Thursday, 29 July 2010

What is a degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary worth?

Lining up in Christ’s College, Cambridge, for the degree conferring ceremony (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Last week, while I was in Cambridge, it was delightful to see students robed for their degree conferring ceremonies. And I was reminded how sometimes I have been asked about the Masters of Arts degree, and how it is earned at Cambridge, Oxford and at Trinity College Dublin. After all, an MA hood from Dublin appears to have almost the status of a liturgical requirement in some parishes in the Church of Ireland.

In the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin, the degree of Master of Arts or Master in Arts (MA) is awarded to Bachelors of Arts (BA) of those universities on application after six or seven years of seniority as a members of the university – including the years they have spent as an undergraduate – and no examination or study is required for the degree beyond those required for the BA. This practice differs from most other universities, such as UCD and the NUI, where the MA degree reflects further postgraduate study or achievement. In the ancient universities of Scotland, the MA degree is awarded as a first degree to undergraduates in certain subjects.

And so, the Cambridge and Oxford MAs, like an MA from Trinity College Dublin, are based on a system of academic rank rather than academic qualifications. Once someone has been incepted or promoted to MA, one is technically no longer a BA and cannot use both sets of initials at the same time nor wear the academicals pertaining to the BA degree.

All three universities have other masters degrees that require further study and examination, but these have other titles, such as Master of Letters (MLitt), Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Studies (MSt), Master of Theology (MTh), and so on.

At Cambridge, the MA may be conferred six years after the end of the first term in residence upon anyone holding a Cambridge degree of BA.

At Oxford, the MA may be conferred during or after the 21st term from matriculation, or seven years after becoming a student at the university, on anyone who holds an Oxford degree of BA or BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts). An exception is that someone holds the degree BA and who attains the degree of Doctor of Philosophy may immediately incept as an MA before the required number of terms have passed.

At Trinity College Dublin, the MA may be conferred on anyone holding a Dublin BA or another bachelor degree of at least three years’ standing.

The hood for the MA (Cantab) or Cambridge MA

At Cambridge, having the MA, or a postgraduate masters degree or doctorate, confers membership of the University Senate. This gives the right to:

● take part in Discussions (part of the University’s decision-making process);
● vote in the election of a new Chancellor or High Steward;
● borrow books from the University Library.

Many colleges also offer their senior members the opportunity to dine at High Table on a certain number of occasions each year.

Other Cambridge degrees

Ridley Hall, Cambridge, is part of the Cambridge Theological Federation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Of course, there are other Cambridge degree-awarding bodies.

The Cambridge Theological Federation is a cluster of teaching and research institutions that includes Westcott House and Ridley Hall (Church of England), Wesley House (Methodist Church), the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (where I have studied for the past three years, and hich is based at Wesley House), the Margaret Beaufort Institute for Theology (Roman Catholic), the Eastern Region Ministry Course (Church of England and Methodist), Westminster College (United Reformed Church), the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths (also based at Wesley House), the Henry Martyn Centre, now housed in Westminster College, the Norwich Diocesan Ministry Course, the Norwich Theology Centre, and the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Ministry Course.

Their students usually receive their degrees and diplomas from either Cambridge University or Anglia Ruskin University, which was founded as the Cambridge School of Art by John Ruskin in 1858. It has a campus on East Road, Cambridge, and another in Chelmsford, Essex.

And, of course, across the Charles River from Boston, there is Cambridge, Massachusetts, with such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, MIT, Episcopal Divinity School and Radcliffe College.

Free degrees from Cambridge Theological Seminary

Punting on the Backs in Cambridge ... many miles away from Cambridge, Ohio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But did you ever hear of the Cambridge Theological Seminary? If you heard that someone had a Cambridge MA or DD, and then heard it was not from Cambridge University, nor Harvard, but from Cambridge Theological Seminary, what would you think of it?

Cambridge Theological Seminary offers free Doctor of Divinity degrees online, along with free ordination of ministers and chaplains, free certification for counsellors, and offers free church charters through its website. Constantly, the website of this Cambridge Theological Seminary asks: “Do you qualify for a ‘Free!’ Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge Theological Seminary?” One page alone asks this question over 50 times.

This seminary claims to have 35,000 students and 111 satellite schools around the world, and to serve ministers in 161 nations, offering full and legal ordination online for all phases of ministry, from Sunday School teachers to singers, deacons and preachers, chaplain’s ordination, for jails, hospitals, schools, court police and fire departments, and a free Doctor of Divinity degree “for all genuine Bible-Believing Preachers & Bible and School-Teachers.”

The website of the Cambridge Theological Seminary points out that “Cambridge” is the “World’s Greatest Name in Education!” In other places on the site, it boasts that Cambridge Theological Seminary has “the greatest name in education.”

The panoramic image of King's College, Cambridge, used on the website of Cambridge Theological Seminary

The top of one page is decorated with a splendid, panoramic photograph of the Front Court of King’s College, Cambridge, including the chapel, the Gibbs Building, the Gatehouse, the fountain on the Front Lawn, and part of the Wilkins Building. The caption beneath this photograph proclaims: “Cambridge Theological Seminary, Continues the ‘Scholarly Tradition’ of Ancient Cambridge.”

Buried deep down in the webpages, under the heading that screams “Official Notice!”, is a disclaimer: “There is absolutely no connection between Cambridge Theological Seminary International and the secular University of Cambridge in England – although we are following the ‘Ancient Cambridge Scholarly Tradition’ into the 9th Century. In fact, we strongly renounce their turning away from a Christio-centric (sic) World-view, and the Infallible Word of God.”

The Seminary Home Office is not in Cambridge, England, nor is it in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The address for its “Global Online Religious Education Headquarters” is at 109 Palmetto Place (Cambridge), Byesville, OH 43723, and it says its parent church is the (Global) Churches, United for Christ.

This Cambridge Theological Seminary traces its roots to a Bible Evangelistic Ministry that began in Ohio in 1965. The Cambridge Christian Academy of Ohio was founded in 1973 or 1974, and was incorporated in Ohio in 1977 as a “Non-Profit Educational Institution.” Over time, the Cambridge Christian Academy became the Cambridge Theological Seminary, and since 1982 it has been managed by a corporation or company based in North Carolina, Virginia or Florida, depending on which page of the website you are reading. Cambridge Theological Seminary is now registered with the State of Florida as an Institution of Higher Learning (Number 42), and plans to open two campuses in Florida in the coming academic year (2010-2011). An Arizona branch is also being considered for the Tucson area, possibly by 2012.

Cambridge Theological Seminary International describes itself as a “Legal Church in the United States of America, Theologically Accredited as a Bible Seminary,” and claims it is fully accredited – by the International Agency of Independent Accreditation (IAIA).

The owners boldly state that “religious institutions need no secular accreditation because they offer no secular degrees,” and that “the Church need not wait for approval from the secular world. Civil agencies should not be dictating standards of Christian education, any more than a police officer should be directing the worship of God. Theological seminaries should not be accredited by accrediting associations that are ‘recognized’ by an agency of the federal government … Our ultimate authority is God and as such we choose to remain free in our rights to teach degree programs based on the word of God as found in His Holy Bible.”

The website declares “all religious backgrounds – male and female – are fully welcome at all” the programmes. And the programmes are myriad: the other degrees on offer include Doctor of Sacred Letters (D.Litt.), described as an “Honorary Title based on Published Writing,” Doctor of Biblical Theology, Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), Doctor of Christian Education (D.C.Ed.), Doctor of Pastoral Ministry (D.P.M.), Doctor of Evangelism (D.Evan.), Doctor of Chaplaincy (Ch.D.), Doctor of Christian Counselling for Spiritual Counsellor (D.C.C.), Doctor of Christology, Doctorate in Sacred Music Instruments (D.S.M.I.), Doctorate in Sacred Music Vocals (D.S.M.V.) Doctorate in Praise and Worship (D.P.W.), Doctor of Christian Humanities (D.C.H.), described as an “Honorary Degree in the Humanities,” and Doctor of Pedagogy (D.Ped.), which it says is an “honorary degree in teaching.”

Other programmes on offer include two-year, four-year, and masters’ degrees in Biblical Studies, once again “for all genuine Bible-Believing Preachers & Bible and School-Teachers.” It even offers programmes on how to start a new church or ministry that is tax-exempt from the first day, that comes complete with “a Beautiful 33-Page Fill-in-The-Blank packet (With Charter),” and “How to Start an Accredited Bible Institute in your Local Church as an affiliate of Cambridge Theological Seminary (With Charter).”

The degree and ordination programmes appear to have been so popular this year, that the place fell behind in dealing with orders in May and June, and asked customers – sorry, students – to resubmit in July. “We’ve had some glitches with new equipment and adapting to upgraded programs,” they say, “and we know some errors were made, the main one being applicants getting marked ‘completed’ when they weren’t!!!”

But would you want advice, or – worse still – therapy from someone who had completed their “Licensed Christian Counselors Program with Basic Lessons, for fees and income”? And, in their own words, “there is more … from Income Tax Advice and Ministry structure to Evangelism Programs, Estate Planning, Biblical Health Care, and ‘Godly Wealth-Building’ for Ministers … to the very best of our ability.”

They say their Doctor of Divinity degree is available to anyone in a genuine “ministering position” – including pastors, Christian college and Christian day-school teachers, Christian counsellors and psychologists, Christian medical doctors and lawyers, evangelists, missionaries, judges, chaplains, etc.

This self-styled seminary says it is “Non-Denominational, Christo-centic (sic), Absolute [sic] Bible Based … Radically Dedicated to Christ’s Great Commission!” But its degrees are available only for “serious, conservative, Bible-preaching ministers.”

But, sorry, this is not really a free-for-all.

Anyone who wants a DD degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary must sign a “Statement of Faith,” a “Statement of Authenticity,” a “Statement of Call-to-Ministry,” and a “Statement of Experience in Ministry.”

In addition, all applicants must sign a declaration that they “believe the Holy Bible to be the Inspired, eternal Word of God, and the Basic Tenets of ‘First Century Christianity’ as given in the earliest Apostle’s [sic] Creed,” declare their “opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” and that they “believe the Holy Bible teaches Marriage as Instituted by Father-God in Eden, regardless what is politically correct.”

Why would you want this degree?

But then, why would you want a free degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary?

And if you went around telling people you had an MA or DD from Cambridge, would you be embarrassed when they found out it was a degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary in Ohio … or in Florida … or in Virginia … or in North Carolina … or in Arizona … or in cyberspace, or wherever it’s based at present?

Well, this self-styled seminary is “absolutely certain” that a DD degree, “backed up by a ‘Solid Transcript’ – from a well-known and large Bible Seminary with a deeply respected name like ‘Cambridge’” will “be greatly enhanced.”

And this place promises prospective applicants their church members “will give greater heed to your teaching,” staff, trustees and business associates “will be more apt to listen to your counsel,” your “Community and City Council will be more respectful,” why, “even your family and friends, will listen a little better, and accept your advice more readily … It will even help your children and grandchildren see you in a new and more powerful light.”

When it comes to my children, perhaps “more light-heartedly” might be more appropriate than “more powerful light.”

How free is a free degree?

In any case, the DD is not free. As you scroll down, they tell you that although all the (unnamed) administrators are volunteers, “to keep this Ministry functioning … we need a $31 offering to cover for our purchase, custom-printing, embossed-stamping, gold-sealing, and double-signing” of the “Standard-Size Degree”, and a $21 Offering for additional copies. But, you are told, “It is a Beautiful Degree … You will be so pleased!”

Then, you are also asked for a $39 offering to evaluate your application, “Transcript your Life Experience” into Semester Credits, and to form your “Official Credit-Bank Record” in their records, a $30 offering to make a permanent file and to maintain your college transcript and degree records “indefinitely… for your future verification needs,” a $59 offering to “Register your Doctor of Divinity” in three states, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, and a $22 offering for shipping, handling and mailing. In all, this totals $151 for what they call a “Seed-Faith Offering.”

You may debate the traditions and merits of an MA from Cambridge, Oxford or Dublin. But a free degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary is something else. I know when a free degree is really a worthless degree, and I hope never to see a hood for one being worn in the Church of Ireland.