Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Huckabee Lied About His Credentials–Or Did He?

Not that I ever understood why anyone would consider a theology degree useful for a presidential candidate (I have 2 such degrees, but if I were running for any elected political office in a secular state, would not think them at all relevant), but apparantly Mike Huckabee, fmr. Arkansas Governor and currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. president, lied about having one.  The former Baptist pastor had one year of seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX, but never finished his degree. So much for him being “uniquely qualified” to understand the threat of “Islamofascism.” And we now get why he seems completely ignorant of Mormonism, too. (I do not consider Mormons to be Christians, but I also think the question is irrelevant in a presidential election. Huckabee’s little digs at Romney’s religion are in bad taste, to say the least. ) Hat tip to Big Daddy Weave for this newsflash.

While the possession or lack of a theology degree is irrelevant to one’s qualifications to be president, LYING about having said degree says quite a bit about one’s character. That IS relevant to the quest for elected office.   Many in this country wanted Bill Clinton to be impeached and removed from office for lying about having sex with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. [To be clear: I did not think the charges rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” needed for impeachment, but I did think that Clinton should have resigned to spare the nation and allow the government to get work done. If he had, Al Gore would have had 2 years to work on the nation’s problems, and, with Lewinsky not an issue in the 2000 election, would have won handily and saved us the many ills of G.W. Bush.]  Many voters are uneasy about Rudy Guiliani as a presidential candidate because he is now on his third marriage–and both his divorces stemmed from adulterous affairs. His current wife, former mistress, was apparently given New City police protection and much else via shady finances.  I have thought the current resident of the White House should be impeached for his many lies and crimes.  Character matters in elected officials, especially in one who heads a nation-state and whose power will affect the lives of  thousands of people.

Huckabee’s lie about his education seems minor compared to some of these other cases–especially the murderous lies of George W. Bush which have resulted in so much pain, suffering, and death for so many.  But if Huckabee would lie about something so minor–and so easily checked–it makes one wonder about his overall honesty.  Compare this with Barack Obama’s candid admissions that as a teen he used drugs–pot and some coke. No hedging and saying he didn’t inhale.  Talking with regret for the lost boy he was trying to find himself and finally coming out of it in college.   Yes, Obama’s presidential hopes could be ruined by such admissions–but I think the public prefers candor. We don’t expect perfection–we just don’t want to be deceived.

Character includes moral maturity–and that includes being able to speak about our shortcomings–whether past misbehavior or never finishing an educational degree to which one aspired.  Honesty and integrity must start with self-candor.  It’s clear that Huckabee regrets never finishing his seminary education before becoming an assistant to an evangelist.  But he can’t turn that regret into the fantasy that he did complete it–nor project that fantasy onto us.  A national president must be able to see things clearly, too. But if Huckabee cannot even be honest with himself about his educational achievements, can we trust him to decide matters of life and death with clarity and sound judgment?

Update: Just before reading today’s comments, I heard a response from the Huckabee camp.  Supposedly, the “theology degree” to which he was referring was his B.A. in religion at Ouchita Baptist University.  If that’s what he meant, then he didn’t exactly lie. (Except that the New York Times reports that his B.A. at OBU was in Communications. Religion was his minor.  A MINOR is not a “theology degree” under any stretch.) But he had to know that most people would think he was referring to a degree from an accredited theological seminary. So, the statement was at least misleading.  Perhaps I am too skeptical, but this seems to me to be typical political “spin” after being caught in misstatement. It is what conservatives have taught us to call “Clintonian parsing,” as when fmr. president Bill Clinton claimed “not to have inhaled” when reports came out that he tried pot in college (strange how conservatives have never been interested in G. W. Bush’s cocaine use at Yale, as well as his binge drinking into his 40s!), or when he said in response to charges of perjury about not having had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, “it all depends on the definition of “‘is’.”

I can’t see into either Clinton or Huckabee’s heart (or anyone else’s). So, maybe he was referring to his OBU B.A. when he claimed a “degree in theology.” One of my faithful readers (and persistent critics) claims that he refers to his own undergraduate degree in that way. Well, I went to a conservative Christian college (as well as a major state university, a large denominational seminary, and many other educational experiences) and my degree was a double-major in religious studies and political science.  But I have never referred to it as a “theology degree.” When I use that term, I always have in mind a degree from a seminary or divinity school. I have never heard of another use–but my experience is limited. So, I have added this update and a change in title for this blog post as a partial retraction.

I have no desire to slander Huckabee. I haven’t seen his OBU transcript to know whether the “paper of record” (which has certainly been wrong on other occasions!) got it right about his B.A. being in communications.  (And I should have waited before breaking this story to see the Huckabee response.) I hope I was wrong and his answer is truthful (if weird). But I also hope he learns to be more precise and less misleading in off the cuff remarks. Because constant “further statements with more precision” is precisely how politicians get reputations for being less than honest.

Update II: The Christian Science Monitor (a great newspaper whatever one’s view of the Church of Christ, Scientist!) has been doing a series on presidential candidates’ faith and values.  In their Nov. 7th article on Huckabee, they quoted him at the October Values Voters’ Summit.  There Huckabee said concerning the tensions between being an ordained minister and a presidential candidate (James Garfield was our only minister president–and he was one of our worst presidents!), “Anytime you have been a person who was identified as a pastor and you’ve got a seminary education and a theology degree, people tend to worry about you.” (My emphasis.) Now that phrasing, while perhaps not technically lying, is certainly misleading–maybe even bearing false witness. Anyone at that meeting or who heard that statement would assume (a) that Huckabee had finished his seminary education rather than dropping out after a year, and (b) that the “theology degree” was a degree earned at an accredited seminary or divinity school–not an undergraduate B.A., whether in religion or “pastoral ministries” as the spokesperson from Ouchita Baptist University described Huckabee’s degree. That B.A. is his only earned degree. He has 2 honorary doctorates which, in the U.S., are a cheap way of honoring commencement speakers. (In the U.K. and Europe, this is different. An honorary doctorate is usually given only to someone who has made tremendous contributions to a given field.)   Again, the Constitution does not require any particular educational background for presidents: Our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, never finished high school and became an attorney not from attending law school, but from private reading and then passing the bar exam. We have only had one president with a Ph.D. (Woodrow Wilson) and, although many came from legal backgrounds, we have had enormous variety in educational and vocational background in our presidents. So, Huckabee’s possession (or not) of a “theology degree” is not relevant. But his misleading statements and later spin ARE. They go to the issue of character and do not reflect well on the second “man from Hope.”


December 19, 2007 - Posted by | U.S. politics


  1. Michael,

    Of course our friend Mike could claim that since he went to a church related school and took theology courses he has a theology degree? By the way, does he have an honorary doctorate — many Conservative Christians like to claim them. Indeed, televangelists start colleges so they can give them to themselves!

    Mike would have been better off saying he’s the only Presidential Candidate who went to seminary.

    But then Andy Pettite did HGH just 2 times.

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | December 19, 2007

  2. […] 19, 2007 in news, politics, quotes, seminary Like Michael Westmoreland-White and Jim West, I am skeptical of thinking a “theology degree” could qualify a person for […]

    Pingback by Huckabee and his “Theology Degree” « kata ta biblia | December 19, 2007

  3. Michael, this is really disappointing to me. He LIED??!! Good grief man. Just the other day you made the statement, What I do is try for “information integrity” by reading and listening to a wide range of perspectives and trying to double check my biases. You should have double checked here. He answered this charge. Here is what he said:

    I have a bachelor of arts in religion and a minor in communications in my undergraduate work. And then I have 46 hours on a master’s degree at Southwestern Theology Seminary. So, my degree as a theological degree is at the college level and then 46 hours toward a masters — three years of study of New Testament Greek, and then the rest of it, all in Seminary was theological studies, but my degree was actually in religion.

    I have a B.A. in Religion and I too have referred to it as a theology degree, because basically that is what it is and that’s what people understand it to be when I explain it to them. A year after I left college, they changed the name of the degree to Christian Studies to reflect that it was theological in nature. Huckabee’s B.A. is from a similar program at Ouachita Baptist University. Had he said he had a Master’s Degree in Theology, then maybe you could have said he lied, but making a general statement like this isn’t a lie.

    Now, a question maybe you could have brought up is if his degree qualifies him to understand the Muslim faith, but he certainly didn’t lie in speaking about his education.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | December 19, 2007

  4. Maybe Huckabee thought it necessary to stretch the truth on his qualifications because, unlike the current occupant of the White House, he can’t say “God told me to . . . ” when it comes to matters of public policy. 🙂

    Comment by haitianministries | December 19, 2007

  5. I don’t think he stretched the truth at all. Like D.R. Randle pointed out, Huckabee clarified what he meant by a theology degree, and his clarification is perfectly consistent with what he’s always said.

    Comment by Chris Huff | December 19, 2007

  6. Michael, I do greatly respect your willingness to look at the facts and post a correction. I retract my comment about being disappointed. I do want to note that the New York Times does need to get it’s story straight. Huckabee claims to have gotten a B.A. in Religion (major) and minored in Communications and Speech. As you noted, in one article about him, the commentator said he had a degree in Communications/Speech (obviously assuming that was his major). But, on their Biography page for Huckabee, they indeed claim he has a B.A. in Religion. Here’s the link:


    Sorry about not embedding it, but I don’t have the code readily available. One last point: Yes, Huckabee has to be more precise (though that’s likely not the first time he’s said that about his degree, yet without any problems because of the general understanding among those to whom he is speaking), but claims that he lied without giving the man the benefit of the doubt are a much greater sin than carelessness. Even as moderate and liberal Christians have called down conservative ones for their lack of charity toward the Clintons, we too must remind our left-leaning brethren that they too should be willing to dole out that same charity when it pertains to those on the other side of the aisle. As I have noted before, at the least, Huckabee is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the typical politician. And I think the Democratic Congress would be willing and able to work much better with him than anyone else, thus bringing some much needed peace between the current warring factions in the U.S.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | December 19, 2007

  7. I don’t much care about the latest Huckabee imbroglio. But in response to D.R. Randle and others who think that majoring in religion or religious studies is equivalent to a degree in theology: bollocks. I’ve spent a quarter century in the academy, and I’ve never–NEVER–heard a colleague of mine in religion or religious studies departments refer to the BA degrees they grant as “theology” degrees. In fact, just about the only places that even have undergraduate theology programs are Roman Catholic colleges and universities. To claim that a BA in religious studies is a “degree in theology” is deliberately misleading or disingenuous.

    Comment by Kerry | December 20, 2007

  8. Well Kerry, in the real world – outside those ivory towers – people consider all of those degrees to be theological in nature, especially when you take all the same classes to earn them (as I did and likely as Huckabee did). Huckabee’s not appealing to colleagues who have advanced degrees – he’s speaking to average folks who don’t get wrapped up in exactly what type of degree a person has. And that’s the problem – everyone is trying to read into this story their own perceptions, rather than looking at it from the perspective of the average person who has no clue what the difference is between a theology degree, a Religion degree, or a Ph.D is. I even saw on one blog a guy who asserted that theology degrees had to be made up anyway, and certainly weren’t very academically challenging. That’s the type of ignorance that people in the real world typically have. So to force Huckabee to speak the same language as you, over against the rest of the ignorant masses, is itself disingenuous.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | December 20, 2007

  9. Oh my, D.R. Disagree with me if you like, but please: let’s not appeal to the old canard about ivory tower insouciance and real world savvy. I’m also an ordained clergyperson, and I work very much in the real world. Authority figures like priests and politicians can tell laypeople that they possess “theology” degrees, and laypeople will most likely take their word for it because they trust them. But that doesn’t make the claim correct. Nobody’s trying to force Huckabee or anyone else to use a certain kind of language (how did we transit to coercion, anyway!?). The only point that’s being made is that language oughtn’t to be used slickly. Surely that’s something we can agree on, no?

    Comment by Kerry | December 20, 2007

  10. A spokesperson for Ouchita Baptist University has said that Huckabee studied Communications and “pastoral ministries” which certainly does not sound like a vigorous theology degree.

    However we parse it, it seems clear that Huckabee’s major claim–that this “theology degree” makes him uniquely qualified to face the threat of Islamist terrorism, is false. I doubt seriously that his education included more than a single survey course in world religions. He shows very little knowledge of the history of Islam and its factions and debates today–unlike someone with cross-culturally sensitive missionary training, for instance or someone who focused on comparative religions. (That kind of education is available not just at “liberal” divinity schools like Harvard, where a conservative evangelical like Huckabee might not want to attend–although plenty of evangelicals have gone to Harvard. It is also available at places like the School of Intercultural Studies at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary or places like the Overseas Ministry Study Center in New Haven, CT or the Selly Oak Colleges in the U.K., etc.

    In these times a president who did have broad multi-cultural understanding, including broad knowledge of world religions, would be helpful. It need not be in the form of a formal degree: Jimmy Carter undertook much self-study to learn about Judaism, Islam, and the history and cultures of the Middle East as a lead up to the Camp David talks–and that self-study was crucial in his brokering of the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty.

    But Huckabee shows no such background–certainly nothing that would make him “uniquely qualified” for the presidency in these uncertain times.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | December 20, 2007

  11. Michael,

    How do you call a person one of our worst Presidents when he only served about 4 months before being shot and then dying 2 months later? I believe it might be better to say that he served for such a short time that we don’t know how he would have turned out. And considering the Presidents of the era, it was pretty hit and miss.

    By the way, yes Garfield was a Disciple!

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | December 20, 2007

  12. Well, I have a divinity degree, but I didn’t take too many theology courses. Do I have a theology degree?

    Comment by James Pate | December 21, 2007

  13. A degree in Religious studies is not the same as one in theological studies. They are two different degrees by virtue of their content and courses offered. I would not identify my Master of Divinity in Theology as as a Masters in Religious studies.

    Merry Christmas,

    Comment by Celucien Joseph | December 24, 2007

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