Fuller Seminary announces 1st Black president to lead Pasadena institution

Fuller Theological Seminary, the largest interdenominational seminary in the country, has picked its first Black president to run the 75-year-old Pasadena educational institution, citing his wide scope of global and leadership experience.

David Emmanuel Goatley will become the seminary’s sixth president, Fuller announced on Tuesday morning, Sept. 13. He will take the help on Jan. 3, after current President Mark Labberton steps down; Labberton initially announced the planned transition in October 2021.

Goatley, currently associate dean for academic and vocational formation at Duke Divinity School, in North Carolina, was the right fit to lead an increasingly diverse seminary, officials said.

“The confluence of David Goatley’s professional expertise in the fields of theology, psychology and missiology, together with his experience as an academic dean at a premier university,” Dan Meyer, chair of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement, “make him a remarkable match for Fuller Seminary at this pivotal moment in its history.”

That experience encompasses administration, teaching, mission work, counseling and writing, which officials described as key attributes. He’ll need them as he leads an institution serving nearly 3,500 students from more than 75 countries and 110 denominations, spread across the main Pasadena campus, and hubs in Houston and Phoenix.

“I rejoice that the Lord has called me to join this community of theological education and vocational formation at  Fuller Seminary,” Goatley said in a statement. “Innovation and imagination are no strangers at Fuller, and I am thrilled to follow the Spirit’s lead into a new era of teaching, learning, and serving the church and the world.”

That new era represents a tall task.

Fuller — conceived in the mid-1940s by evangelist Charles E. Fuller, who reached thousands through his radio show, “The Old Fashioned Revival Hour” — has grown to encompass two schools covering four major disciplines ––theology, intercultural studies, psychology, and marriage and family therapy. It also has established online programs to reach students across the country and the globe.

Fuller — a Pasadena institution since the seminary’s founding days in 1947, when classes were held in the Lake Avenue Congregational Church — faces the shifts and turns of a changing society and educational marketplace.

The seminary, which has been at Oakland Avenue and Walnut Street since 1953, was poised to leave Pasadena in 2018 and move to a smaller footprint in Pomona. Labberton cited Pasadena’s high cost of living as the reason for the planned move, which city officials lamented as a “huge loss.”

But by 2019, seminary officials cited high construction costs surpassing initial estimates as the reason for staying put on its 13-acre campus in Pasadena.

It isn’t just a changing real estate marketplace impacting the campus, however. It is also a changing society.

A lawsuit by two students originally filed in November 2019 in federal court accused the seminary of expelling them from the Christian school for being in same-sex marriages.

The suit said the seminary violated federal Title IX rules barring discrimination against students on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The seminary’s lawyers argued that as a religious organization, Fuller Theological Seminary had a First Amendment right, “and the religious duty,” to uphold specific standards of ethics and morality for the members of its community.

Ultimately, a federal district court sided with Fuller, finding that the court in this case could not step in to regulate the institution’s standards of sexual conduct because of an exemption for religious organizations written into federal law.

A native of Kentucky, Goatley has studied or worked in more than 35 countries, and has a keen understanding of “the unique needs of the global church,” official said.

That, along with his life experience, makes him “uniquely prepared  to further propel Fuller’s mission right into the heart of the opportunity our present reality demands,” Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, a Fuller trustee and chair of the school’s Transition Discernment Team, said in a statement.

Related links

Fuller Seminary in Pasadena prays for Charleston shooting victims
Fuller Seminary Won’t Leave Pasadena After All…… | News & Reporting | Christianity Today
Second student joins lawsuit alleging Fuller Seminary discriminates against LGBTQ
Fuller Seminary Won’t Leave Pasadena After All…… | News & Reporting | Christianity Today
Fuller Seminary in Pasadena prays for Charleston shooting victims

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