LOS ANGELES (RNS) — In Fuller Theological Seminary’s 70-year history, neither a woman nor a person of color has ever led the Southern California institution that equips students to serve as ministers, counselors and nonprofit leaders.
Now, as the seminary is in the process of searching for its new leader, some, including current President Mark Labberton, are hoping that will change.
“I think in this next chapter the president should certainly be, I hope, at least a full generation younger and different from me than we’ve had in the past — in either race or gender,” Labberton, 68, told Religion News Service.
To Labberton, who previously served for 16 years as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Fuller’s future is one that serves the “multiracial church that is in the world globally and also in the United States.”
Labberton on Oct. 22 announced he would end his time as president in 2023, launching the seminary’s search for a new leader. Labberton, who was named president in March 2013, said it was always his plan to hold the presidential position for 10 years.
Fuller’s board of trustees has created a “transition discernment team” that will oversee the hiring of the next president. The committee is chaired by Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, chief executive officer of the Christian humanitarian aid organization Compassion International, and will consist of representatives of Fuller’s board and faculty that will work in partnership with a search consultant.
“We believe God has already prepared an amazing leader to lead Fuller into its next season of vitality and influence. Our privilege will be to find and advance this special person,” Mellado said in a statement.
Based in Pasadena, Fuller’s more than 3,500 students come from 90 countries and 110 denominations, according to the seminary’s website. The school offers master’s and doctoral programs with Spanish, Korean and online options.
Citing its online expansion, Fuller in 2019 closed campuses in Orange County, Northern California and the state of Washington.
Fuller is seen by many as a more progressive institution among its generally conservative counterparts, with its emphasis on immigrant rights, social justice and diversity. The school also allowed an LGBTQ student group on campus.
But in early 2020, the evangelical seminary was at the center of a lawsuit that involved two former students alleging the seminary violated anti-discrimination laws when it expelled them after learning they were married to people of the same sex. A U.S. District Court dismissed the suit later that year.
To Todd Johnson, who served as theological director of Fuller’s Brehm Center, “there’s a lot of women and a lot of people of color who might be considered for the presidency of Fuller.”
“I hope they would consider it as well,” he said.