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Important Actions

American Theological Society: Important Actions

Note: *Throughout, an asterisk indicates present practice.

Early Decisions about Membership and Leadership

The second semi-annual meeting was held October 25 and 26 at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. At the third meeting, again held at Union Theological Seminary, March 24, 25, 1913, it was voted to amend the Constitution, Article III, so as to read in its last clause: "There shall be an annual membership fee of five dollars," the income thus secured to be applied toward equalizing the traveling expenses of the members of the Society.

Meetings were held semi-annually, in the late Fall and Spring, under officers who served the entire year. At an Executive Committee held September 1918, following the thirteenth semi-annual meeting, it was decided to omit the autumn meeting because of the War, and it has been omitted ever since.

As early as 1914 the question of how to act toward members who absented themselves from meeting was solved temporarily by placing them in the category of corresponding members, without dues, from which classification they could again return to active membership when they chose. This practice was amended in 1915 by deciding that corresponding members would be sent the papers and would pay dues those years they attended meetings. The category of corresponding members was dropped entirely in 1919 and only active membership remained.

Voted at the April 22, 1919 meeting was the resolution that “the entire railroad fare (not including Pullman or dining charges) of members in attendance at any meeting should be paid out of the treasury of the Society, so far as funds permit." In 1926 this was limited to $16.

Before 1920, attendance at the meeting ran between 12 and 20. Several members dropped out and several were added each year.

*Starting with the April, 1917 meeting the position of secretary-treasurer was divided into two separate offices, as it still remains. The minutes give no indication of a change in the Constitution.

*At the 1925 meeting, it was voted to hold the next annual meeting on the Friday and Saturday after Easter. This practice has continued ever since. It was also voted at the same meeting to drop members who, after notification, fail to pay their dues for two consecutive years. The annual dues were lowered from $5 to $4 at that time, since the treasury showed a surplus.

*Also at the 1925 meeting "Dr. Sneath suggested the possibility that an effort might be made to secure a publication fund for the Society.” “The suggestion was very favorably received and unanimously endorsed.” Among those nominated for membership at this same meeting was Morton Enslin, the only one of the numbers in 1925 who still remains in the Society. Seelye Bixler joined in 1926, George Thomas in 1928, Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry P. Van Dusen, Alban Widgery, and Walter Horton in 1929 and John Bennett and Douglas Steere in 1930.

The Adoption of the Society's Current Name

*The name “American Theological Society” was adopted at the 1926 meeting. The information concerning the new name was to be conveyed by the secretary “to the Society recently organized in the “Middle West.” At the meeting the following year, “a letter of greeting from the Mid-Western Branch of the American Theological Society, signed by A. C. McGiffert, Jr., Secretary, was read, and Professor Daniel Evans gave an oral report of the organization of this second branch of the Society.”

Further Decisions of the Society

*The first time the annual dinner was held at Union Theological Seminary in the refectory was at the meeting of April 5, 1929.

Annual dues were raised from $4 to $5 at the 1930 meeting. At the same time, it was decided that the executive committee would serve as a nomination committee, which practice was followed until 1946.

At the 1936 meeting:

*It was voted that no discrimination on grounds of sex should be exercised in the selection of new members for the Society.

*It was voted that the society appoint a period of quarter of an hour during its meeting as a time for corporate worship, the details to be left to the executive committee to work out.

*It was called to the attention of the members by the president that the executive committee were concerned about the fairness to the other members in the society of those members who came for only a part of the session and yet draw on the bursary for their entire travel expenses; and by the secretary that it is impossible to provide the membership with an advance mimeographed précis of the papers to be read unless the papers can be placed in the hands of the secretary at least six weeks in advance of the meetings.

*Prior to 1942 three or more papers were given at the meetings. At the business meeting in 1941 it was decided to limit these to two, one each Friday and Saturday, in addition to the President’s address. Time allowed for critics’ comments was reduced to 15 from 20 minutes at that same time. Business meetings were held both on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

In response to an appeal made by Prof. Henry P. Van Dusen, the Society appointed a committee to attempt to find teaching positions for displaced foreign scholars, especially such as were in the field of theology. It was reported in 1941 that no fewer than eight such scholars had been placed.

At the 1943 meeting:

*The following motion was passed unanimously: that in the future full texts of the regular papers (excluding the presidential address) be mimeographed •and sent to all members of the Society well in advance of the annual meeting; that these papers be read by the members of the Society before they came to the meeting; consequently that each regular session may be devoted entirely to discussion of the papers, instead of taking the time to have the papers read aloud; that this discussion shall be opened by two critics appointed in advance, as usual.

In 1945:

It was voted that in the future, although the secretary shall record the names of the participants in the discussions, he shall not be expected to read them in reporting the minutes.

In 1946:

*It was voted that the Chair should appoint a Nominating Committee consisting of past Presidents of the Society.

In 1952:

*It was decided to increase the maximum paid toward member's travel costs to $25, but this would be refunded “only for those attending two full sessions of the annual meeting.”

In 1953:

*It was voted to increase the annual dues from $5 to $6.

In 1962:

*It was also voted that the Society pay “toward its members' costs of transportation to the annual meeting at aircoach rates,” and that members asked to participate in the programs of the Society "should regard this as part of the obligation of membership and should accept, unless prevented by serious personal considerations."

In 1957 it was reported that 179 persons have been members of the ATS. In the years up to the summer of 1966, not including those selected for membership at the annual meeting of that year, there have been two hundred and seven, and over sixty different institutions have been represented.

Concerning Procedures for Electing New Members

Over the years one of the most debated matters of business has been that concerning election of new members. The following discussions and votes will indicate how frequently and with what results the membership took up this matter.

At the April 11, 1942 meeting:

A motion was made, seconded, and passed that the Secretary in the future should include in the January announcement of the annual meeting of the Society, a request for members to send to him before March 1st any suggestions that they may have for candidates to be considered for membership, together with a full list of their qualifications in the Society; that the lists be closed on March 1st; that the secretary include in the summaries of the papers which he sends out before the annual meeting a list of the nominations for election to membership together with their qualifications and with a space after each name, in which members may place any comments which they may have about the fitness of that candidate, and that these sheets be returned to the Secretary for the use of the Executive Committee in considering those candidates it deems fit to place in formal nomination before the Society at the Saturday business meeting.

At the 1946 meeting it was voted that the Chair appoint a committee to study three matters and report back to the Society the following year. The three matters were:

  • 1. The desirability of electing representatives of non-Christian religions to the Society;
  • 2. The size of the Society as it affects the election of new members.
  • 3. How large a majority should be required to elect a new member.

The President appointed professors Bennett, Brightman and Ferré to the committee, with Prof. Aubrey a member ex officio. On April 12, 1947 the following report was submitted and adopted:

  • The American Theological Society is a professional society consisting primarily of theological scholars who feel themselves to be in the Christian tradition and who desire to engage in friendly discussion of problems that are mainly systematic.
  • Theology is understood to include systematic, historical and Biblical disciplines and the philosophy, psychology and history of religion. The historical and descriptive disciplines in this context are considered primarily as the source of the materials for the discussion of systematic problems.
  • That the maximum number of members be 65.
  • That the executive committee act as a committee for the nomination of new members and that prior to such nominations the membership of the Society send comments about proposed members.
  • That the executive committee put the names of some candidates in a deferred classification. All the names on the deferred list will be available for nomination without their being proposed again by the members.
  • That the list of candidates proposed both in 1946 and 1947 together with others who may be named by members before March 1st, 1948 be studied by the executive committee before the next meeting of the Society and that these candidates be divided into three groups—nominated, deferred, rejected.
  • That at the meeting of the Society that receives the nominations of the executive committee at least a two-thirds vote of those voting be necessary for election.

The Executive Committee, having been requested in 1953 to review procedures for nomination and election of members, gave its report at the 1954 meeting. It reaffirmed the statement of principles formulated in 1947 and recommended the following procedure, which was adopted.

Nominations are to be in the hands of the Secretary with detailed information on the prepared form, one month before the annual meeting; the list is to be circulated to members for comment, such communications to be sent to the Secretary: the names of nominees will then be presented to the Executive Committee which will then recommend selected names to the Society for membership.

The 1958 meeting once again discussed problems of membership, receiving a special report of the Executive Committee on this subject. The following resolutions were approved:

  • In considering the addition of members, the Executive Committee has acted consistently with, and hereby reconfirms: 1) the basic conviction of the American Theological Society in the past to include in the Society members of the American Theological community whose scholarly achievements provide the basis for effective discussion; 2) the focus on constructive, systematic theology without neglect of closely related scholarly disciplines.
  • While these considerations of personal achievement and inclusiveness of theological breadth are primary, the membership of the Society should represent an awareness of the need for the widest representation possible of accredited theological seminaries and other institutions of higher learning.

These recommendations were then presented by the Executive Committee and accepted by the Society:

  • That since the problems of determining membership call for greater continuity of perspective than the present procedure allows, the Society elect•at its 1959 meeting a member to be Chairman of Membership. This Chairman shall be an additional member of the Executive Committee. He shall have a term of not fewer than three years and no more than six years. The Executive Committee of 1959 is authorized to submit one nomination for this position.
  • The present procedure for suggestion of new members and for final election by the Society is still to be in effect, except that members should submit nominations to the Membership Chairman.

Accordingly, at the 1959 meeting, Daniel D. Williams was appointed Chairman of the Membership Committee for a period of not less than three years, in which position he become a member of the Executive Committee. The following year, 1960, Prof. Williams, in his capacity as Membership Secretary, made the suggestion that the membership be increased to 80. It was decided to circulate the gist of his report among the members, asking for their comments, with action to take place the following year. In the meantime, the following decisions were reached:

  • The Executive Committee be authorized to remove from the rolls any member absent from three successive Annual Meetings, beginning with the meeting of 1961;
  • the Treasurer be authorized in the meantime to raise with any member the question of his future relationship with the Society.
  • At the 1961 meeting, Prof. Williams reported that he wished to resubmit his original proposal, that of expanding the membership to eighty, to the Society for continued consideration. It was voted that:

All resignations from the Society on grounds of non­participation be declined and those members informed accordingly. It was further ordered by vote that the procedures of nominations be reconsidered and further recommendations be made in 1962. Pending further clarification of membership policy, the present legal limit (sixty-five) shall be construed to apply to “active members” only (as distinguished from "sustaining members”—these defined as those who absent themselves from three successive meetings but who wish to retain their membership).

The following resolution was enacted:

  • In order to make possible the active participation of more persons in the American Theological Society, the sixty-five members shall establish a category of "sustaining members.” Those who fail to attend one out of three consecutive meetings shall be automatically placed on the sustaining member list and this group shall not be counted within the limit of sixty-five members.

Any sustaining member who attends two successive meetings shall then be accounted an active member. Sustaining membership is in no sense a penalty. It is rather a device for keeping such members in full relationship to the society, but at the same time providing a way by which the society may open its membership more widely to those who desire and would give active participation. Sustaining membership includes full responsibility for dues and all rights and privileges of the society, including voting. This action shall apply beginning with the annual meeting of 1960. Hence members who did not attend that meeting, or the present one in 1961, or the next in 1962 would be placed at the meeting in 1962 on the sustaining members list.

The discussion continued into the 1962 meeting, when Prof. Williams presented a review of present membership structure and policy. The possibility of a general theological association, or national society, was considered. Finally it was voted that:

A small committee consisting of Daniel D. Williams, John Hick, and Walter Muelder, be appointed to study this possibility and make a recommendation to the Society at its 1963 meeting.

In 1963 the first members were moved into the classification of sustaining members, in accordance with the action taken at the 1961 meeting. It was voted to keep the membership at its current level, of sixty-five members (in addition to whatever number might be found in the classification of Sustaining Members). Prof. William A. Bradley was elected chairman of the Membership Committee to replace Prof. Williams, who had resigned. Prof. Bradley suggested to the business meeting in 1964 that no new members be accepted until a rationale be developed for accepting such members, consideration being given to institutions and fields represented. His suggestion was moved and passed. In 1965 Prof. Bradley's report was received and accepted, with eleven new members being elected, these primarily in the fields of Old and New Testament, and representing a number of institutions not previously included within the membership.

In 1966, eleven names were submitted from the Membership and Executive Committees, obtained in the usual ways. Questions were raised about electing persons from beyond the Eastern seaboard. It was voted that the Executive Committee discuss the matter and mail its recommendation to the membership as early as possible before the next meeting in order that other persons from afar may be nominated if the principle of admitting persons from the Middle and Far West should be accepted. It was further voted that names of all nominated persons be circulated by mail one month ahead of the next annual meeting in order that an informal ballot be obtained before the meeting.

In 1967:

The maximum number of active members was set at 100.

Further Actions

*In 1977:

The following resolution was adopted by the membership of the Society: "In preparing a slate of officers for 1978, be it hereby resolved that the vice president of the Society nominated for 1978 be also designated as president-elect for 1979, and that this procedure be followed by future nominating committees."

*In 1978:

The Society commissioned its Membership Committee to exercise "an active initiative in seeking out new members, both among persons nominated in earlier years and among those whom the society may have overlooked." One aim of this action was to secure wider representation of minority persons and of differing theological perspectives.

In 1980:

The Society modified its Definition of Eligibility by voting that "new members ... should normally be resident in the Eastern region of the United States or Canada." The Membership Committee has interpreted this to mean that nominations of persons from more distant areas should be accompanied by stronger than ordinary evidence of readiness "to participate responsibly in the meetings of the Society."

*In 1985:

The President explained that a new procedure for conducting the discussion of the papers would be tried this year. A list would be kept by the Secretary of those wishing to make major comments. Such persons are to raise their hands, fingers pointing up, and will be called on as their turn comes. Those wishing to interject a very brief comment into the discussion of the moment are to signify that wish by pointing a finger downward.

In 2000:

Dues were set to $35 for active members and $15 for retired members.