As recently as April, the Rev. Emmett Price III, one of America’s leading experts on the black Christian experience, featured prominently as the only black face on the faculty page of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Hamilton campus in Massachusetts.
Price’s photos are now gone from the faculty page, including a promotional image that showed him smiling with his colleagues. The happy photo was replaced with a picture of the facade of a building.
In an open letter to the seminary’s leadership on July 8, a group of more than 200 academics, black leaders, local pastors, alumni and staff expressed their disapproval with Price's contract not being renewed by the seminary.
Price founded the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at the school in 2016, which supporters say has helped recruit black and minority students.
“We write with our concerns about Gordon Conwell’s actions against a dear colleague and critical institution. We have heard the news of the firing of the Rev. Dr. Emmett Price III from full professorship and the restructuring of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience," the letter states.
"We receive this news with confusion, anger, and a sense of betrayal."
Among signatories is Bishop Talbert Swan, a Church of God in Christ leader, the president of the Greater Springfield NAACP and a 2008 Gordon Conwell alumnus.
Other signatories include adjunct professor Jeff Bass, the executive director of Boston's Emmanuel Gospel Center; Brandon Crowley, the senior pastor of the Historic Myrtle Baptist Church in West Newton; Rev. Marcus Doe, a former Gordon-Conwell student government president and pastor of Redemption Church in Tucson, Arizona; and Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
“We write and sign this letter as Church leaders and academics. Some of us write as Black leaders who have worked within predominantly white institutions that have again and again struggled to truly partner and share power with Black leadership," the letter states.
"We write as Church leaders of all backgrounds advocating for justice in public institutions, yet heartsick that we cannot find such justice in the Church. We write as local church pastors who must counsel our people about where they can reliably go to seminary, where their experience as Black Christians will be taken as authentic and legitimate experiences of the embodied life of faith. How can we do this when Gordon Conwell’s actions communicate a devaluing of Black life and leadership?”
Gordon-Conwell did not immediately respond to requests from The Christian Post for comment Monday. In a letter to the campus community, Gordon-Conwell President Scott W. Sunquist said Price was let go due to budget cuts. He assured the decision was “very painful … given the many ways Dr. Price has blessed and impacted us.”
“We pray God’s blessings on Dr. Price in his next area of ministry and teaching,” Sunquist wrote in the letter, according to The Boston Globe.
He further explained that the seminary eliminated six faculty positions and reduced its budget by some $2.5 million over the last two years.
Bishop Swan argues, however, that the elimination of Price as the only black member of the Hamilton campus faculty was telling.
“How people spend their money gives you a glimpse into what their priorities are,” Swan told The Boston Globe. “And if you’ve got a budget shortage, and one of the first things you do is say, ‘Let’s get rid of the Black guy,’ that tells us a lot.”
In their open letter on July 8, the pastors and the academics acknowledged that while “it may be too late” for the seminary to reverse its decision, “We invite you to begin the work of repairing lost trust and making restitution for harm."
"For this to happen, Gordon Conwell will need to formally interrogate and explicitly acknowledge systemic failures and structural racism at the school," the letter declares.
Swan argued that losing Price will negatively affect the recruitment of black students, who made up 7% of the student body on the Hamilton campus in fall 2020.
“I think the seminary needs someone like Dr. Price to be there if they are committed to some level of diversity and continuing to recruit Black students to attend,” Swan said.
While Price was the only black ful-time faculty member at Gordon-Conwell's Hamilton campus, the institution lists African Americans in full faculty positions at its campus in Boston. The school does not list African American faculty at its campus in Jacksonville, Florida, and lists two black adjunct faculty members at its campus in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Additionally, Asian and Latino full-time faculty members are listed online for the Hamilton campus.