Jack Bartlett Rogers (1934-2016)
The Rev. Dr. Jack Bartlett Rogers—a thoughtful scholar, a joyful theology professor, a hero to the LGBTQ community, a book author and a moderator of the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)—died Thursday, July 12, at his home in Pasadena, Calif. He was 82.
“It would be difficult to find anyone in our communion who hasn’t been touched by Jack’s work. He was an educational and theological powerhouse, and a champion for the marginalized,” the Revs. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly, said in a statement to the Presbyterian News Service. “Along with other Presbyterians and Christians who were blessed by him, we mourn this loss and celebrate the gift he has been to us all.”
Two years ago, the Committee on Theological Education recognized Dr. Rogers with the Excellence in Theological Education award at the Theological Education Awards Breakfast at the 221st General Assembly. Letters nominating him praised Dr. Rogers as “a gracious conversation partner across the theological spectrum,” “a visionary” and an educator “who worked diligently to help opposing sides with strong opinions truly talk and listen to one another.”
Dr. Rogers was a professor emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) in San Anselmo, where he taught theology from 1990 to 2000. He also was a former vice-president at SFTS and co-founder of a southern branch of the seminary’s campus in Pasadena, which graduated some 300 students before closing in 2011 after 21 years.
“Jack Rogers was a faithful disciple of Jesus and a scholar—and to so many of us, he was a generous and gracious colleague and friend,” said the Rev. Karen “Bear” Ride, a graduate of SFTS (MDiv ’78 and DMin ’91) and a Fellow at the Center for Innovation in Ministry, worked with Dr. Rogers from 1991-98 in the founding of the SFTS program in Pasadena.
“Jack loved God and the Presbyterian Church and used his considerable academic, spiritual and interpersonal gifts to serve this Church and his brothers and sisters in it and around it,” Ride said. “It’s hard to imagine any candidate for ministry in the PC(USA) who did not prepare for the standard ordination exams with the Bible in one hand and Jack’s opus on our Confessions in the other.”
Ride added, “A devout man of evangelical faith, Jack also had a heart and head for social justice. He used his place of privilege to the advantage of others, showing friends inside and outside the church what it means to be an ally in the struggle for equality. The Presbyterian and larger LGBTQ community will remember our beloved friend Jack as one who made a difference in the equation for equality.”
The San Gabriel Presbytery, where Dr. Rogers was a member, endorsed him for Moderator of the 213th General Assembly. After his election in 2001, for a decade Dr. Rogers played an important role within the PC(USA) during the debate over whether to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians who weren’t celibate.
Though at first he believed homosexuality is a sin and opposed the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals, over time Dr. Rogers came to believe that Scripture did not support this position. He wrote about the evolution of his thought processes in his book “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church,” first published in 2006 and revised and expanded in a new edition in 2009.
“I wasn’t swayed by the culture or pressured by academic colleagues,” Dr. Rogers wrote. “I changed my mind initially by going back to the Bible and taking seriously its central message in our lives.” In 2011, the PC(USA) dropped the celibacy requirement for single gays and lesbians.
“Jack is a hero to the LGBTQ community because he was a conservative evangelical who became convinced that being gay was not a sin but rather an expression of God’s love,” said Jim McDonald, SFTS President. “He was a fierce, bold advocate for full inclusion in the life and ministry of the church.”
Dr. Rogers penned 12 additional books and numerous articles, some of which helped guide the church toward a more holistic approach to Biblical interpretation. He also wrote extensively about Presbyterian creeds and confessions. His books are required reading in Presbyterian seminaries, colleges and churches across North America and have appeared repeatedly on the list “Ten Books for Presbyterians to Read.”
“Presbyterianism: Principles and Practice,” a class Dr. Rogers first taught for seminary students at the General Assembly in 1993, was revived at the 2016 General Assembly, held June 18-25 in Portland, Ore. Offered for credit to seminary students, the class was co-sponsored by SFTS and the Louisville and Austin seminaries.
Dr. Rogers was born January 23, 1934 in Lincoln, Neb., the son of a letter carrier and a schoolteacher. In 1955, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Nebraska, where he was active in debate and led the Cornhusker marching band. After graduation, he served on a Christian mission to build a new conference center in Alexandria, Egypt.
Ordained as a teaching elder in 1959 by the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., he graduated with his M.Div. that same year from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he then earned his Th.M. in 1964. He also earned a Th.D. in 1967 from the Free University of Amsterdam while serving as a pastor the Pilgrim Fellowship, an English-speaking congregation in Dordrecht, The Netherlands. In 1989, he earned a D.D. from Westminster College.
Before coming to SFTS, Dr. Rogers served as associate provost and director of Presbyterian ministries and a professor of philosophical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Prior to that, his leadership roles included assistant academic dean at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Penn., and associate for theological studies at the Office of Theology and Worship for PC(USA) in Louisville, Ken.
Dr. Rogers retired from academia in 2000. In recent years, he was writing a biography of Edward Reynolds, a 17th century English Puritan. He is survived by Sharon, his wife of 59 years; their three sons: Matthew, John and Toby; three grandchildren; his sister, Jane Lundeen; and his brother-in-law, Steve Mangold.
“In a profound, compelling way, Jack Rogers walked the walk of the Christian life, guided by the revelation of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, seeking always to know and share the love of Jesus Christ,” McDonald said.
“Through his humble leadership and inspiring witness, he brought hope and courage to countless people, and transformed the Presbyterian Church (USA) in ways not yet fully realized or appreciated. The world has lost one of its true saints.”
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, July 22, at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. A reception and light lunch will follow the service. (RSVP appreciated, please Register Here) In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Huntington Library in San Marino or to the Presbyterian Missions.