Doctors of the Air

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We met at a Saturday afternoon fund-raising and promotional rally sponsored by a para-church organization. His calling card introduced him impressively. He was the pastor of an independent church congregation not aligned with any denomination, and a radio preacher. They called him "Doctor". And why not? After the good reverend's name, his calling card displayed the symbol D.D. for his honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

He was at least fifteen years my senior. For reasons I cannot explain, we became friends. I learned he never attended college or seminary. One day I dared to ask about his degrees. With what I hoped was jest, he quoted part of the thirteenth verse from the third chapter of the apostle Paul's first letter to the young pastor Timothy, which says that a minister "doth purchase to himself a good degree." So I was not surprised to learn later that his honorary degree was from a diploma mill--the same school from which ultimately earned his doctor of theology (Th.D) degree.

Radio and TV preachers, who are typically within the charismatic, evangelical, fundamentalist fold, are not known for having much formal education or having credible academic credentials. Some religious media ministry celebrities are college or even high school dropouts. One college drop-out who conducted a religious radio broadcast for decades told inquirers that he took a few correspondence courses from a Bible Institute but received most of his training from the Holy Spirit. Still he introduced himself as "Dr," and used an N.D. (Doctor of Nutripathy) degree to promote himself as "Dr." in media ministry and as a nutritional therapist.

What is nutripathy? Gary A. Martin, D.N., Ph.D., Th.D., D.Sc., who originated the system in the late 1970s, allegedly thanks to divine influence, taught that "nutripathy is a religious science of experiencing mental, financial, physical, social and spiritual health using specific universal laws."

While no other media minister I know holds the highly suspect Doctor of Nutripathy degree, other radio and TV preachers rely on honorary degrees as the base for their "Dr." title. I doubt that the use of the honorary doctorate and the abuse of the "Dr." title it conveys has been more popular than among ministers, including media ministers. While the honorary doctorate has no academic standing, because of the "Dr" title, it is a popular degree among those in some ministry settings who have little or limited formal education.

When a featured speaker is introduced as "Dr," people who listen to religious radio and view religious TV programs have reason to ask, what kind of "Dr" the title means: Is the reference to a D.D., (honorary doctorate with no academic value), the Th.D. (doctor of theology), a research degree strictly in theology, a D.Min. (doctor of ministry) a degree based on the practice of ministry, or a Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy), a research degree that adds knowledge to the field in which the degree is pursued?

With the information in hand that the answer to the degree question asks, the next would be: What school awarded the degree? Just as it is no surprise that so many ministers, including those in media, seek honorary doctoral degrees, it should surprise no one that some Doctors of the Air are created by doctorates granted that are diploma mill degrees.

Dr A H Barbee is a minister and educator. He has served as church pastor, conference speaker, consultant to nonprofit organizations, businesses, Fortune 500 corporations, and professor offering courses in the humanities, management and organizational studies with five colleges and universities. He holds the Ph.D. in Human Resource Development.

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