, some persons interviewed place no restrictions on public access to their transcripts while some others specify restrictions by time delay or by persons allowed for use. The director will strive to secure unlimited access. Transcripts which are cleared will be listed in a bound descriptive index. This inexpensive, small index will be made widely available by mail throughout the GTU schools and their constituencies and then all centers for American theological education.

Access to the transcripts will be provided by the GTU library under its normal rubrics.

When the transcripts are published with commentary, they will be marketed and distributed by a second project, noted above. The initial audience is intended to be students and faculty of religion in America. However, the hope is that persons associated with denominational judicatories and with congregations will utilize this project widely.

Advisors to the project:
Professor Eldon G. Ernst, American Baptist Seminary of the West
Professor Vernon L. Strempke, PLTS, Emeritus
For the Lilly Endowment:
Edward L. Queen, Program Associate
References: President Jerry L. Schmalenberger, PLTS
President Glenn R. Bucher, GTU

The Rev. Ray F. Kibler III

 
Select the collections to add or remove from your search
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z
 
OK