A Look at the Scandal of Granting Honorary Degrees 
in the Church
By William Alnor
(posted August 11, 2004)
2004, The Christian Sentinel

Editor's note:  This is Part 2 of Bill Alnor's article from The Christian Sentinel's August 2004 E-update that examines the issue of phony degrees, and suspect credentials within the church, and particularly within the apologetics community.  To read Part 1, please click here.

     Some cases of institutions giving phony degrees are easy to see through.  For an interesting account of how fringe creationist teacher/tax protester Kent Hovind's doctoral credentials from "Patriot University" collapsed under an inquiry go to http://tinyurl.com/foyj.  Other cases are not as clear cut.  California apologist Robert Morey holds a doctorate from the highly regarded (and regionally accredited) Westminster Theological Seminary near Philadelphia.  However, when he began speaking out on Islam Morey also began claiming to hold another doctorate in "Islamic Studies" from an unaccredited seminary, whose campus more resembles a house on Cheltenham Avenue, Philadelphia rather than an educational institution. 

But these cases withstanding, an area of credential abuse within the church involve the substitution of "honorary' degrees for real ones.  In an egregious action within the field of apologetics, Dr. Norman Geisler of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) publicly awarded Hank Hanegraaff, the scandalized leader of the Christian Research Institute, an honorary doctorate about five years ago. It turns out Hanegraaff long ago had dropped out of Calvin College in Michigan after attending classes for less than two years, sources said. Trouble was (and still is) Geisler's institution is not regionally accredited (it maintains TRACS accreditation instead), meaning that a degree from SES would not hold water at many other institutions of higher learning that are regionally accredited (meaning among other things credits from SES may not be transferred to regional accredited institutions).   

It was also significant that at the time that SES did not have a doctoral program at all, so Geisler was bestowing an honor on Hanegraaff that his own institution could not grant to anyone. 

Additionally, after critics of Hanegraaff cried foul about it, with complaints even reaching the influential AR-Talk listserv, Geisler went on Hanegraaff's Bible Answer Man Broadcast and repeatedly defiantly referred to Hanegraaff as "Doctor."

There have been other strange acts covering the world of apologists as well. For example, the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, as part of a call for clear ethical standards among its members  created the Manual of Ethical and Doctrinal Standards in the mid 1990s.  It states: 

SELF-REPRESENTATION. The way EMNR members represent themselves in terms of background, experience, testimony, education, and expertise is to be honest at all times. This affects us in a variety of ways:

(a) Educational degrees and ordination. EMNR members shall not advertise themselves as having degrees of higher education unless the degree has been legitimately earned at an institution requiring in-class instruction or through an accredited "distance education" facility. Honorary degrees and degrees from correspondence schools may be advertised provided there is no effect of deceiving the reader through ambiguous description. Degrees obtained from "diploma mills" must not be listed on a member's resume or biographical summary. Ordination obtained through mail-order institutions should be omitted from one's list of credentials.

However, even while the manual was being created and agreed upon by the EMNR board, one of EMNR's high ranking board members for years allowed himself to be referred to as "doctor" at numerous conferences ranging back to the 1980s. He was even awarded that title in EMNR publications and letterheads dating to the early 1990s. However, a quiet inquiry in 2000 under the leadership of former president John Morehead, revealed that the board member did not hold a doctorate -- even the university he taught at refused to list him as such, and so the "Dr." was quietly dropped before his name on publications and in recent conference announcements.  No admission of wrongdoing was ever made by the EMNR board member, and still many apologists refer to him as "Dr." 

Similarly, Many apologists are fuzzy on this issue and related ones dealing with proper academic credentials and accreditation. For example, apologist Gretchen Passantino speaking on the "Stand to Reason" radio broadcast in Southern California not long ago, was promoting the Southern California extension program at the seminary she teaches at, the Faith Evangelical Seminary as being "fully accredited." Instead Faith holds just the TRACS accreditation, which is practically meaningless in the academic world. This means for example that institutions like Biola, Wheaton, Cal State, UCLA and other universities holding regional accreditation would almost never accept credits from Faith Seminary. Further, a degree from a TRACS only accredited institution, would not be considered a legitimate degree at many other institutions of higher learning and those holding such a degree, even a doctorate from such institutions, would almost certainly be unable to teach at any four-year college, university or graduate school. (Additionally, Bill Alnor has prepared a list of guidelines on accreditation for those interested in pursuing higher education. For an E-mail copy click here or write him at bill@cultlink.com. He also spoke at EMNR's conference on this issue earlier this year. To obtain the tape go to http://www.emnr.org.)

A second problem within the church is the astonishing number of people who have been given "honorary" doctoral degrees, who then turn around and call themselves "doctor," thus quietly implying they have earned degrees. This is deceptive and goes against academic protocol. In reality, although many institutions of higher learning give honorary doctorates, the secularists -- those outside Christianity receiving them know better than to take them seriously. Thus they don't refer to themselves as "doctor" at all, since it would be a joke to do so.

Among the institutions most responsible for contributing to the confusion is Oral Roberts University of Tulsa that seemingly doles out honorary doctorates like candy at Halloween to children. ORU has even presented honorary doctorates to some of the most questionable figures imaginable, even con men and known purveyors of false doctrine and at least one accused sexual predator. After some of these people are awarded an ORU honorary doctorate, sometimes without serving any time in higher education, a good number of these men and women have gone on to publicly call themselves doctors in their books and in teaching materials.

ORU has doled out honorary doctorates to the late Kathryn Kuhlman and Rex Humbard, both accused of multiple imporprieties; the late plagiarist and false teacher Kenneth E. Hagin; prosperity teachers Frederick Price, Creflo Dollar, Marilyn Hickey, Joyce Meyer, Jesse Duplantis, Paul (David) Yonggi Cho, his wife, and Kenneth Copeland; former NFL player Roosevelt Greer; the late entertainer, Bob Hope; false teachers and founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Paul and Jan Crouch. But most egregious was ORU's awarding of honorary degrees to the following teachers who were exposed in international scandals for various instances of crookedness: Bishop Earl Paulk (who has faced a slew of sustained sexual misconduct accusations over the years); disgraced television preachers Robert Tilton and Larry Lea (who were both targets of PrimeTime television exposes by Diane Sawyer); and faith healer Benny Hinn, who has faced dozens of major scandals during the past 15 years. And there are many other lesser known false teachers given honorary doctoral degrees since ORU began the practice in 1972.

 

            

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