Honorary Doctorates “Don’t Let the Honor Become Dishonorable”
Updated: Aug 22
Receiving An Honor
Most every time someone refers to me as Dr. Hill in a one-on-one conversation, especially at the beginning, I’m quick to say, “Please drop the Doctor thing and just call me Tim. I’m not doing ‘brain surgery’ until next week.” Someone with a doctorate in psychology can call me and tell me the real reason I do that, but here’s the deal.
In 2006, while serving as Secretary General, I was notified by the The Church of God School of Theology (PTS) that then President, Dr. Stephen Land, PhD, had recommended to the Board that I have conferred to me an honorary Doctorate degree “honoris causa” (Latin, for the sake of honor). It was stated that this honor was being bestowed to recognize various aspects of my ministry that the board had deemed worthy of recognition but particularly, the songwriting and musical compositions created over the previous 30 years. The award was granted during the commencement activities over that spring weekend.
I was called upon to make some remarks at a Friday evening dinner recognizing faculty and student achievements for the year. I stood behind the podium and looked into the faces of men and women who had “earned” doctorates, in the sense that is typically recognized. They also had the “earned” school bills that tipped the scales anywhere from $60,000-$100,000 at that time, depending on their unique experiences.
I remember saying that night, and almost to the very word, “Thank you President Land and faculty. I am indeed honored and certainly feel affirmed that you would recognize that my songs are viewed as outlets of ministry that have touched people’s heart and reaped a harvest. I don’t take this lightly but I assure you, I receive this honor for what it is. You have honored me and I am deeply moved. However, I commit to those of you that have walked these halls, set at these desks and spent countless hours in research and years in study, I will not abuse this privilege by loosely touting the nomenclature of “Doctor”.
The next day at the commencement exercise, when given the opportunity, I had previously notified those in charge, that I would decline to speak to those gathered at the commencement who had come to honor the deserving students. I didn’t speak but I allowed the stole to be placed around my neck while the certificate was placed in my hands. I was indeed honored.
I don’t sign my letters “Dr. Hill.” I don’t sign books, “Dr. Hill.” My wife doesn’t call me, “Dr. Hill”. I tried to enforce that once and it just didn’t go over very well. (Not really).
The Use of a Title
Now granted, when you see my name on a publicity piece or video, you’ve likely seen “Dr.” preceding my name. I don’t ask for that and certainly don’t require it. Everyone at the office usually refers to me as “Brother Hill”. I’ve even indicated that I still like the name “Pastor”. I’d even be fine on most occasions if my first name was used. Out of deference to the office, a lot of people use the term “Bishop”. Bottom line, I’m not hung up on it. As my good departed friend, Kenny Hinson used to sing, “You can just call me ‘Gone’ and that’ll be fine with me.
Now, I have no problem at all with anyone who has received an honorary degree reasonably allowing the title to be used. I do agree however, that it has been abused too often regardless of whether it came from a “degree mill” or a high and honorable institution.
Bottom line, we’ve all gone to school. Some have passed trough the Ivy League hallways of higher learning and some through the school of hard knocks. Whether we have a degree on the wall or bear the marks of life’s experiences on the walls of our heart, we each have a story to tell and a contribution to make. But with that said, many of those who have invested the time and money to earn their Doctorate may feel strongly offended at any who would carelessly lay claim to the title of “Doctor” while at the same time, establishing a pretense of equal degree standing. On the other hand, many who have received honorary doctorates may feel that their life’s work and achievements speak for themselves and have earned them the privilege.
So what should be done?
Be up front and truthful about the honorary degree. It is what it is. Nothing more and nothing less.
Recognize it’s significance. It means of lot to the recipient as well as the granting institution. Credible institutions don’t hand them out every day. It does mean something.
Don’t abuse the honor. If you want to let people refer to you as “Doctor,” that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be demanded or even expected.
Remember that not everyone knows the difference. That’s why those of us who have been conferred an honorary degree need to be careful. I’m not trained in psychology or a thousand other things so I don’t need to act like it. Yes, I’ve learned a lot by experience but I know my limits and I won’t pretend or hide behind a piece of paper regardless of where it came from.
Be appreciative. If you have an honorary Doctorate, there’s usually a good reason. You did something that deserves recognition so accept it, be grateful and move on.
Don’t use it as an excuse to quit pursuing academic excellence. Any degree of any kind recognizes a persons accomplishments up to that point in time. If you have been conferred an honorary degree, who’s to stop you from advancing further? If you have a traditionally “earned” degree, again, who’s to stop you from advancing further or gaining another doctorate in another field?
Give mutual respect. Everyone has a story to appreciate. The academician has a story that lead to their success. Those who couldn’t or didn’t take advantage of higher educational opportunities also have a story.
Understanding What It Means To "Earn"
While the word “earned” in the degree sense is clearly understood, it’s probably not a good thing to discredit anyone who may have not walked the traditional educational path by telling them they haven’t “earned” what they have.
Admittedly, I do not have an “earned” doctorate degree in the traditional sense. Fresh out of High School I attended Weatherford College then Tarrant County College while pastoring a small church. I then transferred to Lee University and graduated in 1988 with my Bachelors of Science degree. I have been a student also at Pentecostal Theological Seminary and have high regard for it.
I don’t consider myself worthy of any honor I’ve had bestowed upon me. God has been better to me than I deserve and I’m sure you could say the same. The truth is, most all have earned degrees of one kind or another and some of us have earned some things by degree. A little here and a little there.
We’ve all earned the gray in our hair (if we have any at all). We’ve all earned the wrinkles that mark our brow. We’ve all earned the callouses on our knees from midnight prayer and by our fallen nature we’ve earned the right to admit with Paul, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't.”
Thankfully, God conferred upon us all the cap and gown of his mercy and matriculated us into the kingdom of his dear son. And now we go from “Glory to Glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Sorry, I started preaching.
Christian, Son, Husband, Dad, Papa, Pastor, Friend, Redeemed, Sinner Saved by Grace and Pilgrim Passing Through