Jonah Bartlett is named second Coffin Scholar at Yale Divinity School
By Jan Fournier '06 M.A.R.
Returning to Yale Divinity School as a student entering in fall 2007 is a homecoming of sorts for Jonah Bartlett. As the son of David Bartlett, Lantz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication, Jonah grew up at YDS, playing in its hallowed halls and beneath the Common Room portraits of legendary YDS faculty.
When he comes back to campus at the end of August, Bartlett will do so as the second recipient of YDS's William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Scholarship. The merit-based scholarship, first awarded in 2006, is intended for students who demonstrate the qualities of prophetic leadership and passion for justice exemplified by Coffin, the social activist Yale University chaplain of the 1960s and 70s, and a Divinity School alumnus.
"I now know that the giant portrait that my brother and I thought was Captain Picard is H. Richard Niebuhr," said Bartlett, recalling his early years on Sterling Divinity Quadrangle. A 2002 graduate of Lynchburg College with a degree in English, he also holds a master's degree in theology and ethics from Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Education in Richmond, VA.
Bartlett envisions his return to YDS as being "in the shadows of two great men." The first, of course, is his father, whom Bartlett credits with influencing his vocational path. "It is fair to say that I would not be here if it weren't for him, and it's not because he pushed me to follow in his footsteps (we often take very different paths to end up at similar destinations), but because I was raised by a man who showed, through example, that Christian ministry can never be separated from a social concern without losing its most essential value." Bartlett also looks to his social worker mother, who instilled in him "the responsibility that each human being has to the next," as a formative influence. An American Baptist, Bartlett is a self-identified third-generation liberal Christian.
The second shadow is that of William Sloane Coffin, Jr. As a seminary student at Union-PSCE, Bartlett's growing concern for social justice, interest in ethics, and the Christian faith with concomitant questions about all three, led his advisor to direct him to the works of Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This line of thought, though often tortuous, is for Bartlett based on "the strongest of foundations-that the purpose of the Christian church was not simply to seek salvation in the afterlife, but that it was to seek justice, peace, and harmony in this life."
It is a philosophy that Bartlett sees reflected also in the life of Coffin. "For me, receiving the Coffin award is both a great honor and a great challenge," said Bartlett. "To have my name associated with his means that I have done something right... it makes me proud. I have a feeling, however, that it will be a bit of a specter, too, a constant reminder that when I enter ministry in a church or in a classroom I am entering a ministry of a world in which injustice is all too common and social justice must consistently be sought. I don't plan on climbing out from underneath these shadows anytime soon, but I hope that my ministry can be effective and purposeful in its own right."