Unaccredited seminaries in the church setting

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Pastor Lincoln, Feb 6, 2019.


Should unaccredited seminaries avoid awarding doctoral degrees?

Poll closed Feb 21, 2019.
  1. Yes

    3 vote(s)
  2. No

    6 vote(s)
  3. Unsure

    1 vote(s)
  1. Note- I posted this in the distance learning section as it primarily relates to distance learning seminaries.

    I know unaccredited schools get a very bad rap due to the large amounts of diploma mills in those waters. As for unaccredited seminaries, I cannot say I am against those type of schools per say. Depending on where you intend on getting ordained unaccredited schools are the best choice. They should probably avoid awarding doctoral degrees if they are not on par with accredited doctoral degrees. I would be okay with a D.Div being awarded as that certificate holds no academic value, considering that the D.Div is an honorary degree.

    Just personal opinion.
  2. dlbb

    dlbb Active Member

    I think a lot of people are aware of the educational demands of religious institutions that are unaccredited, and I don't think they generally are viewed as very demanding. I think an unaccredited religious doctorate can certainly be acceptable and fine if used in a church setting, but if you plan to teach (outside the church), that might be impossible. I don't think a lot of religious schools would be capable of being accredited as they lack rigor and are just trying to force religious doctrines into people, and that is all fine if people that sign up for it know what they are getting into. And I am sure the vast majority who pursue the religious doctorates are aware of this and intend to only use them for for ministry and other pastoral purposes.

    I think if you really want rigor, and I am not sure there is a need for it in a pastoral position, you need to go accredited and look closely at who is offering the program. A doctorate from a non-religious,accredited school likely would have the most rigor and teach the subject matter in a more objective fashion, not focused on trying to instill dogma into people. That likely may lead to a higher quality education and deeper understanding, but it may not cover specific doctrines relevant to your specific church. If there is a large divergence, that could be problematic, although independent study would be an option.

    I would be very skeptical of some no-name school though as people might question if it is a degree mill.

    I probably am not the best to offer advice on this topic, so feel free to ignore if my advice here is not relevant as I do not know as much about doctorates in this setting.
    Pastor Lincoln likes this.
  3. This was mostly asking personal opinion.
  4. Bruce

    Bruce Moderator

    I’d be fine with it, provided they were strictly & obviously religious titles; Doctor of Religion, Doctor of Apologetics, etc.
    Pastor Lincoln likes this.
  5. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    A priest in Florida who baptized my daughter earned a DMin at an unaccredited, church-basement seminary that is not even our denomination. That particular school had TRACS but lost it a few months before Fr. Harry graduated. He teaches part-time at his Church's seminary, also unaccredited (in our churches on this continent, if St. Sophia's or St. Andrew's graduates 3 priests that's called successful year).

    So what I'm trying to say is "it depends".
  6. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

    There have been discussions as to whether it is worthwhile to distinguish between 1) diploma mills where you simply pay some money and they send you a nice little diploma and maybe a set of fake transcripts, 2) diploma mills where they pretend to do some sort "life experience" equivalency thingy, and 3) diploma mills where you take a little bunch of substandard courses, write some essays (that no one really reads) and actually get to say "But I worked really hard for that degree." (best if said in a whiny voice). The difference between "unaccredited seminaries" and my example #3 is very fuzzy and unclear. In some cases there is no difference. We frequently adopt a kind of harm-reduction model in these cases, rationalizing that because the degree is being used only in the context of a certain church or denomination then it is OK to have separate (lower) standards. Of course, those churches exist within a larger social context and so it's never entirely separate. The question always becomes, how can anyone tell the difference? The answer, in general, is that they can't. The average person, even the average person within that congregation, can not tell the difference between a legitimate degree, a degree from an unaccredited seminary and a #3 substandard diploma mill degree. Many people on this board could figure it out but you all are, by definition, not average people. You have specialized knowledge and are at least aware of the issues I've outlined. Most people don't even think about these things. They just accept that if you say that you have a degree then it's from a legitimate institution and that you've done some substantial work to earn it. It's a loophole and sometimes it gets exploited. What's the answer? The closest I've come to an answer is very close to what Bruce said. Change the language. It's not a degree, it's a certificate. It's not a Bachelors degree in Theology, it's a Level Four Ordination or something like that. Calling it a Bachelors degree, a Masters degree or a Doctoral degree when it is not that thing is deliberately misleading because these are things that exist in that larger social context. Just use different words and then everyone will be clear about what this credential actually is and what it is not.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
  7. Garp

    Garp Well-Known Member

    St. Petersburg Theological Seminary was not in a church basement (though may be now). It had its own 7,000 plus square foot building. Accreditation was lost over financial issues. Your Orthodox priest friend graduated after it closed. Their web site says that was May 2010 and does not indicate a teach out. If there was not one and he graduated after May 2010, then he does not have an accredited degree (according to their web site). They still exist but scaled back and out of some church.


    Just looked at an Orthodox Church publication that indicates he did graduate in May 2010. So, he has an accredited doctorate.
  8. dlbb

    dlbb Active Member

    If I had my way, churches would not have the ability to provide these degrees, yet I support it and will defend it, even though I do not agree with how it plays out. Religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of this country, and if some church denomination determines that they need the ability to give degrees as part of their worldview, then we need to make sure that can happen, while also curtailing abuses of it (where possible).

    I hope as online education becomes more prevalent, which it will continue to do, that we can become more transparent about important issues such as unaccredited, RA, NA, so that those can become part of the vernacular, for everyone. We are a long ways from that, but give it time. Even people (newbies) that come to this site may see the terms tossed around but barely understand them or their ramifications. I suspect some unaccredited religious doctorates are probably a lot of indoctrination, not serious research or scholarship. They aren't necessarily learning Greek and Hebrew and studying original sources in original languages, consulting a wide array of scholars--activities I suspect a Ph.d. in Theology would encompass, if it was rigorous. But just because it is substandard indoctrination (if that is the case), they may legitimately be spending a lot of effort on learning that, so it may not be substandard as a way to make it easier (although certainly there will be those as well).
  9. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Good to know. Fr. Harry certainly deserves it, and the program looked both original and rigorous.
  10. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    St. Sophia illustrates the issue. Sister churches do have accredited seminaries (St. Vladimir's, St. Tikhon's, two Holy Trinities, and the one in Alaska). Explaining why a Greek seminarian gets Master's while Ukrainian one gets a certificate doesn't make it "clear".
  11. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I don't really give a crap if a religion feels the need to award degrees as part of their "worldview." Academic degrees are not something that a church can simply adopt as an expression of faith any more than they can start issuing building permits. It is not an infringement on a person's faith or a denomination's freedom to practice to say that if you want to offer academic degrees you need to meet academic standards. If, and this is a big if, a church wanted to award solely religious degrees that could, in no way, be mistaken for their secular equivalent then I could maybe see the position.

    You really want to offer a B.Phil.? An S.T.B.? A B.D.? But we don't see them doing that largely. For the most part, it's a B.A. or occasionally a B.S. Even then, I still have a problem with it. I used to work with a former priest who had an STM from the Angelicum in Rome on top of his B.A. in Philosophy from a U.S. School. The Catholic Church has full freedom to practice their religion in the U.S. And yet, any degrees awarded by that church's affiliated schools are accredited. This guy, with fully religious credentials, got a secular job because the requirement was a B.A. in anything with a Masters in whatever preferred. He met those requirements with his religious degrees. Someone with degrees from LBU should not.

    There is no reasonable reason to offer a degree by these denominations aside from knowing you'll sell more if you call it a degree instead of a diploma.

    On an unrelated note to Stanislav's point, St. Sophia's, historically at least, awarded a Licentiate in Sacred Theology, a compromise which I have long advocated for with regards to religious schools. They were able to offer a credential that appears no less dignified than sister seminaries (in the European system, the Licentiate is higher than a Masters since it is, essentially, a formal ABD). Meanwhile, that particular credential has no meaning in the U.S. system. No one is misled. No one's religious freedoms infringed upon. But St. Sophia's, of course, wasn't trying to sell bullshit PhDs in communications to pastors who want us all to admire the size of their phylacteries (what? I paid attention in Catholic school).
  12. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    I would say no. The priest, reverend or other clergy does not need a Doctoral degree title to perform their activities plus they are supposed to be teaching humbleness and not flashing ego based credentials to boost their own ego, they should preach by example.
    The problem with the DD, PhD in Theology, etc from an unaccredited school is not so much that the seminary has the right or not to do it but the abuse of some places that grant PhDs in subjects such as Christian Psychology. A person trying to deceive the public gets a 2 month PhD in Christian or Metaphysical Psychology and then becomes a member of a bogus association (e.g. association of metaphysical psychologists) in order to offer their services as Christian Psychologist, the person in Question has a business card with the Title (Rev. John Smith PhD C. Psychology Certified M. Psychologist). The prospect customer thinks that the "Rev" is a qualified psychologists so he or she uses this person services, later when she or he tries to sue the fake psychologist, he or she finds out that the bogus psychologist is protected because he is a reverend from a registered denomination and he is using the title "Christian psychologist" that is a religious modifier.
    There are other bogus titles such as PhD in Christian Management, MBA in Church Administration, BS in Christian Accounting, etc that are not really meant to minister but to give credentials to people to perform non ministerial functions.

    Most ministerial jobs are non paid positions so one can argue that a DD or PhD in Ministry are harmless but the problem is when people use them to perform ministerial activities that are border line between licensed professions and ministerial activities such as healing, alternative medicine, counselling, etc.
  13. Garp

    Garp Well-Known Member

    While someone can earn a degree in "Christian Psychology", calling oneself a Christian Psychologist can land you in legal trouble in a great many if not all states. Psychologist is a protected term. You can certainly be a Christian Psychologist if you are licensed.

    I believe there were questions about Arno's NCCA (?) because at one point it called people Licensed Pastoral Counselors or Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselors (license generally implies a govt issue and LPC or LCPC is a specific type of licensed Psychotherapist). Causes confusion.
  14. RFValve

    RFValve Well-Known Member

    I know of the case of one person that sued one PhD from University of Sedona for misrepresentation. The person presented himself as a certified P.Psychologist. It resulted that P stands for "Para" and he was certified Parapsychologist by the University of Sedona. University of Sedona also offers different Psychology degree such as Metaphysical Psychology, Theo centric psychology, parapsychology among others. They have their own certification bodies so they can issue a certified in theocentric psychology and someone can use it to call himself "Theocentric Psychologist". The person in question paid a fine and later changed his title to a "Certified P. Psychology Analyst". It seems that the term psychologist is regulated in Canada but one can call himself psychology analyst or psychology consultant with a PhD from Sedona or similar school.

    The whole point is that the law provided the right to a seminary to grant doctorates as a way to recognize clergy for a particular status and not to be used to practice regulated professions under the radar.
  15. Garp

    Garp Well-Known Member

    Wow! From an unscientific survey of some Sedona "dissertations", they make Lousiana Baptist University look like Harvard.

    I think the US is tighter with the Psychology title.
  16. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Personally, I felt that LST was just fine for St. Sophia's. However, I can see why they're doing it. One other recent change is that they're offering a MA in Orthodox Theology, which is the theoretical half of their seminary program (MDiv). Fully online. The whole setup looks more geared towards candidates with full-time jobs; smart because it's not as if they swim in applicants (which is also why a bid for accreditation is highly unlikely). I had a brief exchange with a person who sits on the lay governing body of UOC Canada (Consistory) a week ago (at the parish AGM where I stepped down from the parish board). She mentioned that our seminary (St. Andrew's College - part of University of Manitoba, awarding accredited BTh) graduated one priest at last convocation, and they have three more candidates lined up. That was presented as a success. I believe St. Sophia has similar numbers.
  17. GregWatts

    GregWatts Active Member

    Although not perfect, I think there is an important difference between institutions based on rational inquiry and purely faith based institutions. This is a key difference. Should they grant the same degrees? Btw, there are some legitimate universities that offer courses in transpersonal psychology... it is becoming more mainstream.

    Some nations recognize this more formally than others.
  18. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

    You’re right about Transpersonal Psychology becoming more mainstream. The APA includes it in their Humanistic Psychology journal. But I’d be careful not to draw too close a parallel between Transpersonal thought and religious beliefs
  19. GregWatts

    GregWatts Active Member

    Apologies, may not have been clear.

    My point was that certain subjects (e.g. Transpersonal Psychology) have been accepted by schools based on rational inquiry. This is different from something like literal Biblical inerrancy which, as far as I know, is only accepted within "faith based" institutions.

    In my perfect world, "faith based" institutions would have different accreditation and different degree names. I think this would be more preferable for several reasons.
  20. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

    There are a lot of people on this board that know more than me about these sorts of topics but based on what I know about Transpersonal Psychology (reading Ken Wilber) and what I know about literal Biblical inerrancy (very little) I would agree with what you've said.

Share This Page