Category: Alumni Spotlight

Central Baptist Theological Seminary: A Place of Growth and Belonging for ALL

This blog post is written by Central alum Debbie Giese as part of the “Your calling. Your values. Your seminary.” blog series. 

When my kids were little, we had a gigantic double-sided floor puzzle. One side was an under the sea type picture, with dolphins and whales and lots of deep blue sparkle; the other was a galaxy, each planet a different color, surrounded by inky darkness. On days we were feeling adventurous, we’d find new ways to fit the top and bottom pieces together, creating an image that was uniquely ours.

That, in a nutshell, describes my experience at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I enrolled in the fall of 2019 as a diploma student, taking advantage of the opportunity to transfer into the full MDiv program after my second semester. My core theological beliefs were rock solid. There was only one way this picture fit together, and I was certain that by the time I graduated, I would believe what I already believed with even more conviction.

My first two years at Central felt like someone dumped all the puzzle pieces out of the box. I was invited to deeply question what I believed just because I always unquestionably believed. I learned a phrase during Dr. Hartsfield’s Biblical Interpretation class called sitz im leben, which is German for how you are situated in your life, the context in which you experience life. I realized that much of what I believed was handed to me through the sitz im leben of the originator of the idea. I was invited to remember that the Scriptures were written by a group of people in a particular context, and to apply my context as the universal, original intention was doing a disservice to the magnitude of God. I was invited to flip a few of those puzzle pieces over and examine them in a new setting. Maybe mix some deep space pieces into the dolphin pod and see what happens.

Through Dr. Hunt’s Theology classes, I considered the ways others have received those same sacred texts through the ages, and how religion became the container, the puzzle box, if you will, to hold all of the various pieces. What I learned was that people are not really content with mystery, but that much debate went in to figuring out how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit fit together, as if we can ever really be sure on this side of the Divine Curtain anyway. We also explored the “rules” of religion and gained an understanding of how someone’s interpretation became church canon-THE way it is.

More importantly at Central, we were not only allowed, but invited, to see where all of this new thought would lead us as individuals. We arrived from different places, different experiences, and with different goals. We left an institution of theological learning with hopes and dreams unique to each one of us. Some of my colleagues are following a chaplaincy path, one potentially as an urban church planter, some to congregational leadership, and others to non-profit work. I think, though, that one thing that unites all of us is that we have a deeper understanding of the justice that God requires and desires. I know I am less interested in checking a box to get into Heaven and more interested in seeing the teaching of Jesus enacted out in this world that sorely needs people willing to speak up and do the work.

My greatest personal transformation came as a result of Dr. Hunt’s Theology classes and Dr. T. Rosell’s Ethics classes. In the process of flipping puzzle pieces over to create a new work of art, I realized that my understanding of sexuality, the shame I felt as someone “suffering from same sex attraction” was not a flaw or a character defect to let God work on. It was part of the fearfully and wonderfully way I was created, as fully in the image of God as straight folks.

I remember the day I came out on a discussion post in my Ethics class, during a lesson on sexual ethics. I felt the weight of shame beginning to lift. My own theological baggage always left me either wanting to heal those LGBTQ people with some good ol’ love of Jesus, while at the same time being envious of their ability to live freely and authentically as themselves. Through my Seminary education, I was able to reinterpret for myself some of the issues that were keeping me from living authentically. It was actually one of the things that drew me to Central in the first place, their invitation to ALL people to live into the potential that God instilled in them. I’ve been blessed to learn with people of all colors, from many countries, of different life experiences and theological backgrounds, and a variety of sexual orientations.  Together, our pieces are a masterpiece, created to do the good works of God that we’ve been called to. (Ephesians 2:10)

I’m writing this reflection one week after commencement. I got to meet my professors and fellow educational travelers for the first time in four years. I wasn’t sure if online classes would create the same kind of camaraderie that in-person learning does. It did. I’ve got a whole group of friends for life, as we continue to encourage each other in our calls.

The teaching is relevant and top-notch, with plenty of grace for those of us who have been out of the school scene for a while. Central provides support resources and advisors to help every step of the way.

I’m forever grateful that when I felt that nudging to go to Seminary, I listened. I’m excited to be walking in a Pride parade this month wearing my “This Pastor Loves You” rainbow t-shirt, not just as an ally, but as someone living out my call in all of my rainbow authenticity.

If Seminary is anywhere on your radar screen, take a closer look at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. There is room here for every piece of the puzzle.