Meet the Director

The Rev. Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend

The Rev. Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is the executive director of the Center for Religion in Public Life at Phillips Theological Seminary. He is also president emeritus and a visiting research professor at Phillips. He is a clergy member of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church. In 1991, he earned his PhD in Practical Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he studied the modern ecumenical movement and issues of diversity and community in church and society.

On the importance of the Center for Religion in Public Life:

“The United States is being rocked by what one scholar calls ‘the end of its myth.’ The national story is rooted in myths (deep stories) about Anglo-Saxons, Greeks, and conquest. The national story has never dealt rightly with the shadows of the nation’s actions—actions toward indigenous persons, toward persons stolen from Africa and enslaved, toward immigrants, toward the poor, and toward the amazing resources of land/soil, air, water, and energy. Today, the nation is moving rapidly toward becoming a people without a racial-ethnic majority. Authoritarian, anti-democratic forces are ascending. The Protestant Christian majority is already a past reality. The world is in the throes of a severe climate disruption. Dealing with our shadows—with the nation’s shadows, with Christianity’s shadows—is imperative and urgent. In my opinion, the nation and the world need more people of faith who practice their faith in ways that strengthen social practices of hospitality, inclusion, compassion, justice, and democracy. America needs a new story. I hope people of faith will help write that story. And I hope that the Center will be a part of that story-writing enterprise.”

Gary’s prior work experience:

  • Six years of pastoring, plus two interim/pulpit supply engagements
  • At Phillips:
    • Seven years directing the Doctor of Ministry Program (1993-2000)
    • Three years as chief academic officer (1997-2000), dealing with personnel transitions, campus relocation, program innovations, and teaching with technology
    • Four years as chief development officer, during which the seminary successfully completed a $20 million capital campaign for endowment (2005-2009)
    • Nine years as the president of a seminary (2009-2018), during which the school adopted a revised mission and identity statements as elements of a strategic turn toward engaging a larger public in the work of theological education.
  • At Garrett-Evangelical, Evanston, IL: Five years (2000-2005) in church relations and bridge-building, creating seminary-church conversations
  • Twenty-five years teaching seminary-level courses
  • About forty years of preaching and of teaching adult classes in local churches


In his work and life, Gary is committed to:

  • Understand and follow the way of Jesus, a path that will never be identical to the agenda or methods of any political movement or party
  • Showing up honestly
  • The ongoing work of recognizing his privilege and using his knowledge and circumstance for the benefit of a more dignified, just, and compassionate church and society
  • Engaging the widest coalition of faith and moral leaders possible
  • Being a good steward
  • Telling stories that are true, incorporating the facts and looking for a hopeful future
  • Lifelong learning
  • An educated laity and an educated clergy, in order that Christians can show up intelligently and effectively as people of faith in their personal and public lives
  • Conversations and arguments grounded in and bounded by mutual recognition of each other’s dignity, by making claims with humility, and by paying attention
  • Using his faith commitments to work for a better United States


Gary lives in Tulsa with his wife and one of his four children (the other three are grown with families of their own). He is learning to garden and to attend to the health of the soil.