Ethics: Graduating Seminary Student Admits Breaking Covenant 4 Years Ago

What would you do Wednesday!

For the following scenario, you will be part of a seminary’s leadership. You are part of those who decide how to punitively apply the seminary’s code of conduct to students who break the rules. In this post, you think about what to do with a student who broke the moral covenant they signed when entering seminary.

A particular seminary student is set to graduate in a month with his Master of Divinity (M.Div.). He visits you in your office to talk about graduation preparation. He also wants to talk a bit about his future. You know this student to be a faithful servant who is always helping around the seminary. He even has a 3.8 GPA.

While talking about graduation, he says he needs to apologize for something. Four years ago when he began seminary, he signed the seminary’s moral covenant which is signed by students upon acceptance allowing them to enroll in classes. The covenant is in effect during the students’ entire time in school. The student basically agrees to avoid certain immoral activities ranging from sexual sins to using alcohol and tobacco to cheating to anything not becoming a  minister.

The student admits he broke the moral covenant four years ago during his second month in school. He felt he needed to repent and apologize to you and the school. The highest punishment for any violation of the covenant is expulsion.

What would you do?

  • Say nothing to anyone else and overlook the offense.
  • Let him graduate considering the time past.
  • Let him graduate considering the time and that he has been a good student.
  • Have him apologize and wait a year to graduate.
  • Have him apologize, go through pastoral counseling, and wait to graduate.
  • Expel him.
  • Bring all students to chapel and have him write “I repent of breaking the covenant” 100 times on a chalk board.
  • Or…

Here I blog…


p.s. To get an idea of how a seminary administers punishment for misconduct read Could Jesus be a student at Liberty University?

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tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture,ethics,faith

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MrFunkhouser January 15, 2014 at 10:00 am

I think it depends on the violation, when it stopped, etc… 

His grades don’t really show his spiritual maturity. Commitments with these things are important to me.  

If it’s a continued sin, or a blatant breaking of the penalty then the penalty should be different. If it’s a “I bought a beer for Beer Butt Chicken and I didn’t realize my commitment was to no purchasing any alcohol.” that’s completely different.

2 ThomasTwitchell January 15, 2014 at 10:48 am

The real question is if they successfully make it through seminary, are they then held to a higher or lower standard? If they say, lie about knowing a fellow in the faith because they are afraid of the social repercussions? Insult and anger their superior? Quit associating with certain ethnic peoples? Are not able to bridle the tongue? Command others to be holy, when he cannot?

3 Mark Lamprecht January 15, 2014 at 11:21 am

MrFunkhouser  This “I think it depends on the violation, when it stopped, etc… ” is an interesting perspective. Would it matter if the sin were sexual vs. if it involved alcohol/tobacco?

4 Mark Lamprecht January 15, 2014 at 11:22 am

ThomasTwitchell It is always interesting to note the ethical standards some Christian institutions hold up that seem to go beyond Scripture. Interesting questions.

5 MrFunkhouser January 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

Mark Lamprecht like I mentioned towards the end, I think it depends on if it was an accidental break or a purposeful one. 
i.e. One of the things I’ve struggled with are my friends who have signed something like that and their blatant, “Well, it’s a stupid rule, so it doesn’t apply to me.” Or ” Well, I don’t get drunk, and that’s the spirit of the law.” And my view is, if you sign the contract, you need to keep the commitment you made, regardless if you think it’s stupid or whatever. 
But, as an example, at NOBTS we aren’t allowed to possess, or intake alcoholic beverages. However! In visiting an orthodox church, I partook of communion that used wine instead of grape juice. I had no idea, it wasn’t my intention, and I wasn’t about to make a scene about it, or refuse the communion that was brought to me by my orthodox friend. I’ve been there twice. 

I don’t consider that a violation of the agreement in the same way as someone who purchases a bottle of wine to drink nightly, or the individual who chooses to ignore their commitment because of getting married. 

In terms of the sexual sin, I think if the individual is living a lifestyle of sexual sin, that’s different than if it was one night of terrible decisions and they’ve repented, made changes and not done the same thing. 

But either way, I think it was proper for the individual to let the school know.

6 Michael Buratovich January 15, 2014 at 10:10 pm

From my own experience at my school, each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis.  Some infractions are unintentional, some are incidental, and some are blatant.  The more blatant the incident, the heavier the punishment.  

As an example:  We have a dry campus, which I support, not because I think drinking alcoholic beverages are in and of themselves wrong, but because of what the abuse of them can do to an educational community.  One of my students found a large stash of beer in his closet, which he shared with someone else.  He confronted his roommate and told him to get rid of the booze.  The beer was removed but, unbeknownst to my student, it was only relocated.  Later, another roommate found the booze and reported the errant roommate to the administration.  The beer-hiding roommate was suspended for a few days.  When it became clear that my student had known about the beer, but did not report the errant roommate, he too was suspended.  I interceded for him on his behalf, because I was convinced that he had obeyed the principles of Matthew 18 and gone to his roommate first and settled matters “between the two of you.”  However, student affairs did not see it my way, but they did reduce his suspension.  

My conclusion – sometimes school administrations and their disciplinary procedures do get it wrong, but they are still necessary to coordinate the spiritual life and vitality of the community.  Secondly, not all infractions are equal.  

Applying it to the case above, I think that it depends on the nature of the infraction.  If it was accidental or incidental, then I think that he should be allowed to graduate and chalk it up to a lesson learned.  However, a more grievous or deliberate infraction merits an apology to the school, pastoral counseling/mentoring with an experienced pastor, and postponing his graduation.  In seminary he is learning to be a spiritual leader and mentor to others and character is just as important as learning Greek declensions.  This could be a symptom of a deeper issue.  If it is not resolved, then maybe this chap should not be a pastor.  The delay and counseling should determine this.  That’s my two cents.

7 Christopher Sanchez January 15, 2014 at 10:55 pm

It depends on the infractions Mark. Each school has policies for dealing with such things and they are usually taken on a case by case basis. This is the link the policy where I am a current student.


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