Questions about new pastor's degrees Colleges say the Rev. Cean James does not hold three degrees cited in a Bright Hope Baptist Church release.

Posted: May 27, 2005

The pastoral transition at one of the city's most venerable black churches, Bright Hope Baptist in North Philadelphia, was thrown into question this week by revelations that the newly named leader does not have the academic credentials attributed to him.

Cean James, 31, a charismatic, can-do minister known in the city for his work on behalf of youth, was elected Sunday to succeed former U.S. Rep. William H. Gray 3d as pastor of the 2,500-member congregation.

A day later, the church put out a news release saying that James had three degrees, including a Ph.D. from Princeton University - degrees the schools now say he does not hold.

James and other church leaders were silent yesterday, despite repeated attempts to contact them.

Representatives of the schools James allegedly attended were not.

"We do not have a record of him at all," Princeton spokesman Eric Quinones said yesterday.

In a story Wednesday in the Philadelphia Daily News, James said he received a doctorate in medical ethics from Princeton on Sunday - the day of his elevation at the church.

The university does not have a Ph.D. program in medical ethics, and its graduation exercises did not take place last weekend. They are set for Tuesday.

The Bright Hope news release also said James had a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a bachelor's degree in biology from Florida A&M University.

"He is not a graduate of the seminary," Princeton Theological spokeswoman Michelle Roemer Schoen said yesterday.

James did attend Florida A&M University from August 1992 until December 1996.

"He attended school here and was a good student," registrar officer Allene Morgan said. "But I don't show him being awarded a degree."

Gray, who has been a force for more than three decades at the church that his father and grandfather also led, is slated to turn over leadership of Bright Hope to James on Wednesday.

In addition to his Bright Hope post, James serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania and chairs a School District of Philadelphia task force that seeks to have churches adopt schools.

Marlene Olshan, chief executive of the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, said she was shocked at the revelations about James, whom she described as charismatic and warm, "truly very special."

She was so impressed that she personally nominated him to the agency's board. He has served since March 2004.

Olshan praised James' commitment to the Amachi program, which pairs church mentors with children who have a parent in prison. Bright Hope is one of its largest partners.

"He's been a huge advocate of this program to get people involved," she said.

School district spokesman Vincent Thompson said the faith-based task force would make any decision about James' future involvement.

"The church is doing an investigation into the allegations, and we're taking our lead from the church," Thompson said.

"The school district got to know of him because of his excellent affiliation with community groups and with Bright Hope Baptist Church," he said. "We're looking for community leaders who get stuff done."

In a 2004 release on the task force, the district said James had "a doctorate in Medical Ethics from Princeton University."

Thompson said he did not know whether that information was from James or the church.

Contact staff writer Julie Stoiber

at 215-854-2468 or jstoiber@phillynews.com.

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