Instituted in 1981 as a means of honoring individuals whose lives reflect the mission of the Seminary in the world, the Union Medal is the Seminary’s highest award. Past medalists include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vice President Al Gore, and Judith and Bill Moyers.
2018 Union Medal Citations
Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta, you have been an iconic labor activist, immigration reformer, co-founder with César Chávez of the United Farm Workers Union, recipient in 2012 of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a zealous and tireless advocate on behalf of Latinx persons everywhere ̶ but, most importantly, you have been an empowering oracle of ¡Sí, se puede! and a grassroots organizer extraordinaire.
On behalf of the United Farm Workers Union, you negotiated the nation’s first farm labor contract with a California winery, and later enlisted millions of Americans in a consumer boycott against grape growers over working conditions. You were influential in securing disability insurance and access to public assistance for farm workers, and instrumental in the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. You suffered severe injury at the hands of San Francisco police in 1988 while protesting the dangers of pesticides, prompting local authorities to reform procedures and to curb violence by police.
In 2002, you founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which trains community members to organize and advocate for themselves, empowering parents in one community to file a lawsuit against a school district with a high percentage of expulsions and suspensions of Black and Latinx students, and citizens in another to successfully organize for essential infrastructure including street signs and stop lights. You have created space for the unheard to be heard, the inconsolable to be comforted, the beaten-down to rise up, and the disenfranchised to discover their own innate wisdom. You rouse and inspire the agent of change in all of us.
You embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For your impassioned advocacy on behalf of migrant farm workers; your superlative bravura on the national stage; your strength, resolution and rectitude over many decades of social justice activism; and for your dignity and grace and leadership ̶ we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal
Dhyanchand Carr, you have been a human rights activist, pastor, Bible scholar, liberation theologian, a passionate and committed Christian always open and respectful to other faiths — but most importantly, you have been a stellar personal embodiment of the Nazareth Manifesto in Luke’s Gospel.
Your pioneering scholarship and activism in India introduced the world to Dalit Theology and your writings have sounded an alarm to alert us of deep injustices based on caste, race and class. You have proclaimed good news to the poor, the ostracized, the marginalized and the despised; release to captives; and freedom to the oppressed. You have taught, lived with, worked with, and learned from the least of these. You have stood in solidarity with Dalits of Tamil Nadu and across India sharing a vision of God’s justice and peace. The dazzling clarity of your hermeneutics has empowered daily wage laborers, landless people, Sri Lankan Tamils oppressed by the Sinhalese, tribal communities and women.
Your praxis of illuminating Biblical texts with liberation struggles forged for wider ecumenical circles a “Sword of the Spirit,” which in turn became the weapon of choice for non-violent, multi-faith, social-justice activism everywhere. You have conducted workshops in all sixteen countries of the Christian Conference of Asia. At Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, you have taught, enlightened and inspired several generations of Bible students, a number of whom have followed in your footsteps, taking your deep, intuitive Biblical understanding and your hermeneutical methods to new generations around the world.
Your compassion, activism, exegesis and scholarship embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For living your life as a model for all of us, for conveying your insights with spectacular simplicity and lucidity, for opening the Bible to understanding by all God’s people ̶ we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal.
Past Union Medal Recipients
Iconic labor activist, immigration reformer, and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union; 2012 of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient
Dr. Dhyanchand Carr
Pioneering scholar-activist whose work on Dalit theology has raised awareness about injustices based on caste, race, and class
Thich Nhat Hanh ’63
Internationally celebrated Zen Buddhist monk, dharma teacher, scholar, author, and peace activist
Rev. Charles M. Sherrod ’66
Civil rights activist and Freedom Ride organizer; co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Albany Movement
Shirley M. Sherrod
Agricultural advocate; Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia (USDA)
Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon ’83
First African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (USA), Annie Scales Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary
Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian
Civil rights activist and spiritual leader; 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient; Board Member, BASIC Diversity, Inc.
Human rights activist, public policy advocate, and grassroots organizer; co-founder of Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC)
Hon. Al Gore
Advocate and activist for solving the climate crisis; former Vice President of the United States
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid
Advocate for women and youth health and empowerment; former Executive Direction of the United Nations Population Fund
Daniel E. Pellegrom ’69
Advocate and activist for reproductive health and President of Pathfinder International
Global health activist and co-founder of Partners in Health
Paul Farmer, M.D.
Global health activist and co-founder of Partners in Health
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Church leader and human rights advocate
Award-winning television journalist; prophetic voice for democratic ideals, separation of church and state, and freedom of the press
Judith Davidson Moyers
Educator, writer, editor, television producer and advocate for children
Anne Hale Johnson ’56
Philanthropist and social activist
Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin ’52
Pastor, preacher, activist and conscience of the nation
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie
Pastor, author, journalist and role model for women in ministry
Rev. Dr. Ko Chun-Beng (C. M. Kao)
Church leader and human rights advocate in Taiwan
Rev. Dr. George William Webber ’48, ’64
Theologian and mentor for clergy in urban ministry through the East Harlem Protestant Parish
Dr. Marian Wright Edelman
Social activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund
Dr. Helmut Reihlen
Business leader; Evangelical Synod president; leader in effort to preserve the memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bishop K. H. Ting ’48
Theologian and Christian community leader in the People’s Republic of China
Leader in the struggle for the democratization and re-unification of Korea
Katherine Womeldorf Paterson ’62
Distinguished author of children’s books and missionary
Maestro Christoph Von Dohnányi
Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra and nephew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Maestro Kurt Masur
Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and leader in the German re-unification effort
Rev. Dr. Donald W. Shriver, Jr.
Ethicist, author, teacher, and thirteenth president of Union Seminary
Dr. Peggy A. L. Shriver
Author and church leader
Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak
South African anti-apartheid activist, theologian and author
Dr. Richard Freiherr von Weizsäcker
President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Rosalind E. Havemeyer
Benefactor and first female Chair of the Board, Union Seminary 1969-75
Vice President for Religious and Cultural Affairs, CBS
Rev. Dr. John Knox, Sr.
Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Sacred Literature
Dr. Darlene Nicgorski
Sanctuary Movement activist
Rev. John M. Fife
Sanctuary Movement activist
George Macleod (the Very Reverend the Lord Macleod of Fuinary)
Founder of Scotland’s Iona Community
Rev. Dr. John C. Bennett ’27
Christian social ethicist and eleventh president of Union Seminary
Anne McGrew Bennett
Peace activist and feminist theologian
Rev. Gardner Taylor
Leading American preacher
Dr. Eberhard Bethge
Colleague and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Rev. Rachel Henderlite
Educator; first woman ordained by the Presbyterian Church, USA
Dr. Okgill Kim
President Emerita of Ewha Women’s University, Korea
Hon. George Kennan
Diplomat and scholar
Hon. Andrew Young
Political Leader and diplomat