The Words of the Burton Family

Unification Theological Seminary Gains New Standing Among Schools of Theology

Douglas Burton
July 8, 2010

On June 25, 2010 the Unification Theology Seminary (UTS) was welcomed as an affiliate member of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the respected professional group that grades and accredits seminaries nationwide. In other words, mainstream American Christianity's academic establishment has given UTS a place at the table.

ATS, which began as a conference of elite graduate schools in 1918, is now an organization of seminaries and other graduate schools of theology. It is headquartered in Pittsburgh and has more than 250 member institutions. ATS's stated mission is "to promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public."

Affiliate members of ATS do not have voting privileges, mind you, but they can participate in discussions and fact-finding projects. As Dr. Kathy Winings, UTS' academic dean, explains to, "The value of ATS affiliate status is that it allows us to be part of committees and task forces with our colleagues. More importantly, we have at least a foot in the door. In ecumenical organizations and circles, when one is outside the circle, their voice is rarely heard or respected. They are an outsider looking in. However, while affiliate status is not ideal, we are no longer just 'observers' at the biennial conferences."

Since its inception in 1975 the Unification Theological Seminary has battled for respect from the mainstream denominations of Christianity and their respective graduate schools. In the early years, seminarians at UTS had to worry about getting lured off campus and held prisoner by worried parents and their paid experts in forced conversion. That threat passed in the 80's but the seminary has been on a long march to respectability, gaining a charter from the State of New York in 1990 and winning its initial accreditation from the Commission of Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools on November 21, 1996.

The vote on June 25 has encouraged some to have high hopes for UTS's future as it prepares to welcome between 75 to 90 students at its Manhattan campus in September. As Dr. Winings explains, "To be able to have some form of official give and take and an official form of association with such a historic and important organization is a real milestone for UTS." 

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