Gregory E. Sterling
New Haven, Connecticut
Title: The Rev. Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament
Company: Yale Divinity School
AT A GLANCE:
Seaver College Class of 1980
How has your Pepperdine experience impacted your personal and professional success?
The most important influences on me were professors. The first class that I took with Frank Pack was an important moment. He offered an overview of the history of New Testament textual criticism without ever consulting a note. I remember thinking that this is what a professor should be able to do. He has mastered the material and can handle it at will. He was also a model of a believing scholar. Frank was the first person from Churches of Christ to receive a Ph.D. in the field of New Testament (I believe). He was a pioneer in this respect. At the same time, he was a person of deep faith who routinely preached in churches. He helped me realize that scholarship and faith were not polar opposites, an understanding that is common today but was not when I was a student.
Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career:
Led the effort to diversify Yale Divinity School in four areas: representation, curriculum, co-curriculum, and iconography. Our full-time faculty now has nine professors from under-represented groups (up from three), our full-time administrative support staff now has thirteen employees from under-represented groups (up from five), and our student matriculations now run 25-35% from under-represented groups (up from ca. 15%). We have added a new masters degree in LatinX Christianity and a new Black Church Studies Program. We have worked with local not-for-profits to build a program in promoting equality and overcoming personal bias for the school, the University, and the community. We have also diversified the portraits and photos on our walls celebrating our past by placing a portrait of James Pennington, the first African-American to attend Yale, in our common room and naming a classroom after him. We have also created a wall of fame for our alumni/ae award winners with photos. These efforts over the last five years have changed the atmosphere of the school.
Who or what inspires you? Tell us why.
My parents have been the greatest source of inspiration in my life. My father was a minister in Churches of Christ for 46 years. Serving churches was my parents' life. I never attended a church that did not grow. The reason was that my parents served people unstintingly. We had people live with us who had nowhere else to go. Our home was like a hotel, only there were no fees. The basic value that they instilled was that character, the quality of the person, was what mattered. They had deep compassion for the frailties of people but did not ignore human responsibility. It was their love for people, inspired by their faith, that has most shaped the way that I view my own life.
Are you where you thought you would be in life when you were in college?
I had hoped that I would eventually be in an Ivy League school.
In five words or fewer, what career or life advice would you give a new college graduate?
Follow your heart. Do what rewards you as a human being.
What profession other than your own would you have liked to attempt?
I thought that I would either be a professor or a minister. I have wondered about politics, but wondered whether the necessity to compromise would be too great.
What three things could you not live without?
Faith, family, work.
How do you unplug?
I walk through the woods on trails near our private home. I typically walk alone between 5 and 14 miles. The walks permit me to be away from the demands of an office where my life is lived in 30 minute increments. I do different things as I walk. Sometimes I meditate; sometimes I turn over a problem in my mind that I have trying to resolve; and sometimes, I simply walk and enjoy the exertion of climbing the hills and being in nature.
Is there a particular quote, mantra, or philosophy that motivates you?
I admire excellence in any area and am inspired by it to be more effective in what I do. It does not matter whether it is hearing a musician, reading an exceptionally well written book, seeing an athlete perform, or hearing the accomplishments of someone who has made a real difference. I find any example that is outstanding to be inspirational.
What would your autobiography or memoir be called?
Coming Full Circle (I would have to explain this).
What's one idea you think could change the world?
I believe that Christianity offers more hope for the world than anything else that I know. Unfortunately, it is often used for other ends than serving people.
What's next for you professionally?
We have goals to achieve for the next five years at Yale Divinity School. Following that I plan to return to the faculty and then retire.