There is an unreasonable emphasis placed on diplomas or degrees and their nomenclatures. It is not only the ordinary people but also the so-called elites in the Church who are overly anxious about such honors. This tendency will induce proliferation of phony degrees received by clergymen, who think that it is such academic abbreviations that ultimately offer them acceptance and room for further advancement. This writer can enumerate any number of examples of such unhealthy episodes.
Many years ago, a priest who was pastoring a Church of the dissident Orthodox group, was chosen to become a bishop. He was working as a clerk in one of the schools in America. Upon his election to the episcopate, he managed to acquire a mail order doctoral degree (at that time it would have cost him $40.00). Within a few weeks he was made a bishop in India, and the news columns of Malayalam dailies acclaimed him “Dr. Mar…….”! He was a close friend of this writer before his departure, but after this incident, he avoided all occasions to see him! How much of genuine orthodoxy can this prelate preach with this phony doctorate? Can he treat the diseases of faith?
We see many prelates (some of them even did not complete a middle school education in India) who regularly visit America and return with a doctorate. Once they return home there are receptions waiting for them to honor their achievements. Their so-called degrees are either from Degree Mills via mail or from some institutions that claim to be universities registered with a State. Yes, it is only in America that you can get a doctoral degree within three months of your summer tour! These are reported as honorary degrees. Some such institutions also offer degrees based on your life experiences. You can see a list of such institutions in airlines journals when you fly 35,000 feet above the earth.
Yes, accredited universities in America offer honoris causa doctoral degrees to highly recognized scholars and leaders, which are more difficult than earned doctorates to obtain. The recipients of such degrees are great authors, scientists, political leaders, statesmen, educators, and social reformers. None of them uses Dr. before his name, if does not possess an earned academic doctorate. Thirty-three years ago this writer attended Mid-Continent College, a Baptist institution, for his pastoral counseling (Christian Social Ministry) training. Its president did not possess a doctoral degree when he went there. Later the president was awarded an honorary doctorate, but never did this writer see this great academic leader using “Dr.” before his name. We asked him why he did not use that title. The response was thought-provoking. “I did not earn it to own it or hold it or carry it. It was just a perception of the trustees of that college and they honored me; it has no academic value at all! Call me Mr. Malcolm if you want to be formal, call me Oscar if you want to be friendly; and call me President Malcolm if you want to keep a protocol.” Now you may compare this gentleman with many of our clergymen who are Drs. before their names after receiving a phony piece of paper from some unknown institutions that exist either in papers or in P. O. Box addresses.
Can these doctors treat the diseases of faith in our Church?
The current doctoral proliferation is in the area of Ministry. A few months ago an academic friend of this writer tried to convince me that American seminaries are in the business of moneymaking through their Doctor of Ministry programs. This writer does not know if the seminaries are making money out of these programs. Nevertheless he thinks that it is a worthless program in view of its theological sophistication, and in that sense it cannot be legitimately called a doctor’s degree. What one needs is only a Bachelor/ Master of Divinity degree and three years of ministerial experience in order to be qualified for admission to this program. Generally there are no academic requirements of any standardized tests, such as GRE (Aptitude or Advanced), and the Miller Analogy Test, in order to assess the academic strength of a candidate. A few years ago, a CSI minister started his sophisticated Th.D. program at one of the Lutheran Seminaries in America. He did not sustain his language and comprehensive examinations and the seminary professors gave him another option just to get out of the seminary with a degree. He completed a Doctor of Ministry degree within a brief period of time and returned to India. There are many cases of Th.D. students eventually completing this ornamental doctorate and find it a face saving outlet. Similar cases were experienced by this writer when he was a Doctor of Philosophy in graduate school. Many Ph.D. students in education could not meet the requirements of a rigorous Ph.D. program, particularly its double language requirement and intensely demanding comprehensive exams. As a result, they were given the option of slipping into an Ed.D. program where there are no language requirements or intensely sophisticated concentration in a single major, and they got out of the School of Education with a practitioner’s doctorate.
Some of this writer’s friends in America are eagerly attracted to the Doctor of Ministry program, not because of its academic value or the so-called doctorate it attaches to its successful completers. They do it for obtaining a more in-depth understanding of their ministry. They do not attach Dr. to their names once they have obtained the degree. When I talked with a director of the D. Min. program at one of the seminaries, she told me why: “It does not have the sophistication of a doctorate; it is just a practitioner’s degree”.