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TABLE of CONTENTS
Boston University School of Theology Spring 2013 Dean MARY ELIZABETH MOORE Director of Development & Alumni Relations TED KARPF (’74) Alumni Relations Ofﬁcer JACLYN K. JONES (’06) Editor ANDREW THURSTON Journal Reviewer STEPHANIE BUDWEY Contributing Writers LARA EHRLICH (UNI’03) SHERYL FLATOW ART JAHNKE JESSICA ULLIAN Designer SHOLA FRIEDENSOHN Cover and inside front cover from EPHESIANS 4:29 Produced by Boston University Creative Services Opinions expressed in focus do not necessarily reﬂect the views of Boston University.
FEATURES Memories from Our Oldest Alumnus 10 Theological studies in the 1920s, eighty years of ministry, and the secret to a long life In This Business Together How one town is putting denominational discord aside
Tackling Questions of Faith— Through Comics Finding Christian principles in graphic novels
Anger Management Turning the torments of a troubled youth into a healing salve for others
JOURNAL: RESTORING CIVIL DISCOURSE Please recycle In keeping with Boston University’s commitment to sustainability, this publication is printed on FSC-certiﬁed paper and 10 percent postconsumer waste. 0213 9040033014
William Bobby McClain (‘62, ‘77) In a time of sound bites and slogans, the preacher should offer something more, standing with his or her congregation as a prophet.
Jay Williams Lead pastor, Union United Methodist Church, Boston Christian communities will continue to be torn apart as long as some people, some causes, are considered more important than others.
Wesley J. Wildman Professor of philosophy, theology, and ethics Taking a scientiﬁc look inside religion to help liberals and conservatives get along.
Susan W. Hassinger Lecturer and bishop in residence A discordant general conference should inspire the restoration of civility to United Methodism.
Tom Porter Lecturer Drawing on a legal career to develop a covenant for productive conversations.
David Schnasa Jacobsen Professor and director of the Homiletical Theology Project Through the Word, Sacrament, and hospitality, the church might reengage the world in constructive dialogue.
Christopher Boyd Brown Associate professor of church history The Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment have some surprising lessons about civil discourse.
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE STH News: Announcing a Campaign for STH Reading List: Alumni Publications
BY MARY ELIZABETH MOORE Making space for God’s magniﬁcent creation– Meeting all of its manifold beauties! Making space for treasured Loved Ones and strange “Others”– Meeting the depths of ourselves Making space for Mystery– Meeting surprising turns of God’s Moving Spirit Making space for haunting questions– Meeting new possibilities and perspectives Making space for the Unknown and Unknowable– Meeting God’s Ever-New Creation!
Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore
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This issue of focus is about making space, especially making space for those who are unknown or strange or even reprehensible to us. When I was in college, I spent a semester abroad. While living in London, one of my roommates was an African American woman who carried suspicions of Southern white women. I held the false notion that her suspicions did not relate to me because her concerns were about the past and I was, after all, a Southern white woman who was very progressive; I had moved beyond racism. I was wrong, of course, but I could not then comprehend the bondage of institutional racism. My friend and I had some hard conversations about this, but mostly we just related as roommates from day to day. One day, my friend fell ill and, to my surprise, she asked for me. She said to another of our group that she trusted me and wanted me to be the one to care for her while she was ill.
What struck me in this moment was that my friend had made space for me, and her space-making had opened the way to a deeper, more transformative relationship. This story echoes in literature through the ages. In biblical literature, the widow of Zarephath makes space for Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16); Ruth makes space for Naomi, who ﬁnally makes space for Ruth; and Jesus makes space for Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). The Bible also narrates stories of people closing space: Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:12-36) and Jesus’ disciples attempt to send the children away (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-14). Patterns of space-making and space-closing continue in more modern literature, as in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in which Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are blocked by personal and class prejudices and can only make space for one another with enormous difﬁculty. It also continues in historical movements in which notable acts of space-making have sometimes contributed to major social transformations. Consider Nelson Mandela’s making space for the Afrikaners who had persecuted him and his people, thus making space for a new South Africa. Making space involves three major practices that I will lift here: dignity, hope, and courage. Without acts of dignity toward all persons, phrases like “civil discourse” and “holy conversation” are shallow, encouraging surface politeness while denying or not listening to the voices of those who are least visible and most wounded or marginal. Without
Photo by Vernon Doucette
D EAN ’ S M E SSA G E
hope, civil discourse is empty, shorn of any expectation of changing the quality of community life and “business as usual.” Without courage, civil discourse is a superﬁcial effort of personal shar2. Hicks, xii. ing that discourages honesty and avoids hard, controversial questions. The practice of dignity is acknowledging the inherent value of another person or community. People cannot make space for one another and for the rest of God’s creation if they do not act with respect for the dignity of other It is a brave act of vulnerability persons, other creatures, and other parts of the that enables people to engage in cosmos, as well as for civil discourse with their true selves themselves. When people tease others brutally or and to open themselves to the publicly list the “faults” new insights and transformations of a young child or refuse to speak to people who that emerge. Courage makes civil are different from them, discourse real, and it opens paths they strip the dignity of the other. Layers of damfor people to touch one another age begin to accumulate. deeply and transformatively. Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes that the loss of dignity is almost always the source of perpetrators’ violence, and the restoration of dignity brings peace.1 Donna Hicks emphasizes that indignity can tear people apart, and dignity can put them together again.2 Habits of indignity run deep, however, 1. Desmond Tutu, “Foreword,” in Donna Hicks, Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conﬂict (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011), ix–x.
and changing the habits of an individual or society is a long process. It is, at the same time, a genuine possibility. Hope is another essential if we are to make space for others. Hope is an expectation that the world can be better. Theologically, it is the expectation of Holy transformation, based on trust that God is at work in the world, even when the world sinks to its lowest ebb. Hope is trust in God; it is an expectation that transformation is really possible. Further, it is an expectation that can emerge out of strong differences. Sharp differences require civil discourse; yet hope inspires a visionary civil discourse that seeks new possibilities for a broken world. Courage is the practice of facing squarely into pain, danger, or shame. It is a brave act of vulnerability that enables people to engage in civil discourse with their true selves and to open themselves to the new insights and transformations that emerge. Courage makes civil discourse real, and it opens paths for people to touch one another deeply and transformatively. It is a critical path in international and interpersonal negotiation. Courage is taking risks for the sake of dignity and hope. With dignity, hope, and courage together, civil discourse is never an end in itself. It is a way to make space for more compassionate and just forms of human and ecological existence. May it be so! X
Join the Conversation— STH is hosting a series of talks on civil discourse as part of its Lowell Lecture series. You can attend the ﬁnal lecture, “Holy Conversation,” on April 9, 2013 (visit www.bu.edu/sth/calendar for details) or watch those you’ve missed at www.bu.edu/buniverse (just search for “Lowell”).
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STH N E W S
ON A MISSION THE FIRST-EVER CAMPAIGN FOR BU SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY WILL HELP EXPAND THE BOUNDARIES OF THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION.
Remarkable but true: in Boston University’s more than 170-year history, there has never been a comprehensive, University-wide fundraising drive. The same holds for the School of Theology. While there has been consistent effort in the area of annual giving, STH has never beneﬁted from a signiﬁcant, coordinated effort to raise funds for the future. That all changed on September 22, 2012, when BU’s 16 schools and colleges came together to launch the ﬁrst-ever Campaign for Boston University, Choose to be Great, with an overall goal of $1 billion. At the campaign’s kickoff celebration, campaign chair and University Trustee Kenneth J. Feld (SMG’70) announced the campaign had raised $420 million in early commitments. During that same week, the STH Dean’s Advisory Board gathered to counsel, celebrate, and make personal ﬁnancial commitments in support of the School, pledging some $300,000. The STH faculty followed suit a few days
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Photo by BU Photography
BY TED KARPF (’74), director of development & alumni relations
later, with an impressive 98 percent making commitments totaling $320,000. All told, STH has already secured more than $7.2 million in gifts and pledges—in other words, more than a quarter of the School’s $25 million goal. It’s a notable accomplishment, but not a total surprise. STH’s alumni have long had one of the highest percentage rates of participation of all of the BU schools and colleges. Perhaps that’s because they understand the School’s unique role in the history and evolution of the larger University—and because
they support the School’s distinctive mission. One key goal of the Campaign for STH is chaired professorships, which are invaluable tools for recruiting and retaining faculty. Again, there are early successes to report. Both the Truman Doud Collins Chair of Global Christianity & Mission and the Walter G. Muelder Chair of Social Ethics were fully funded before the campaign “went public.” Looking forward, STH will seek to secure funding for professorships and scholarships honoring some of the greatest names in its
history. For example, a drive to establish the Harrell F. Beck Chair of Hebrew Bible Studies began in October 2011 with $150,000 in pledges—another $350,000 more is needed to fully fund the chair—while plans are in place to launch a drive in support of the long-established, but underfunded, position of James Houghton Scholar in Music. Other goals of the campaign include: raising funding for ﬁnancial aid, housing support, and scholarships for students; increasing the endowment for graduate-level fellowships; doctoral programs; strengthening resources for academic research; renovating community spaces; and expanding the boundaries of theological education through distance learning, dual degree programs, and faculty and student exchanges around the world. These priorities reﬂect a rigorous strategic planning process undertaken by the School of Theology during the past ﬁve years—a process that coincided with comprehensive assessments of the School’s programs, curriculum, and operational capacity by a number of accrediting agencies (turn to page 7 to learn more about recent
To learn more about the School’s plans and priorities, contact Director of Development & Alumni Relations Ted Karpf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-353-2348.
evaluation successes). The conclusion of each of these assessments: the School is on a ﬁrm ﬁnancial footing—with an endowment valued at more than $90 million— and has the beneﬁt of both progressive leadership and an outstanding faculty. Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore considers our faculty to stand “among the best in the nation,” noting that “we have made enormous progress in adding new and diverse faculty to our mix, while drawing fully on the strengths of our senior faculty leaders.” Another strength enjoyed by STH is the quality of its students. STH students arrive on campus with a world of experience, ranging from starting NGOs in the developing world to leading faith communities, and they enter a wide variety of degree programs, including the two-year Master of Theological Studies (for those not pursuing a track toward ordination) and the three-year Master of Divinity (for those who are). The curriculum, which has been completely revamped over the past seven years, now focuses more explicitly on contextual education and the personal integration of faith, experience, and reason. “Perhaps more than ever before,” says Dean Moore, “the School of Theology is a place where one can bring the vitality of a faith together with the needs of a hurting world. We’re truly on a mission, and that’s it.” X
T HE C A M P A I GN FO R ST H: T HE NU M B E R S The School of Theology’s campaign goal is to raise $25 million over the next five years—here’s where that money will go:
$6 million To enhance and support the faculty
$5.5 million To prepare those who minister and serve
$2.5 million To train the next generation of scholars and teachers
$6.5 million To strengthen resources for academic research
$3.5 million To improve the quality of community spaces
$1 million To expand the boundaries of theological education
Read about each goal in detail and learn about specific projects at www.bu.edu/ sth/giving/annual-campaign.
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STH N E W S
FINDING A NEW PATH TO STUDENT HOUSING—WITH YOUR HELP
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says Kidd, the School has an opportunity to enhance housing options. It’s hoping to raise $3.5 million in ﬁve years to establish a housing endowment fund and improve community spaces. According to Kidd, it’s not just about subsidizing bed and board: “The movement is to develop intentional housing; the School is moving in a signiﬁcant new direction.”
Theology House students in the kitchen.
STH currently has three intentional housing communities, which combine accommodation for 6 to 23 students with a formal, shared educational agreement. Students commit, for instance, to a year of vocational discernment, environmentally sustainable living, or personal academic development. In return for signing a “living covenant” assenting to the community’s rules, says Kidd, students receive “ﬁnancial stipends to lower the cost of housing for those rooms by several hundred dollars a month.”
Kidd is excited by the potential for expanding intentional housing and imagines communities dedicated to spiritual renewal, urban ministry, cross-cultural engagement, and more. “These have all been discussed as possibilities,” she says. “Students’ living arrangements would become cocurricular to their classroom work; housing in an intentional community becomes an amazing complement to any program.” Although the School’s housing endowment target tops seven ﬁgures, donors can also support students on a more personal scale, whether it’s funding a stipend or covering the cost of a weekly shared meal. Beane, whose commitment to the cause was recognized in 2006 with the launch of the Earl and Millie Beane Housing Fund, believes “STH alums will respond in a positive way when they realize the STH administration is attempting to make progress” on affordable housing. As Kidd concludes, “We would love it if somebody’s rent didn’t have a bearing on whether they could study Tillich.” X
To support an intentional community or the housing endowment fund, contact Director of Development & Alumni Relations Ted Karpf at email@example.com or 617-353-2348.
Photo courtesy of Michael Malyszko
Think back. Recall the moment you applied to BU School of Theology; picture your list of pros and cons. Pros: School of the Prophets, diverse community, commitment to social justice, academic rigor, University-based seminary... Cons: Paying the rent in Boston. For decades, prospective students who are called to make a spiritual home at STH have struggled to ﬁnd a more earthly one they could afford in Boston’s expensive housing market. “Housing has been the numberone barrier to recruitment,” says STH Director of Admissions Anastasia Kidd (’04). “Yet, STH is forward-thinking with new housing options.” As Kidd’s predecessor Earl Beane (CAS’63; STH’67, ’68) notes, affording a home in the Hub on a seminarian’s budget is not a new predicament. He traces the problem back to the early seventies, when the University converted the top ﬂoors of the STH building from dormitory to ofﬁce and teaching space. Suddenly, budding theologians were out on their own. When Beane took up his post in February 1977, he was warned that unearthing economical housing would be the toughest part of his job. “When I retired in September 2006, thirty years later,” he recalls, “it was still a major challenge to ﬁnd enough decent, affordable housing to secure an entering class.” With the launch of the Campaign for Boston University,
For more than 40 years, Max Boston University, not only with Burdorf Miller was the face of ‘joy and laughter’ but also with organ music at Boston University. musical artistry and erudition.” As During his long tenure, he served one former student, quoted in the as a faculty member for the School STH tribute, wrote at Miller’s of Theology and the College of retirement, “The organ’s ﬁrm Fine Arts School of foundation is not Music, conducted its reed or ﬂutes; the Seminary It is our Max B. Max Burdorf Miller Singers, and led the Miller, who makes Professor and sacred music prothe pipes all toot.” former Marsh Chapel gram. He was also Miller’s legacy director of music, University organcontinues in the on January 5, 2013 ist and director of Organ Library music at Marsh of the Boston Chapel. To those Chapter, American in the church music world, he was Guild of Organists, which he known as Uncle Max for a regular helped found at STH; the library column penned under that name has a searchable catalogue of more in The American Organist. than 35,000 pieces of music. Visit www.bu.edu/sth/ In a tribute to his life published by STH, Miller (GRS’55) was cel- 2013/01/18 to read the full tribute to Miller. X ebrated for inspiring “so many at
THE MORAL HEART OF BU
curriculum review process (“for the purpose of integrating the multistranded dimensions of theology”), and its dedication to students’ spiritual life. According to Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore—congratulated for her “visionary and strategic leadership”—the committee’s report was “extraordinarily clean and afﬁrming.” It’s common for accrediting reports to ﬂag small issues requiring attention, so to receive one without notations is a “huge” honor, says Moore, and makes this the “cleanest report” the School has had in decades.
Photo by BU Photography
REMEMBERING “UNCLE MAX”
You always knew the School of Theology was the soul of BU—now it’s ofﬁcial. In granting full accreditation for another decade, the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada recognized STH’s “foundational religio-moral role as the soul of the University.” The organization also praised the School of Theology for the “commitment and creativity” of its faculty, the success of a recent
The accreditation report came during a period of concentrated review. In 2012, the School also successfully passed through a comprehensive audit of its academic programs by ﬁve higher education experts. The academic program review, which included panelists from BU and peer institutions, examined academic offerings, faculty competence, curricula, and resources. All BU programs are subject to academic review every eight years in a process that aims to guide ongoing strategic planning and is overseen by the BU provost. X
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STH N E W S
CHRISTIANITY IN 2022
(’54), leadership consultant; Romeo Laus del Rosario (’81, GRS’81), Methodist missionary currently based in Cambodia; Edward Powell Wimberly (’68, ’71; GRS’76), professor and pastoral care specialist; and Lisa Gesson (’99), youth services development manager. X
Prepare for the Next Decade—Want to prepare for Christianity in 2022? Watch the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award winners share their advice in full at www.bu.edu/ sth/2012/10/12.
Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
As philosopher George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For an exploration of approaches to potential future challenges facing the church, the School of Theology called on the collective wisdom and experience of the newest additions to its hall of fame. The School’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award winners have forged lives in the States, Cambodia, and Cameroon; made careers as experts in mission work, education, pastoral care, disability services, and behavioral
sciences. At Alumni Weekend 2012, they brought that extensive life-knowledge to a panel symposium, “The Greatest Challenges Facing Us in the Next Decade.” Outlining values as diverse as “listening with compassion to the peoples of the Earth” and dealing with the “prevalence of status anxiety,” the distinguished alums discussed solutions, giving advice on everything from running group psychotherapy sessions to engaging with youth. The 2012 winners were: Emmanuel Anyambod (’93), educator and peace advocate in Cameroon; Robert P. Crosby
Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore (center) with the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award winners (from left): Edward Powell Wimberly, Romeo Laus del Rosario, Lisa Gesson, and Robert P. Crosby. Not pictured: Emmanuel Anyambod.
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BU JOINS NORTH AMERICA’S FINEST Boston University has joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), an elite organization of 61 leading research universities in the United States and Canada. BU, one of only four universities invited to join the group since 2000, becomes the 62nd member. In the Boston area, Harvard, MIT, and Brandeis are also members. Membership in the organization is by invitation only, and is based on several criteria: the quality of programs of academic research and scholarship; undergraduate, graduate, and professional education in a number of ﬁelds; and general recognition that a university is outstand-
Photo by Vernon Doucette
SHAPING OUR FUTURE They have both coasts covered. The three new members of the School of Theology’s Dean’s Advisory Board, which helps shape strategic planning and fundraising efforts, bring cross-country and international experience to the 18-member panel. The new appointments are Bishop Sally Dyck (CAS’76, STH’78) of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference; Odette Lockwood-Stewart (’78), a UMC pastor and instructor at Paciﬁc School of Religion, Berkeley; and Nizzi Santos
ing by reason of the excellence of its research and education programs. “Joining the AAU is a recognition of the national prominence of our faculty and our research,” says President Robert A. Brown. “A major impact is that this allows us to participate in all kinds of endeavors with like-minded institutions. It gives us a seat at the table, and that will help this institution enormously.” X –Art Jahnke
Read the full article— and learn more about BU’s latest research—at www. bu.edu/today/2012/bu-joins.
Digan (’02), originally from the Philippines and now a UMC pastor in Malden, Massachusetts. “The members of the board are wise, diverse, and loyal to BU School of Theology,” says Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore; “they want the School to be a leader in theological education, in the church, and in the larger world. “The new members of the board will add to that richness. They’ll bring fresh perspective and the wisdom of people who live in different regions of the country and have a broad range of social and church experience.” X
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Memories from our Oldest Alumnus STH’S OLDEST LIVING ALUMNUS, 108-YEAR-OLD JOHN WESLEY ANNAS, JR. (’30), SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON STUDYING IN THE 1920S, HIS 80 YEARS OF MINISTRY, THE STATE OF THE NATION, AND THE SECRET TO A LONG LIFE.
I met these two fellas and we got into an argument, and they were the ﬁrst people I’d ever met who wouldn’t agree with me that, if everybody lived like Christ, we could solve all our problems . . . I decided that not only did Africa need some help but, if there were young men like this in the United States of America, I’d better . . . help the country I love to know the Christ who was my Lord and master . . . . And so I went to Boston University School of Theology because Dad went there and the great preachers I heard at that time were all graduates from Boston University School of Theology. Men like Bishop Francis J. McConnell (1897, 1911; GRS1899; Hon.1929) and a man by the name of [Dean E.] Richardson (’31), who was a tremendous preacher . . . And I met Dean [Albert C.] Knudson (GRS1900) and I liked him very much. While studying at STH, then housed at 72 Mount Vernon Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill district, Annas worked washing dishes and pastored in Rhode Island. When he came to Boston, the U.S. was enjoying the Roaring
Twenties; by the time he left, it was wracked by the Great Depression.
I had a wonderful roommate named Al Denton (’30). I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for Al Denton . . . There came a time when my health was bothering me and I was doing quite a lot of work outside and I didn’t get enough sleep, I suppose. I ran out of funds . . . and Al just quietly and steadily met my need day after day . . . I had to go down to the market and buy cabbages and bananas for 10 cents a dozen. I ate cabbage sandwiches for lunch, just bread and cabbage, but he who could afford [more], he ate the cabbage sandwiches with me. And then every week or 10 days, he took me out to a really good dinner. During a STH course on public speaking, Annas read an excerpt from John Drinkwater’s 1918 play, Abraham Lincoln. He still performs the routine today—complete with a Lincoln-style bow tie and suit.
The trouble with this nation is it’s too narrow in its interests—I mean the people, they’re too self-centered—and Lincoln was not self-centered; he had compassion to the people in both the North and the South. I realized that today it’s tragic that Republicans and Democrats are more interested in party than in the welfare of the nation as a
Photo courtesy of Betsy Hansen
John Wesley Annas, Jr.
A chance meeting in the mid-1920s on a boat from New York to Providence, Rhode Island, diverted Annas from childhood dreams of missionary work and brought him to Boston University.
THE LIFE of JOHN WESLEY ANNAS, JR.
he son of a Methodist minister, John Wesley Annas, Jr. was born in a Methodist parsonage—one bedroom led directly to the church’s choir loft—in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, in 1904. After graduating from STH in 1930 (the same
school his father had attended in the 1880s), he served churches in Massachusetts and New York before retiring—ofﬁcially, if not in practice—in the 1970s. Today, he lives in Leesburg, Florida. A scholarship in his name supports STH students who study church history; to contribute to the fund, contact Ted Karpf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-353-2348.
whole. And so I think this [President Lincoln] presentation is very timely . . . I try to lift up the idea that we’re all Americans and if we could recapture some of the compassion that Lincoln felt, even to the folks that were ﬁghting against him, we would make this a stronger nation, and we would be prepared to give better leadership in the world. It’s been 83 years since he graduated, but Annas says lessons learned at STH continue to inﬂuence his preaching, and that’s why he hopes others join him in securing its future.
Dr. [William Jackson] Lowstuter [professor of New Testament], Edwin H. Hughes [bishop and lecturer], Aldophus Lynnﬁeld [professor of evangelism], and so on, [Jesus] was so real to them. . . . What they were in their own lives, as well as what they taught, made a great contribution to my ministry. I think one of the great things for having a campaign to raise more funds to carry on the great work of the School of Theology is that we can’t afford these days to pay great scholars what they’re worth on the basis of tuition by a small theological class . . . The School has helped to train some of the great leaders of the social aspects of Christian
faith, and I’m expecting it to continue to do so. And I would like to see it underwritten ﬁnancially so that it could go out and hire the very best and not have to put a ﬁnancial burden on them or on the students who come to study under them. I’d like to have resources, an endowment, and make it possible for the students to continue to come as they have in the past. We didn’t pay a big amount to get in; I think I paid $72 a semester or something like that. Annas was born in an era before household refrigerators, mass-market automobiles, and penicillin, so what’s the secret to a long, healthy life?
Well, good genes are essential. My dad and mother gave me those. Good food, especially in your youth, which helps to build a strong physique. And to learn moderation in most, if not all, things. And this is not just because I’m a theologian and a preacher; it’s a fact that love of God and love of man help to relieve some of the anxiety that wears away and saps us. X
Excerpted from John Wesley Annas, Jr.’s interview with Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore in Leesburg, Florida, February 2012.
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In this Business Together
BY ANDREW THURSTON
In a small, suburban town of 10,000 people in northern Illinois, 15 Christian churches have found a common ground. Liberal or conservative, Christian Science or Willow Creek, they don’t fuss or ﬁght, throw chapter or verse. During 2012’s stormily divisive election season, the New York Times reported on “the inescapability of religious polarization” in America, but the people of Barrington remained largely unaffected by the tempestuous times. “What God is doing among Christian churches in Barrington is a story that needs to be told,” says the pastor of the Community Church of Barrington, Zina Jacque (’97, ’05). “We like each other.” The emphasis makes it seem as if she’s almost surprised. The classmates and teachers of the opinionated, dogmatic— the “Oh, my Lord, just uneducated”— Zina Jacque who arrived at BU School of Theology in the mid-nineties might be surprised, too. That Jacque once told a classmate, “You don’t know Jesus; if you knew Jesus, you wouldn’t need a book to tell you what to preach.” A STATEMENT OF FAITH
Today, as the pastor of an ecumenical church and a community leader in a town of many different denominations, Jacque strikes a much more laid-back, conciliatory tone: a proud— “extraordinarily proud,” she afﬁrms—
American Baptist, she’s also head of a church that baptizes babies. When Jacque joined in 2007, Community Church was already ecumenical—afﬁliated with Baptists, but only informally. “Within the Baptist triumvirate of beliefs, one of them is believer’s baptism—people died over that in the 1700s,” says Jacque. “I tried to persuade this wonderful group of people that they really didn’t want to do infant baptism, taught and explained why, and they said, ‘No, no, we really do.’” After rereading the Conversion of Cornelius in Acts, she decided to acquiesce, albeit with one proviso: “I do a little teaching as part of the baptism.” The process of revisiting—if not necessarily changing—her beliefs proved so fulﬁlling, Jacque enshrined it in a new conﬁrmation course for the church’s youth. “We really ask them to think about what they believe,” she says of the program, Journey to Adulthood, which takes in visits to a local synagogue, mosque, and America’s only Baha’i temple. “They are required to come up with what’s similar and what’s different in those settings. At the end of their time, they have to write a faith statement—what they believe.” It’s a journey the pre-STH Jacque might not have been able to lead. “BU made me accountable for teaching these people whom God has given me the opportunity to shepherd,” she says. Her parents gave her a “bedrock faith”; the School
Photo courtesy of Thomas Balsamo, Portraits by Thomas
HOW ONE TOWN IS PUTTING DENOMINATIONAL DISCORD ASIDE
of Theology gave her “faith seeking understanding.” Jacque joined the School as a mature student with a successful career in college advising—and a supreme conﬁdence. Some of that wilted when Professor Wesley J. Wildman ﬁrmly crossed through a series of her answers in a classroom quiz. Whatever question he posed, “I answered with God instead of Jesus.” And got a big ‘X’ for her troubles. At ﬁrst, she stood her ground, but soon realized “how “Are we competitors for woeful was my theologihuman resources or are we all cal understanding.” In putting it right through working for the same God?” her studies, Jacque was —Zina Jacque (’97, ’05) transformed. in Quintessential Barrington The student who told a classmate she didn’t know Jesus became the pastor who, new to Barrington, helped unite the town’s churches “around the place where we can stand, which is Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” That’s the story, she says, that needs to be told. COMPETITORS FOR HUMAN RESOURCES
When Jacque came to Barrington, its ministerium was “a bunch of really bored men who got together once a month for lunch—there was no energy.” Like many church leaders around the country, they were listlessly competing for ever-dwindling numbers of parishioners. She asked for the chance to rejuvenate the group. As
local magazine, Quintessential Barrington, reported in a 2010 proﬁle on Jacque, she forced the town’s Christian leaders to ask themselves a question: “Are we competitors for human resources or are we all working for the same God?” “We decided we were going to live unto Christ’s calling,” Jacque told the magazine. “We decided we are as one. That we are in the same business.” That resolution, she notes to focus, allows the pastor of the town’s nondenominational chapel to say to his United Church of Christ counterpart— “and they are probably the end poles; we go from conservative to liberal—‘I may not agree with you on everything, but I know you love the Lord, which means I can recommend people to come to your church.’” In her own church, the common ground means that not everyone has to agree on infant baptism, but the congregation has approved seven key initiatives on which they do agree, including “increase involvement and service to the community” and create a “safe space for children and youth.” People of Christian faith still disagree with one another in Barrington but, as Jacque tells her ﬂock: “We’ve created some real estate where we can stand. If you venture outside of that, know that not everybody’s going to go with you—and make sure you don’t do anything that precludes you from coming back.” X Jacque was recently appointed an adjunct faculty member in pastoral psychology.
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Tackling Questions of Faith— Through Comics FINDING CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES AND A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN IN GRAPHIC NOVELS
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Andrew Tripp, who’s earning a PhD in Practical Theology, believes in the power of stories, and his favorites tackle questions about Christianity, morality, and humanity. The Book of Job is one. Spider-Man is another. “Peter Parker is ﬁnding out what it means to be a good person, and how to use your talents for the common good,” says Tripp (’09, ’16), of the teenager behind Spider-Man’s mask. “There’s a huge segment of our culture that’s not religious but has its moral cultivation met through that story.” Comic books aren’t the core of Tripp’s research—he’s writing his dissertation about urban congregations with strong antipoverty programs—but they’re far more than a side interest. A self-proclaimed nerd, Tripp is fascinated by the pop-culture narratives that people explore when they turn away from the church. He explores those narratives to understand how people think about right and wrong. “As America grows more secular, there’s a need for clergy to understand how the unchurched have had their moral development,” Tripp says. “When you’re pastorally caring for people, and you’re helping them integrate into a healthier story, you need
to know the stories that have shaped their lives.” FINDING SOLACE
Tripp’s interest in the issue is more than academic. Raised in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, he found himself drifting away from the church at the end of high school after his mother passed away. Still wrestling with questions about spirituality, he found solace in comics, where each character seemed to be struggling with issues he found familiar: Iron Man constantly battled his personal weaknesses while trying to represent peace and justice. The Fantastic Four’s Thing appeared impenetrably strong, but mourned for the loss of his humanity. “It gave me a place to play,” he says. “The superheroes and the comeback characters spoke to something profound about what it meant to be human.” Tripp studied chemistry in college and took a job in information technology after graduation. But he found himself longing for the sense of community a church provided, and joined a congregation near his hometown of Buffalo, New York. As he became involved with the church’s committees and community service programs, he learned how the older parishioners had made service to the needy a priority throughout their lives and careers.
Photo by Pippa Mpunzwana
BY JESSICA ULLIAN
“Christian love can be such a nebulous term, but the Bible stories concretize what love is: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,” he says. “And in a community that lives out the stories, the wisdom we have about moral discernment “When Scripture’s only read as comes from those stories.” a book of truth statements, it His “call moment,” when it came, was reduces [moral reasoning]. What’s inspired by the many important isn’t one side or the other; members of his congregation who asked him it’s the discussion. When people which seminary he’d be have that conversation, the many attending—before he’d even applied. “The world different voices and many different was saying, ‘This is for minds will have a greater wisdom you,’” he says. After hearing the stories of the than any one could have.” church elders, he was —Andrew Tripp (’09, ’16) ﬁnally ready to begin writing his own. WORDS AND ACTION
Tripp, who ﬁrst earned a master’s degree at STH before continuing on to the doctoral program, hasn’t strayed far from the path that brought him to divinity school: his dissertation will focus on three afﬂuent Boston-area churches that run homeless shelters in their sanctuaries and invite the homeless to participate in regular worship. They’re taking Bible verses about economic responsibility very literally, he says, in a way that many afﬂuent congregations don’t. “I want to see if the way they tell the Christian stories differs and affects how
they live out the Christian story,” he says. Throughout his studies at STH, and his work as a hospital and hospice chaplain, he’s also found a rich life beyond the page. In his conversations with parishioners and patients, he’s come to value the discussions that emerge around Scripture as much as the Scripture itself. Much as The Avengers helped him develop moral reasoning, the conversations he’s had have helped him reﬁne it. “When Scripture’s only read as a book of truth statements, it reduces it. What’s important isn’t one side or the other; it’s the discussion,” he says. “When people have that conversation, the many different voices and many different minds will have a greater wisdom than any one could have.” Tripp doesn’t plan to leave comic books behind. He contributed a chapter to Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels, a 2010 publication that also featured two School of Theology alumni, and remains an enthusiastic consumer—and critic—of the ongoing Marvel Comics movie franchises. True to form, he preferred the human struggle of Iron Man to the glamorous deities of The Avengers. “I’m never going to be Thor,” he admits, describing the superhuman strength and powers over nature possessed by Marvel’s thunder god character. “But some days, I can be Iron Man.” X
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Anger Management TURNING THE TORMENTS OF A TROUBLED YOUTH—AND TIME ON A PSYCHIATRIC WARD—INTO A HEALING SALVE FOR OTHERS
to help people learn more about their anger and their sadness through religion,” she says, “because that’s how Irene Willis (’13) had a tempestuous I came to understand myself.” youth that included two years in rehab She thought she would be most useful for anger management and a stint in a as a military chaplain, which is what led psychiatric ward after she was expelled her to BU School of Theology’s Religion from rehab for being too “erratic.” In & Conﬂict Transformation (RCT) pro2005, she was living in New Orleans gram, where she has when Hurricane beneﬁted from the Katrina struck, and Elizabeth Findley after being evacuHazel Scholarship. ated, found herself “Veterans were homeless. She also coming back home found God. confused, and I “I wasn’t religious thought the best growing up,” she thing I could do says. “But something would be to work happened during the with veterans or hurricane, a bizarre STH students and faculty at the Mount with soldiers,” she religious experiof Olives, Jerusalem: Irene Willis is front, fourth from left. says. Although her ence. I consider it faith has remained an encounter with God. After Katrina, I got relocated back steadfast, she has chosen a new career home to Seattle, and I spent some time path. After she receives her Master’s of there trying to ﬁgure out what had just Divinity in May 2013, Willis plans to do mission work with teenagers, encouraging happened to me.” them to effect change in ways large and small. Participating in the RCT program, LEARNING ABOUT ANGER Willis became a new person. She stayed she says, helped her ﬁnd her true calling. “During my time at BU, I took an in Seattle for two years, going to cominternship with a homeless organization munity college, receiving counseling, where I did pastoral ministry,” she says. regularly attending church, and getting her life back in order. She then went to “I also went to Northern Ireland and Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, Israel to try to understand the conﬂicts there a little better. And doing all these graduating with a degree in religious things, I realized I was depleted. I’m studies. “I had decided that I wanted
Proﬁle photo by Pippa Mpunzwana; group photo courtesy of Irene Willis
BY SHERYL FLATOW
really a jovial person, and trying to understand the sadness had become a neurosis. It wasn’t healthy for me.” FINDING A LIFE’S WORK
She came to understand that she needed to channel her calling and ﬁnd a more sustaining way of making a difference. Mission work, particularly with youth, would prove to be the ideal outlet for her aspirations: “I want to help kids resolve conﬂicts among them“Part of what conflict selves, which will also teach them transformation is about is time how to help heal and building relationships. the world. A lot of what the There’s no sudden epiphany.” RCT program —Irene Willis (’13) does is give you different perspectives on the way that people interact, and have you use those perspectives to make them understand each other.” Willis had seen those principles in action in Northern Ireland. In 2011, she spent three months volunteering for the Corrymeela Community, which promotes reconciliation and understanding between Catholics and Protestants. She participated in a program that brings together teenagers from both communities, in an effort to get them talking and listening. “These kids come through the program several times over,” she says. “Part of what conﬂict transformation is about is time and building relationships. There’s no sudden epiphany. Over the course of
years, as kids keep coming back to the program, they get more interested in understanding conﬂict and how they can be better people for the future of Northern Ireland. There are two guys who volunteer there now who went through the program as teenagers and became best friends. One is Protestant and the other is Catholic. That’s the kind of thing that Corrymeela does, but it takes years for those kinds of relationships to develop.” For the past four summers, Willis has spent a week working with teenagers from all over the country as the chaplain at N-Sid-Sen, a youth camp in Idaho run by her church, the United Church of Christ (UCC). “I see kids transformed at camp in amazing ways, and I want them to take that feeling of spirituality and make it part of their lives year-round,” she says. “I want to take all the values of the Gospel and make them come alive for teenagers. Jesus said, ‘Help the sick; help the needy.’ That’s what I want these kids to learn how to do.” Willis hopes to be ordained in the Paciﬁc Northwest Conference of the UCC after graduation; she’s also putting together a grant proposal in an effort to get her life’s work off the ground. “I’m going to try to implement mission work programs, and collaborate with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs,” she says. “I want kids to understand community and love in a different way, and help them to make the world a better place.” X
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J O UR N A L
An experience of unity among
peoples can be more compelling than all that
BY WILLIAM BOBBY MCCLAIN (’62, ’77) He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)
The Gospel lesson from John, chapter 9, is a familiar story. A blind beggar meets the young and fearless prophet of Galilee who touches his eyes and he, the blind man, receives his sight. Then, the religious professionals discover that Jesus performed this eye-opening act on the Sabbath and they are outraged. They come to the former blind man expecting him to make accusations against Jesus, but he will not give them what they want because he does not know the answers to their questions. They ask his parents, but they will not get involved, instead insisting they go back directly to the son if they want an answer. They try again to get the former blind man to confess that this man who has opened his eyes is a sinner because he broke the law by healing on the Sabbath. Then comes the word for them—and for us today: “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Part of the role of theological education is to open our eyes and our hearts and our minds. This is done through an academic, spiritual, and social search to discover more of the ways of God
in a world that is more complex, more intercultural, more interreligious, and more interconnected than ever before. The goal in this theological quest is to enable us to leave the seminary able to say, as that blind man said after encountering Jesus, “Now I see.” We are in a period in which we must be aware of the ambiguities of our time and the ever-changing demands for ethical decisions. The currents of history are churning into rapids, sometimes sweeping away the long-familiar places where anchored ﬂoats had marked the safe and navigable channels for our lives. Such occurrences require that we not only “do” theology, but that we do sociology and the other disciplines; that we be interdisciplinary. I know that is a mouthful, but it simply means that we use all we’ve seen and learned in all of the disciplines to do effective and vital ministry.
About the Author
William Bobby McClain is the Mary Elizabeth Joyce Professor of Preaching & Worship at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C. He teaches classes on topics such as African American Methodists, parish preaching, and worship in the black tradition.
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Photo by Pippa Mpunzwana
n a time of sound bites and slogans, the preacher should offer something more, standing with his or her congregation as a prophet.
In 1844, the abolitionist poet James Russell Lowell addressed the issue of slavery in this country in an 18-verse poem called “The Present Crisis.” It remains ever so relevant in the twentyﬁrst century for the pressing issues related to equality facing us in our “present crisis.” His words were: “New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth.” SPEAK TO HEART AND MIND
Let us be clear. People don’t come to church desperately anxious to know what happened to the Jebusites, discover the locations of Pamphylia and Phrygia, or learn whether 100 angels can stand on the head of a pin. Rather, the people come asking: “Is there any word from the Lord?” They come asking: “Preacher, what word is there from the Lord today that speaks to my conditions, my hurts, my problems, my conﬂicted soul and spirit; a word that speaks to our world and all of its desperate needs, the ethical decisions which I and those around me are struggling to make? Can the Gospel you preach and live out in your ministry help me to ﬁnd the bottom in deep waters? Can you open my eyes as yours have been opened so that I can see clearly? Can we together explore and discover some new truths, some fresh revelations? Can you speak to the deep yearning and wonder of my soul for an anchor that grips a solid rock?” In such questioning, disorderly, and frightening times—especially when fearmongering seems more important than facts, and saber-rattling seems easier than an effort at just peace—there is the
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temptation to simply accommodate the people who want their answers clear, clean, and easy. But it is not the task of those whose eyes have been opened to offer easy answers and quick, unexamined, slick, and glib slogans, shibboleths, and easily-remembered sound bites. As William Sloan Cofﬁn, Jr. used to say to his students at Yale: “Answers that begin by explaining all too much end always by explaining all too little.” The great preacher of the Marsh Chapel pulpit, Howard Thurman (Hon.’67), used to always remind us that we must speak As William Sloan Cofﬁn, Jr. to the heart and to the mind. In other used to say to his students at words, don’t ask Yale: ‘Answers that begin by congregations to check their minds explaining all too much end at the door because always by explaining all too we are in church: help them to leave little.’ The great preacher of the church as you leave Marsh Chapel pulpit, Howard seminary, saying, “Now I see.” Thurman (Hon.’67), used to You open always remind us that we must eyes not by some strangely-preached speak to the heart and to the Full Gospel, not mind. In other words, don’t ask by a poem or an illustration you got congregations to check their off the Internet, not minds at the door because with some rightwe are in church . . . wing ideology that poses as the Gospel, not with prosperity promises and positive thinking, but by preaching “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). The people whom we are called to serve, and with whom we minister, need
more. They need priests to stand with them, as well as prophets to stand over them; prophets to speak truth to power, as well as priests to nourish their souls and to help to heal their hurt and pain. 2. ‘Never Alone’ Words by Ludie Our generation and our church need priests D. Pickett, 1897. who preach like prophets and prophets who 3. ‘Standing on the Promises’ serve like priests. The challenge before Words and Music: R. Kelso Carter. the church and the seminary is to raise 4. ‘My Hope is Built’ Words: our voices as a trumpet in the discorEdward Mote, c.1834. dant sounds of the public square; to be the voice of conscience that speaks truth to the power of the state, the market, and the bodies politic, even as it speaks Our generation and our peace to the troubled soul and preaches good church need priests who news to the poor.1 1. This sentiment is paraphrased from an unpublished paper on ordination presented at Harvard University Divinity School by Allen Dwight Callahan in 1997.
preach like prophets and prophets who serve like
I’ve seen the lightning ﬂashing, And heard the thunder roll; I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, Trying to conquer my soul; I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, Telling me still to ﬁght on; He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone. No, never alone, No, never alone, He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone…2
The Great Commission is to go! “Feed my lambs . . . tend my before the church and sheep . . . ” (John 21). the seminary is to raise Preach. Teach. Baptize. But there is also a our voices as a trumpet promise: “And rememin the discordant sounds ber, I am with you always” (Matthew of the public square; 28:20). The promise of to be the voice of the never-failing presconscience that speaks ence of Christ, “I am with you always.” truth to the power Always means all the of the state . . . days: the days when the sun is shining and the days when it’s cloudy; the days when there is a large crowd and the days when the congregation is few; the days when the people are on your side and the days when all seemed arrayed against you. priests. The challenge
The ministry can be a lonely profession. There are times when we seem to have “trodden the wine press alone” (Isaiah 63:3), but we are not alone— God promises never to leave us alone. No, never alone!
I am willing to stand on his promise: not on a platform, but on his promise; not on a philosophy, but on his promise; not on an ideology, but on his promise. Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.3 “On Christ the solid rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.”4 But, now, I see . . . X
This article is based upon But Now I See, McClain’s address at the School of Theology’s 2012 Commencement ceremony.
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J O UR N A L
WHAT ONE GENERATION
TOLERATES THE NEXT GENERATION WILL
hristian communities will continue to be torn apart as long as some people are considered more important than others.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:8–9) Too often, black charismatic spirituality is characterized as being otherworldly and unconcerned with social action. While sometimes this critique is correct, it does not get at the heart of what threatens the black church. Our illness is not that we do not act out our faith, but rather that we fail too often to think reﬂexively about our faith. To me, there is a fundamental inseparability of the call to action and the call to think. What is killing the so-called “black church” is not the relativism of white liberals or atheistic assaults from nonbelievers. Instead, it is our failure to think theologically in an increasingly postsecular age. The task for us then becomes not merely whether we think we know about black liberation theology, but rather whether we are willing to be blacks liberating theology. It’s not
simply a matter of quoting James Cone or Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) or Malcolm X or Ella Baker, invoking their memory to determine what we should do today. It’s not simply a matter of invoking the ancestral spirit of protest and resistance. It’s not simply a matter of our recovering basic biblical truths. Rather, the illness that is killing our churches is that we pastors are not empowering our people to wrestle with the Scriptures, as we were challenged to do in seminary. Our parishioners are too quick to recite, “My pastor said this or my pastor said that,” instead of being inspired by their pastors to say something for themselves. Or perhaps more to the point, our
About the Author
Jay Williams is a lead pastor at Union United Methodist Church in Boston’s South End and a provisional elder in the UMC. He is a PhD candidate in theology at Harvard Divinity School. Before serving the church, he was an assistant vice president in Merrill Lynch’s private banking division. He gave the sermon at STH’s 2012 Rites of Passage ceremony.
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Photo by Mike DuBose
BY JAY WILLIAMS, lead pastor, Union United Methodist Church, Boston
church folk are not inspired to think for themselves and to say something prophetic themselves.
1. Scripture taken from The Christian faith: of being unafraid to Message. Copyright 1993, 1994, speak truth to power, to unmask lies, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. and to confront injustice. While it Used by permission of NavPress would develop into formal black libera- Publishing Group. tion theology in the 1970s, the tradition 2. Ibid. Isaiah, 58:6–8. SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER The process of blacks liberating theology is of thinking theologically goes back to rooted in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah, those ancestors, who knew enough to reject the Bible’s afﬁrmation of slave the one whom Jesus quoted at the begindocility while accepting the biblical ning of his public ministry: “The Spirit exodus. Strong biblically rooted faith of the Lord is upon me, because he has needn’t mean biblical literalism. anointed me to bring good news to the The passionate spirituality of fasting poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the that Isaiah explains is not simply the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to pro- process of giving up something for Lent. claim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke Instead it is taking up the mantle of social jus4:18–19). In that tradition, we look to The illness that is killing tice. Isaiah makes clear: Isaiah 58, which instructs us to: “This is the kind of fast our churches is that we day I’m after: to break 1. Shout aloud and not hold back in pastors are not empowering the chains of injustice, declaring the people’s rebellion. Eugene Peterson’s The Message says get rid of exploitation our people to wrestle it this way: “Shout! A full-throated in the workplace, free with the Scriptures, as we shout. Hold nothing back. Tell my the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interpeople what’s wrong with their were challenged to do in ested in seeing you do lives.”1 seminary. is: sharing your food 2. Fast, not as an act of private devo- with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor tion, but in such a way that chalinto your homes, putting clothes on lenges social injustice. the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the 3. Rebuild the ancient ruins; raise lights will turn on, and your lives will up the age-old foundations; repair turn around at once.”2 the broken walls; and restore the streets. The fasting of social justice is the afﬁrmation of the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. These biblical admonitions correlate to Healing comes when people stand three features central to Afro-diasporic faith, namely: prophetic voice (shouting), together in the midst of persecution, when it is easier to fall apart. The healvibrant spirituality (fasting), and social ing of nations and the healing of indiwitness (repairing “the breach”). viduals are inextricably linked to one Blacks liberating theology is the ageanother. Isaiah challenges: If you comold process of vibrantly living out the
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3. Ibid. Isaiah, 58:6–9. 4. The Message, op. cit., Isaiah, 58:9–12.
mit yourselves to social justice, then the “God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’”3 In Isaiah 6, we recall the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah answers, “Here am I; send me.” In Isaiah 58, it is we who are asking for the help of God, and the Lord’s response is “Here I am.” The message is clear, “Here I am,” but only if you are there for your neighbor. Never can you say you love God and hate your neighbor. The emptiness many of us experience is not merely a personal spiritual drought or yearning for a deeper connection with God; rather, God is inviting us into a deeper relationship with the people around us. Isaiah states it simply: The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11) God will satisfy our needs, if—and only if—we vigorously begin concerning ourselves with the concerns of our community. Yes, Isaiah is calling us “to use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can ﬁx anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”4
BEING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY
The challenge for us growing up in the post-Civil Rights era is to become the “repairer of the breach” and “restorer of streets” of Isaiah 58. To restore the broken beloved community is to recall that the love of God extends to all people at all times and in all places. Our communities are torn apart because we have bought into the divisive logic that some are more worthy than others. Some are more worthy of education, safety, marriage, jobs, clean drinking water, or health care. I am convinced that until black people make the fundamental connection that the struggle of one is the struggle of all, we will continue to earn less, die earlier, and suffer more than our white counterparts. The sad part about ongoing debates over marriage equality is not only that it exists, but that we think about it in the way we do and pit one struggle against another. During the 2012 presidential elections, it was often suggested that black Christians who supported President Barack Obama’s stance on marriage equity betrayed an intertwined racial religious logic. In other words, the logic held that to be black and Christian demands a conservative, biblical literalist approach toward human sexuality. Twenty-ﬁrst century black theological thought demands us to think more critically and in more complex frameworks. It is possible to be black and religious and afﬁrming of same-gender love. It is not a simple matter of either/or, both/and. It seems to me that as long as we allow our communities to be divided between
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gays and straights, liberals and conservatives, we continue to allow ourselves to be pawns in globalized correlated attacks on marginalized people of all races, creeds, and sexualities. Blacks liberating theology is taking the radical and prophetic stand to ask, “What thus sayeth the Lord” for God’s people at this moment in history? If we continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, then we will be like the slaveholders and Christian apologists who used the Bible to defend segregation, and with them we will stand on the wrong side of history. And history will rightly judge us harshly, as we easily condemn the lynch mobs of the past. Being on the right side of history requires courage and comes with some risk. If I only speak for myself, then all my cries for justice and equality are hypocritical at best. I must take the risk of speaking out for “others”—those discriminated against because of their gender and sexuality—even if it means that my own masculinity and sexuality are questioned. You see, I’d rather be questioned on this side of paradise than get to those pearly gates and have Peter question me about my commitment to the Gospel. I don’t want God asking me how I could challenge racism, but not be bold enough to challenge homophobia and sexism, too. CHALLENGING INJUSTICE IN ALL ITS FORMS
The liberation of theology from those who remain captive to mental slavery is to boldly throw oneself into the radical mystery of God. We short-circuit this mystery when we are more commit-
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ted to churches than genuinely struggling with the meaning of Christian living. In other words, we’ve got a lot of churchgoers but not enough Christians. We remain prisoners to churches and dogma, and fail to live in the full breadth of the Gospel and to receive The emptiness many of us the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit. experience is not merely a It may seem that personal spiritual drought what I have said appears to be a conor yearning for a deeper tradiction. On the one connection with God; hand, I have afﬁrmed scriptural faith, but on rather, God is inviting us the other, challenged into a deeper relationship biblical literalism. I have invoked the black with the people around us. church tradition as prophetic while indicting it for participating in oppression. I have appealed to black liberation theology but suggested we move into a new mode of thinking described as blacks liberating theology. While I believe this call to a more critical Christian theology makes sense and is logically sound, I will agree that it is somewhat contradictory. To contradict means that we are to speak against: contra meaning “against” and diction from “dictare” meaning “to speak.” Isaiah’s charges to prophecy, vibrant spirituality, and social witness mean to speak against any church doctrine, pastoral teaching, or biblical interpretation that hinders the ongoing revelation of God to God’s people. Any black theology that is not proclaiming justice for all is no liberation
at all. We must challenge injustice in all its forms. Every person with a pulpit is not a preacher if he or she is not proclaiming good news. Every person with a theological degree is not a theologian if he or she refuses to think. In fact, liberation must be a form of transgresWe must challenge injustice sion, the willingness to cross over into new, in all its forms. Every person uncharted, and somewith a pulpit is not a preacher times dangerous territories. Not only are we if he or she is not proclaiming failing to change with good news. Every person the times, we are failing miserably to lead with a theological degree a change of the times. is not a theologian if he or The Christian call is not to turn back time she refuses to think. In fact, to the era of Leviticus, liberation must be a form of but rather to point transgression, the willingness toward the coming eschatological time to cross over into new, when former things are uncharted, and sometimes passing away. Again, Isaiah is correct: “I dangerous territories. am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). And it is the power of God that is calling us to contra-dict—to speak against—the glass ceiling in black churches that fails to consider women for large-membership congregations, for episcopal leadership, and for top denominational positions. We cannot say we afﬁrm the equality of women in ministry if we are not willing to challenge the old-boy networks that rarely consider female voices to preach and teach in our pulpits.
It is the power of God that is calling us to contra-dict—to speak against—the faulty logic that the black church is necessarily opposed to queer identiﬁcation. We cannot champion the triumphs of civil rights in the 1960s and now say that some people should not possess their civil rights to love and marry whom they choose. It is the power of God that is calling us to contra-dict—to speak against—the narrow-mindedness that fails to link the struggles of little boys in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood to little girls in Darfur, the suffering of children in East Boston to the suffering of children in East Timor. We cannot fail to see that oppression is a globalized phenomenon that does not stop at race, gender, nation, or creed. Our challenge will be to sing “Ella’s Song” as sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” This restlessness reminds us that our theological task of liberating is not easily won. In this regard, liberation is a verb, not a static noun. And, as womanist theologian Delores Williams asserts, we have to do the work. It is clear that we are not already theologically emancipated, but to use Paul, we are not already saved either, we are in the process of “being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18). And, Paul is right about that. X This article is adapted from Jay Williams’s sermon, Blacks Liberating Theology, delivered at BU School of Theology’s 2012 Rites of Passage ceremony, which honors graduating seniors from the African diaspora.
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Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual ediﬁcation.
aking a scientiﬁc look inside religion to help liberals and conservatives get along
Can religious authority be contested? Should faith engage alien inﬂuences or be protected from them? Should individuals have freedom to interpret sacred texts for themselves? These are a few of the questions you will be asked when participating in the Multidimensional Religious Ideology Scale (MRI), a scientiﬁc survey that measures an individual’s position along the liberal-conservative—left-right— spectrum. Accessible to the public online, the survey gives participants instant feedback that interprets their placement on the scale in relation to other survey takers. The MRI was developed by the Spectrums Project, a research organization cofounded by Wesley J. Wildman, professor of philosophy, theology, and ethics, to examine the biological and cultural factors that shape an individual’s religious identity. Wildman spoke with focus about how the survey works and how he hopes the ﬁndings will promote mutual understanding between liberals and conservatives in the church community and beyond. What is the Spectrums Project—and what does the spectrum measure?
The Spectrums Project is the scientiﬁc study of religious ideology, or the study of people’s religious ideas. Religious ideology is usually classiﬁed on a leftright spectrum—left for liberal, right for conservative. The spectrum has the same
bell-shaped structure found in politics, with two thirds of people concentrated in the middle of the curve, and the remaining third dispersed to the sides. In our ideological research, we attempt to explain this distribution and what it really means to be liberal or conservative. We ask why people choose to be liberal, conservative, or moderate. Do evolutionary or biological pressures affect this decision? How do people’s religious beliefs affect their existential experiences as religious people, their behavior, their moral choices, and their interactions with communities and politics? What factors are used to measure distribution along the left-right spectrum?
In the hunter-gatherer days, human beings stabilized our cognitive impulses, or our behavioral habits, emotional structures, instincts, and the way we interpret
About the Professor
Wesley J. Wildman is professor of philosophy, theology, and ethics and cofounder of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, which is dedicated to the scientific study of religion. He is the author of Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion.
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Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
BY LARA EHRLICH
our encounters with other people. This is our evolutionary backstory. When developing the MRI, our team researched and identiﬁed all of the evolutionary backstory components that are relevant to people’s distribution on the left-right ideological spectrum. We discovered that there are approximately 14 such components, which group into 3 major clusters: beliefs, praxis (actions or behavior), and morality. The MRI asks survey participants to deﬁne their attitudes about each of the components, and then interprets their answers in an instant feedback form. The feedback form shows participants how liberal or conservative they are in regard to each of the components, as well as the three major clusters—and then how liberal or conservative they are in relation to all of the other survey participants. The end result is a pleasingly complex picture of liberalism and conservatism. Why is complexity important?
Well, the big problem in both politics and religion is that people with divergent ideological views don’t get along very well. They tend to separate from one another because they ﬁnd that it’s more congenial to be with people who agree with them; as a result, their communities tend to split into like-minded groups. In politics, this causes problems—like when you really need to talk through a complicated issue, but you’re unable to have a good conversation. In religion, it’s disastrous. When people with different religious views argue unproductively, they duplicate the ideological conﬂicts found in the wider society. For instance, Christianity is supposed to stand for love, acceptance, and con-
30 b o s t o n u n i v e r s i t y
nectivity. But if the only thing we do in Christian churches is to duplicate the ideological conﬂicts of wider society, we’re not testifying to the type of love that can allow liberals and conservatives to participate in the same religious community. If we can ﬁgure out how the differences between liberals and conservatives work, we may be able to help people better understand one another. How will the MRI foster this kind of understanding?
Its purpose is to facilitate conversations. When you receive the feedback page, you’ll get to thinking, “So, I’m surprised to ﬁnd that I’m more liberal than most people in some areas, such as religious ritual, and I’m more conservative than most people in other areas, like the interpretation of sacred texts.” Then you can start talking to people about your similarities and differences. Translate this dialogue into a church community setting, and you completely change the prospects for mutual understanding. How would you train students to introduce this dialogue into their church communities?
When training students to be religious leaders, it’s really important to teach them that they will be setting an example for their religious communities in understanding the ideologically “other.” A minister should be able to explain what is most essential to both the liberals and the conservatives in the congregation, regardless of his or her ideological position. This builds trust and enables the liberals and conservatives to look at one another with the same open-hearted, well-informed perspective
X How Liberal or
Conservative Are You? To learn more about the Spectrums Project, and to participate in the Multidimensional Religious Ideology Scale (MRI) survey, visit www.spectrumsproject.org.
that the minister demonstrates. It’s crucial to equip religious-leaders-in-training with knowledge about ideological differences so they can model an effective kind of togetherness. What is the ultimate goal of cultivating togetherness?
We want to teach people to understand their ideological contrasts—and to understand themselves—so that they begin to look at their ideological opponents differently. We hope they will begin to talk to one another in the same way they talked with their minister, and to establish common ground. Our research tells us that we need both liberals and conservatives in order to hold a civilization together. Without that bell curve distribution, you can’t run an effective civilization. And when you teach people that both sides are necessary, conservatives and liberals begin to see each other as necessary for having the kind of church community and society that they prize. Though they still disagree just as much on religious issues, they’ll feel connected to each other. That’s what understandingbased empathy can achieve. How will an understanding of the ideological spectrum impact STH students?
We’re hoping to help STH students understand themselves in relation to their peers. When students take the survey, their feedback pages will display two types of comparisons: they will see where they are positioned in relation to everyone who’s ever taken the survey, and they’ll see where they fall within their
particular group. For example, students who are learning how to be pastors in ﬁeld placements often meet back at STH to talk about their experiences, and they could use the survey to encourage discussion in their groups. In the long run, maybe STH could become a model for other seminaries in creating leaders who are capable of serving and leading more ideologically diverse communities. How do you hope the survey will impact communities beyond BU?
I sincerely hope that churches will start demonstrating love and commitment to one another that transcends ideological differences, instead of just duplicating the moral and political disagreements that occur in the wider culture. I hope that the Spectrums Project will help conservatives and liberals to acknowledge that they disagree, and then feel more closely bonded as humans. That would be a great outcome for the churches. I would also love for this information to start inﬂuencing political discourse, creating civility through understandingbased empathy. By “civility” I’m not referring to tolerance, as in “I can put up with those people and politely try not to wince while they’re talking”; instead, I’m referring to the ability to state the other person’s position so that you disarm them, so they know that you understand them, and then to clearly distinguish your policy from theirs. That’s what I consider to be the basis for a decent public discussion about political issues. When people begin to understand religious ideological differences, they become better citizens. X
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As you patiently listen and observe the behavior of others, be open to the possibility that
o Gd ro yna fo sweiv eht egnahc nac all parties in the discussion.
—UMC Guidelines for holy conferencing
BY SUSAN W. HASSINGER, lecturer and bishop in residence Shortly after returning home from the United Methodist General Conference in spring 2012, I pondered what I had experienced in that 10-day gathering of almost a thousand global delegates. Between vibrant worship, challenging speeches, and at times acrimonious debate, what was the overall outcome? Was it worth the time and expenditure? How would the denomination recover from the lack of cohesion and clear disagreement on future directions? In my pondering, I walked to an old desk and opened a long drawer usually reserved for my grandchildren. In the drawer I found, among paper, markers, and various games, a kaleidoscope. Sitting in a rocker nearby, I pointed the long tube towards the light and began, almost mindlessly, to turn the far end. I was struck by the shifting symmetrical patterns of multicolored tiny pieces of broken glass, reﬂecting from the mirrors to create beauty and a holistic design. How strikingly that contentious general conference differed from these beautiful, shifting patterns. There, we seemed to experience a “collide-oscope” of values and points of view. The paradigms of many from the United States collided with the worldviews of some African delegates. The perspectives of those wanting major structural overhaul collided with those
who questioned whether that change would result in improved ministry and mission. The desires of those wanting more leadership from the church’s bishops collided with those who feared that a set-aside bishop would result in a United Methodist papacy. Views were strong and sometimes expressed with pejorative language. Votes were clearly divided, creating winners and losers. In this setting, lip service was given to Wesleyan “holy conferencing.” There were times when the word “civility” did not characterize the words and actions of delegates or visitors. As I put the kaleidoscope back in the drawer, I pondered—prayed: “God, how can we turn this ‘collide-o-scope’ of a denomination into a multifaceted kaleidoscope? Is that possible?”
About the Author
Susan W. Hassinger was elected a United Methodist Church bishop in 1996 and first assigned to the New England Annual Conference; she later oversaw the formation of the Upper New York Annual Conference. Hassinger was the first president of the UMC’s JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation.
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discordant general conference should inspire the restoration of civility to United Methodism.
STRUGGLES BENEATH THE SURFACE
During the summer, I received a telephone call from a laywoman from another denomination: her congregation was experiencing contentious discussions around a change of times for worship and education. My friend sensed this was the surface issue. Underneath lay a long history of struggle over how decisions were made in the congregation, while there did not seem to be a strong sense of common identity, vision, or purpose. All of this had led to fear and anxiety— and some not-very-civil communication. How might she and a group formed to look at the problems deal with this uncivil situation? During the 2012 presidential nominating conventions of the two major American political parties, we heard speeches ﬁlled with veiled threat and not-so-veiled blame. We heard truth that was partial and facts used for onesided gain rather than for the good of the whole country. How can we ordinary citizens encourage honest dialogue and civil discourse that can help us to make good decisions about the future of our beloved nation? In each of these settings—a denominational global meeting, a local church conﬂict, a national election campaign— communication was far from multifaceted or respectful, and more likely to provoke dissension than resolution. Is there hope? OPENNESS TO GOD’S SURPRISES
Two Presbyterian theologians have written on the subject of civility, albeit from different perceived places on the evangelical conservative/liberal spectrum. Richard J. Mouw, president at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, pub34 b o s t o n u n i v e r s i t y
lished the second edition of Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World1 in 2010. Mouw believed in a “convicted civility” rooted in Christian scripture, theology, and practice.2 His book addresses dissension in the church—local and denominational—and in the secular world. Mouw focused on the inner work of civility: some of that requires one to “cultivate empathy,” be motivated by curiosity about the other, approach others with a desire to learn, and carry a “willingness to learn” from unbelief.3 Mouw’s summary is this: “This is what civility comes to, ﬁnally: an openness to God’s surprises.”4 James Calvin Davis, a professor of religion at Middlebury College, Vermont, deals primarily with national and international issues in his 2010 book In Defense of Civility.5 Davis starts the dialogue with a focus on moral values, exploring such divisive issues as abortion and stem cell research. Davis acknowledges different starting places for moral values, but emphasizes that they are not the purview of either evangelical conservatives or liberals alone. Davis believes that empowering the “moderate middle” is a way to “rejuvenate our political discourse.”6 Mouw and Davis concur on the essential attributes of those who engage in civil discourse: desire to listen to the other; personal integrity and a willingness to state clearly one’s own positions without wrongly characterizing the other; humility that is open to changing one’s mind; and respecting, rather than being dismissive of, the other. Eric H. F. Law, an Episcopal priest who has written several books about developing community and communication in multicultural settings, has promoted his Respectful Communication
1. Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, 2nd edition (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2010). 2. Ibid., 14. 3. Ibid., 57–63. 4. Ibid., 181. 5. James Calvin Davis, In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2010). 6. Ibid., 16.
7. For further information, see www.kscopeinstitute.org.
Guidelines and a process of dialogue, Mutual Invitation, that take into account varying worldviews and styles of communication. Several years ago, Law developed the Kaleidoscope Institute7 to train and support church-based and secular organizations seeking to build a “respectful, inclusive community.” These scholars, theologians, and practitioners believe that civil discourse is possible in the social and political realms, as well as in the church. So what guidance is there for us in our various settings? I would share several recurring themes from these resources, as well as from my own experience. s #OLLISIONS ARE INEVITABLE CONmICT is part of human reality. In times of change, existing solutions frequently do not work and differences emerge about how to deal with those changes. Is it possible for those differences to be dealt with in ways that allow all parties to speak openly—and to value and listen to each other? s #IVIL DISCOURSE DOES NOT IMPLY remaining passive or avoiding conﬂict on difﬁcult issues. Nor does it mean that we ignore our convictions. Moral values are important to all of us. If we want our moral values to be respected, we need to recognize the moral values of those with whom we disagree. Are we able to listen to those values and discern common interests in our differing values? s 3OME OF THE WORLD S GREATEST LEADERS have been clear about their values while engaging in nonviolent direct action to bring about change. Remember Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez, and many others who
spoke their truth to power, engaging in courageous nonviolent action while still remaining in dialogue with those who challenged their values. s #IVIL DISCOURSE BEGINS WHEN individuals and leaders of groups personally examine their own thoughts, actions, and motives: To what extent do I live in toleration and trust with others? How humble am I in sharing my beliefs and impressions? Do I believe that I can learn from the other? Such reﬂections may move us to a place of engaging with others. s %NGAGING IN CIVIL DISCOURSE REQUIRES one to provide a space of hospitality for others and respond to the hospitality offered by others. This value of and respect for the other means a desire to seek common interests, mutual sense of purpose, and shared identity. Turning a “collide-o-scope” into a multicolored, diversely patterned kaleidoscope is not a task for the fainthearted. It is not a task to take on alone, but to engage in with the guidance of God’s Spirit and in the community of others. I believe it is essential for the future of our congregations, our denominations, our nation, and our world. I believe that it is time for a “moderate middle” to proactively search for this kind of kaleidoscopic conversation. Is it possible that, as we recognize both the brokenness and the beauty of the pieces that each of us brings, we might together turn towards the Light, the Source of all, and discern new patterns and possibilities emerging? I continue to hope and search for that possibility. X
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bringing mission to life BY ADA FOCER (‘05, ‘10)
MAY WE NOT
ALIKE? —JOHN WESLEY
rawing on a legal career to develop a covenant for productive conversations
1. Margaret J. Wheatley, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future (BerrettKoehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA, 2002), 3.
How do we restore civil discourse? How do we talk with each other in a way that increases understanding, creativity, new ideas, better relationships, and a sense of community? How do we practice the art of conversation? These are questions that have concerned me in my work as a lawyer, mediator, minister, and teacher, as well as in my work with the JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conﬂict Transformation in the United Methodist Church. We should be clear that we are not talking about conversation without conﬂict. We are not talking about a lack of conviction. We are not talking about avoiding controversial subjects; about being nice, bland, and superﬁcial; about peace where there is no peace. Conﬂict is natural as different ideas and perspectives are rubbed up against each other. Conﬂict is necessary in a world of injustice, where we need to name injustice when we see it. We must talk about the things that matter most: our politics, how we are going to live together; our religion, where we will ﬁnd meaning and closeness to God and neighbor. We are talking about conversing with each other in a way that involves constructive conﬂict, not destructive conﬂict: not demonization, not mischaracterization, not put-downs. We have all experienced destructive conﬂict;
it has often caused us to avoid talking about things that matter to us or to ﬁght to defeat the other, not to expand our knowledge or our relationships. We cannot underestimate the amount of distrust and anxiety such conﬂict has caused. KNOWING OUR LIMITS
There are few things more wonderful than a good conversation between and among people from different life perspectives and experiences, sharing their best thoughts, listening well to the ideas of others, being open to learning and enlarging their world, and having a sense of humility about the limits of their knowledge. Author Meg Wheatley says we can transform the world through simple, honest conversation on matters on which we are passionate.1 She cites the example of how a conversation
About the Author
Tom Porter directs the program in Religion & Conflict Transformation and teaches classes on restorative justice and conflict transformation. A trial lawyer since 1974, he helped create the United Methodist Church’s JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation, which he has led for 12 years. In 2010, he published The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation, Creating a Culture of JustPeace.
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Photo by Pippa Mpunzwana
BY TOM PORTER, lecturer and director of the Religion & Conﬂict Transformation Program
about landmines between two women at a kitchen table produced the Nobel Prizewinning International Campaign to Ban Landmines. My partner in the law ﬁrm Melick & Porter LLP, which we established in 1983, was as conservative as I was liberal. We often started our conversations concerning ﬁrm management and decisions with very different positions, but as we talked, we most often came up with a better idea. We cared about the ﬁrm, we cared about each other, and we had the experience of being able to work through our differences. At the heart of uncivil discourse is a failure to grasp the importance of relationships. Our worldview is focused on “me” and not “the me in we.” Our worldview in the United States is focused primarily on the autonomous individual, but we are who we are because of our relationships—we are interconnected and interdependent. The sum of the law and the prophets is to love God, neighbor, and self.2 The good news is that we are loved and reconciled and called to a life of love and reconciliation.3 God’s shalom is about right relations, relations in which we all ﬂourish. If our focus were on the relationship with the person with whom we disagree and a desire to create a right relation, the conversation around our disagreement would be different. We would care enough about the other to speak our truth as best we know it, but with an openness to hear the truth of the other. We would care enough to listen with genuine curiosity, as “curiosity” is based on the Latin cura, to care. This curiosity would be based on approaching life and the other with wonder, recognizing that we are always learning and that there is much to learn from others. 38 b o s t o n u n i v e r s i t y
2. Matthew 22:37–39. Approaching life with wonder and awe frees us from having to be right and opens 3. 2 Corinthians 5:17–18a. us to being a lifelong learner with a sense 4. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, of humility about our limited knowledge. quoted in The Chautauquan 4 (October 1883–July 1884), 211. We would be kinder, too, if we knew the suffering the other had experienced. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should ﬁnd in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”4 There are skills important to civil discourse and the art of conversation, and these skills are guided by the relational focus. They are spiritual practices guided by the virtues of caring, curiosity, wonder, humility, and kindness. The ﬁrst, and most important, is listening for understanding. The second is speaking the truth in love. Much has been written about these two skills. I want to focus on We are talking about conversing the third and fourth with each other in a way that skills that I have found important: involves constructive conflict, use of the imaginanot destructive conflict: not tion and the practice of forgiveness. The demonization, not mischaracimagination is what terization, not put-downs. is most missing from our conversations—a creative spirit that welcomes the rubbing together of images and ideas that are different and is open to new ideas emerging from the process. As an English major, I learned this as the metaphorical process—ﬁnding new insights and connections from images not normally seen together. When the human Jesus and the vision of the Christ were held together, a new understanding of both Jesus and the Christ was experienced and we discovered the most profound
5. I treat the circle process in greater detail in The Spirit and Art of Conﬂict Transformation, Creating a Culture of JustPeace (Upper Room Books, Nashville, 2010). 6. Raymond Helmick, “Seeing the Image of God in Others: Key to the Transformation of Conﬂicts,” a lecture at St. Paul’s Church, Cambridge, MA, April 21, 2007.
revelations about God and what it means to be human. The fourth skill is the craft of forgiveness. In our discourse, in our conversations, we are going to say things that are hurtful, often from lack of knowledge and understanding. We need to be quick to forgive and to reopen the possibility of the ongoing conversation and relationship. CREATING SPACE FOR CONVERSATION
We also need to create different kinds of spaces conducive to conversation rather than adversarial confrontation. One practice I’ve found beneﬁcial as a facilitator in conﬂict situations is the circle process. Sitting in a circle expresses in a physical and symbolic way the interconnectedness and interdependence of this relational life. The circle emphasizes collective and communal wisdom and discernment.5 The process begins and ends with ritual, recognizing that the space for deep conversation is a sacred space. One of the ritual elements of a circle is a talking piece. When you hold the talking piece, you get to speak and everyone else listens. The talking piece enables everyone to have a voice, including the quiet ones—often the wisest—and encourages the talkers to listen. Circles incorporate a relational covenant for how we want to be treated in the conversation. In Biblical terms, a covenant binds people together, honors the other party, and requires mutual accountability and responsibility. Everyone desires to be treated in a good way, and such a relational covenant has a remarkable inﬂuence on the tone and spirit of the conversation. Circle process is grounded in the value of consensus and provides an alter-
native to the use of parliamentary procedure, with its debate and adversarial format of winners and losers. There are times when decisions need to be made using parliamentary procedure; however, if we are going to improve our civil discourse, we need to move as much as we can towards consensus, understood as a process of seeking the common mind without resort to a formal vote. There does not necessarily have to be unanimity, but at least the sense that all have been heard and everyone can live with the outcome. I hold up as an ideal the presupposition of Ignatius’s spiritual practices. As Father Ray Helmick, a Jesuit priest with whom I teach, has taught me, Ignatius believed that we should help each other save and improve our propositions, rather than condemn them. As Father Ray says, This is not simply a proposal of Christian charity in our discourse. It is a theory of knowledge. . . . If I am to win all the arguments, know it all beforehand, my mind has already shut down. . . . If I am to learn, I must approach the other’s proposition with openness. Winning an argument will get me nowhere and I will lose the light that the other’s perception could give me.6 This involves a process of helping the other give voice to the deepest and best understanding of his or her proposition. In doing so in a mutual way, we come to understand the best of each other’s proposition and often come to higher ground, to a deeper insight that, like the metaphorical process, ﬁnds newness—new insights—and certainly a new and deeper relationship. X
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bringing mission to life BY ADA FOCER (‘05, ‘10)
I consider looseness with words no less of a defect
of th o w e b
BY DAVID SCHNASA JACOBSEN, professor and director of the Homiletical Theology Project
The challenge of restoring civil discourse is one of public, global scope. The 2012 election campaign reminded us in ways both personal and public that we ﬁnd it hard to talk to each other in our nation. The problem is only magniﬁed when we think of the broad, global realities that confront us in the news. Interreligious conﬂict in the age of the Internet, for example, reminds us that our ability to speak with one another globally is fraught with difﬁculty. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf notes, “a central challenge for all religions in a pluralistic world is to help people . . . resolve their grand conﬂicts and live in communion with others.”1 In light of the scope of the problem of civil discourse, it seems silly to imagine that the preaching and worship life of the church can possibly solve it. Yet, it is important for the church to acknowledge, from the center of its own worship life, that it has a stake in such matters. Even if the church cannot offer a panacea, how can it, as an act of neighbor love, engage the world that God still so loves, in a way that makes civil discourse more likely? THE CHURCH’S CENTER 1. Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos, Grand Rapids, MI, 2011), 100.
I am convinced that the church, at least the mainline church of which I am a part, needs to refocus its vision, from
the boundaries to the center. As a pastor 25 years ago, I recall how attractive the colony church model had become for thinking about our common life in the church. William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas had published Resident Aliens and invited clergy like me to dispense with a worldly Christianity in favor of a vision of the church more akin to a gated community. The church was not to relate to a wider public or political context; it was rather to be itself a “public,” a “polity.” No doubt this ecclesiology offered an important corrective to a church that had lost its identity and was becoming increasingly disestablished. Yet, the focus of this ecclesiology also led to a greater difﬁculty in speaking dialogically with the wider culture. Perhaps it is time to relinquish the concern for identity boundaries promoted by Willimon and Hauerwas, exchanging
About the Author
David Schnasa Jacobsen is a member of the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church and formerly served churches in South Dakota and Tennessee. He is the author of four books, including Preaching in the New Creation and Preaching Luke–Acts.
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hrough the Word, Sacrament, and hospitality, the church might reengage the world in constructive dialogue.
it for a renewed center of the Protestant church: the gospel promise in Word and Sacrament. In his books Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor reminds us of several legacies of the Reformation that stand at the heart of the mainline churches.2 Sacraments were not magic, but were grounded, according to reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, in the Word of promise of the gospel. Vocation was to be something shared by all the baptized in the context of life in creation. Ordinary life was not to be abandoned in favor of some higher monastic or spiritual calling; instead, ordinary worldly life was to be afﬁrmed as the locus of divine activity. In placing Word and Sacrament at the center of the church’s life, we discover not the church’s identity boundaries, but rather its center in God and in God’s promises in relation to God’s good creation in all its ordinariness. This view does more than police who is in and who is out, guarding the incommensurability of church language from the wider culture. This view of Word and Sacrament as center of the church’s life, as witness to the divine promise, grounds engagement with the world in divine grace and in gospel freedom. Ordinary life is not the enemy—in fact, it is God’s good creation. Whatever the church does in response to the life of redemption and its witness to the otherness of God, it is still the church in the world: its life is not for perpetuating its identity, but for the sake of the life of God’s good creation.
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In my view, this center of gospel promise in Word and Sacrament is also key to recovering hospitality, not as a private virtue, but a public practice. In his book Welcoming the Stranger, theologian Patrick Keifert views the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 as instructive in helping the church of promise understand hospitality in just such a way.3 Why is it that the old couple shows hospitality to the three mysterious strangers who show up in Genesis 18? The text gives us no cues that these strangers were somehow known to them; they appear in a totally mysterious fashion. Abraham and Sarah may have been following some desert code about hospitality—when people are exposed to such dangerous surroundings, a code of hospitality would represent a kind of basic solidarity needed for all to survive. But hospitality as it is portrayed here is no mere anthropological discipline or practice. Hospitality to the other is grounded in this story, Keifert suggests, in the otherness of the God of Promise. It is the strange mystery of God’s otherness, and the promise of grace that God gives, that empowers Abraham and Sarah to attend to them. The problem, as Keifert points out, is that the mainline church is more inclined to see hospitality, and preaching and worship, in familial terms of private hospitality.4 We hear it frequently in descriptions of the church as a “family.” However, a church that hopes to engage the world in light of its own gospel promise should see so much more. It could see, in its own preaching, ways of speaking about ourselves as something
2. In Sources of the Self (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 1989), 211ff. Taylor devotes much of the beginning of Part III of his book to the “afﬁrmation of the ordinary.” The disenchantment of the sacred order and issues around vocation are covered in the bulk of Part I of A Secular Age (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007). 3. Patrick Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Fortress, Minneapolis, 1992), 76ff. 4. Keifert describes this in terms of the ideology of intimacy that impacts the church’s life as a familial enclave in Welcoming the Stranger, 15–26.
more than simply intimate extensions of familiar people like us, but as mysteriously other, as Christian selves and at the same time worldly selves. It could also see in mainViewing hospitality in line preaching, following relationship to Word and the work of theologians Catherine (’60, GRS’65) Sacrament in such public and Justo González, an terms helps us see the opportunity to interpret gospel in relation to me, us, church not as a private and others—like the “absent enclave removed from the powerless”—as well.5 As for sacraments and worworld, but as an engaged ship, it may mean developbody in dialogue with ing practices of hospitality that move past the familiar the world. chumminess we associate with the term to include what liturgical theologian Gordon Lathrop calls “welcoming to God”:
5. Justo L. González and Catherine G. González, Liberation Preaching: The Pulpit and the Oppressed (Abingdon, Nashville, 1980), 100. 6. Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Fortress, Minneapolis, 1998), 128. 7. Keifert, op. cit., 91–92.
Both the newcomers and persons familiar with this assembly need a sense that they are welcomed, but also that they are welcomed to God. . . . Fine hospitality is not characterized by intrusion, but by sensitive and reverent attention to the reality of the other. Some people require much less attention, some people much more. All the people welcomed are then to be introduced into a place where the further business is not more revealing exchanges of the self, but silence and mystery, communal speech and communal action.6 In short, viewing hospitality in relationship to Word and Sacrament in such public terms helps us see the church not as a private enclave removed from the world, but as an engaged body in dialogue with the
world. Keifert offers a helpful ecclesiological vision when he describes the church as an evangelical conversation for the life of the world: By evangelical conversation, I mean more than talking, though it should always include at least speech. Conversation here includes activities within and without the doors of the local congregation activated by the grace of the Triune God in the unique mission of the church, namely the heralding and embodying of the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . It makes the church, from the world’s viewpoint, a bridge between the public and the private, indeed a public institution. . . . If the church can . . . understand itself as engaged in an evangelical conversation and life on behalf of the world, it can become a resource for enlivening public life inside and outside the church.7 This ecclesial vision comes from the heart of the Reformation traditions around Word and Sacrament that Charles Taylor sees as formative of the late modern context we live in now. It is no quick ﬁx for the problem of civil discourse today. Word and Sacrament are still not magic, but promise; nor is public hospitality any sort of panacea. Yet, they are a witness empowered by that promise, and for the sake of the goodness of ordinary life in creation. In that way, they push us beyond an exclusive ﬁxation with redemption to a broader vision of God’s good creation. In evangelical conversation, the church nudges the world toward more than civil discourse. It helps the world, even in small ways, become more of what it is: more truly, more fully human. X
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J O UR N A L
bringing mission to life BY ADA FOCER (‘05, ‘10)
he Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment have some surprising lessons about civil discourse. MEETING POLEMIC WITH POLEMIC
1. See Benjamin J. Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conﬂict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007).
The era of the Protestant Reformation may seem a strange point of reference for a discussion of civil discourse, save as a negative example. Martin Luther’s scatological polemic against the papacy—skillfully illustrated by artist Lucas Cranach—or the Roman Catholic caricature of Luther and other Protestant clergy as decadent voluptuaries, seems a conspicuous manifestation of uncivil discourse. According to a widely received narrative, the overheated religious discourse unleashed by the Reformation in the division of Western Christendom boiled over into a century and more of religious wars before being cooled by enlightened reason (or at least by the Enlightenment state), which enforced civil peace by dissolving the claims of religion and restricting it to the private sphere. Yet such an account is deeply problematic. Not only does it vastly overstate the necessary connection between religious division and violent intolerance while understating the tolerance achieved in early modern communities well before the Enlightenment,1 it also overlooks the paradoxical extent to which it was precisely the sharply expressed religious difference arising out of the Reformation that was the precondition for toleration and civil discourse in the modern West.
If medieval Christians had shared common ideas of the sacred, by the middle of the sixteenth century, half of European Christians regarded many of the things held sacred by the other half as false, blasphemous, and offensive. On both sides, theologians and laity denounced and derided the religious alternative in words and images, using printing presses and broadsheets, as well as sermons and songs. Sharp religious difference was an unavoidable part of life for early modern Europeans. If those differences were offensive, they could not then be unthinkable, earth-shattering challenges to a worldview in which no alternatives could be imagined. Polemic could be met with polemic; it became difﬁcult to regard the mere existence or expression of religious difference as an existential
About the Author
Christopher Boyd Brown is the author of Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation and general editor of the extended American edition of Luther’s Works. He teaches the history of Christianity at STH and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
school of theology
Photo by Pippa Mpunzwana
BY CHRISTOPHER BOYD BROWN, associate professor of church history
threat. That recognition distinguishes the West after the Reformation from its own past and from other traditional societies. The religious other, especially in the Holy Roman Empire, where territories intertwined and alternated at intervals of only a few kilometers, often under the ofﬁcial protection of a neighboring prince, was never far away. In some cities of the Empire where both Protestants and Catholics were recognized, early modern Christians developed modes of coexistence that relied not on the suppression or restraint of polemical religious rhetoric but on its public expression, serving not as a provocation to violence but as a clear and preferable alternative to it. It was not the expression of religious difference by local groups, but the efforts of early modern territorial states to impose uniformity for their own ends that produced violence, including the violence of the so-called religious wars.2 Enlightenment toleration was the culmination of this trajectory, the assertion of the ultimate claim of the rational state and its exclusive prerogative of force, rather than the reconciliation or transcendence of religious difference. In the Reformation period itself, religious identity served not solely as a reinforcement of the claims of the state but often as a curb for them. When the princeelector of Brandenburg attempted to consolidate his authority under the aegis of Calvinism in the early seventeenth century, his efforts were thwarted by the resistance of the Lutheran populace; it was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the wake of the Enlightenment, that his distant successor
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was able to carry out the program with the formation of the Prussian Union. CIVIL OR COURTEOUS DISCOURSE?
2. See William T. Cavanaugh, “‘A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House’: The Wars of Religion and the Rise of the State,” Modern Theology 11:4 (Oct. 1995), 397–420.
The early modern example might lead us to question, in a modern context, whether or not religious and theological difference itself, or even its sharp expression, is really at the root of incivility, intolerance, or violence in our own culture. If, in speaking of civil discourse, we have in mind all public speech, we might helpfully distinguish a call for “civil” discourse from the demand It was not the expression for “courteous” discourse, even though of religious difference the two words overby local groups, but the lap in common use. They come, after all, efforts of early modern from radically differterritorial states to impose ent social and political contexts. “Civil” uniformity for their discourse is speech own ends that produced among free and equal violence, including the citizens of a republic; speech that aims at violence of the so-called “courtesy” originates religious wars. in the rituals of the court, from the servile effort not to offend a prince. Is not Enlightenment toleration the demand for courteous speech, limited so as not to offend the interests of the state (or call down its wrath), rather than for a genuine civil discourse in which difference is expected and acknowledged? But if we mean by civil discourse not all public speech, but speciﬁcally speech that seeks to engage the power of the state, another Reformation discussion of the “civil” may prove help-
ful. In his explanation of the Augsburg Confession’s discussion of justiﬁca4. See R. A. Markus, Saeculum: tion, reformer Philipp Melanchthon History and Society in the Theology articulates a distinction between the of St. Augustine (1970; revised righteousness of God, which is given ed. Cambridge UP, Cambridge, through the Gospel, and the “civil 1988). righteousness” that human beings achieve in society through keeping its laws.3 Melanchthon hails this civil righteousness as being willed by God and deserving of praise. Yet it is not the righteousness that avails before God for salvation. In this sense, civil discourse is To claim that civil speech that is not concerned with the discourse is most absolute claims of possible in the absence God upon the conof religion is a radical science, but with the imperfectly accommisapprehension. Rather, modated relations only in the context of of human beings to one another. If religion—of higher, medieval theologians theological claims—can sought to connect temporal governthe political (and the ment to the church civil) be relativized. in an ascending hierarchy of natural and supernatural ends, the one building upon the other, and if the Enlightenment sought to relegate religion to the private sphere in order to subordinate it to the public interests and claims of the state, this Reformation understanding of the civil offers another possibility. Here is a civil discourse that is neither subordinate to religion as a preliminary nor subordinate to the state as the public absolute; instead, the civil is a realm that—by God’s design—is not concerned with the 3. Apology of the Augsburg Confession 4.22–24.
absolute. It is worth reminding ourselves that the idea of the secular as this sort of realm is not an Enlightenment idea, but an Augustinian one: the saeculum is the sphere where the citizens of the City of God and of the Earthly City interact to maintain, in whatever terms they can, the worldly peace used by all human beings, whatever their relation to God.4 THE KEY TO CIVIL DISCOURSE
To claim that civil discourse is most possible in the absence of religion is a radical misapprehension. Rather, only in the context of religion—of higher, theological claims—can the political (and the civil) be relativized. Otherwise, the political simply becomes the absolute, and civil discourse, whether it be a sharply articulated and maintained difference or a pragmatic conversation about practical means and ends, is impossible. A consideration of the period of the Protestant Reformation might give us pause, therefore, in imagining that the key to civil public discourse is the restraint (especially by the power of the state) of public religious conﬂict. If such conﬂict is inevitable, its suppression—and the expectation that it ought to be suppressed—makes conﬂict all the more violent when it does emerge. On the other hand, if by civil discourse we mean discussion about the state and its activities, the Reformation may help to inform an alternative both to theocratic politics and to its supposed Enlightenment replacement, restraining our expectations, both for ourselves and others, of politics and its ability to produce deep consensus or conformity. X
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RE AD I N G LI ST
ALUMNI PUBLICATIONS FINISHED focus AND READY FOR YOUR NEXT GOOD READ? HERE’S A GLIMPSE INTO RECENT PUBLICATIONS BY STH ALUMNI. William E. Alberts (’61, GRS’61), A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2012). From the introduction: “A hospital is a unique crossroads of humanity, and therefore calls for pastoral care that is comfortable with and accepting of diversity of belief and non-belief. . . . The stories herein are about the struggles and wisdom and faith of people who enter the especially humanizing crossroads of this global neighborhood.” Gerald H. Anderson (’55, GRS’60), Witness to World Christianity: The International Association for Mission Studies, 1972–2012 (Overseas Ministries Study Center, 2012). Praise for Witness to World Christianity from Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity & History of Mission Dana L. Robert: “Only Gerald Anderson could have written such a succinct, informative, and useful account of the [International Association for Mission Studies].”
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Gilbert H. Caldwell (’58), “Church history requires we discuss racism,” written for the United Methodist News Service, August 2012. From the article: “We as a denomination cannot be silent about racism. Regardless of whether it is subtle or not-so-subtle, sophisticated or not, it is ‘insidious.’ The United Methodist Church has a ‘story’ that can be shared, and, because of our racial history, a ministry opportunity ‘for such a time as this.’”
Visit www.bu.edu/sthconnect to read more articles from faculty and alumni—and make your own contribution.
Ann Duncan (’06), coauthor of “Teen Hero” in the Christian Century (March 2012) and The Gospel According to ‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy (self-published study guide). From the study guide: “The release of The Hunger Games is a teachable moment for religious leaders about basic biblical themes in our contemporary culture. Leaders may use this occasion to share biblical parallels found in the stories and indicate how persons of faith may respond to the cultural crises around us.” Robert Janacek (’91), Sounds of Hope: A Musical Metaphor to Build a Symphony of Hope (Wipf & Stock Publishers, July 2012). From the opening chapter: “But what is hope? It is that which tells us that ‘this’ is not ‘all,’ that there is another way. Hope is the element that opens up the new—the horizon of fulfillment and progress.”
Dong Young Kim (’11), Understanding Religious Conversion: The Case of St. Augustine (Pickwick Publications, July 2012). From the opening chapter: “The purpose of this book is to achieve an integrated understanding of the religious conversion process from an interdisciplinary perspective. . . . Augustine’s narrative of conversion illustrates well the complex and multi-dimensional process of human transformation.” Tex Sample (’60, GRS’64), The Future of John Wesley’s Theology: Back to the Future with the Apostle Paul (Cascade Books, February 2012). From the preface: “[M]y recent extended study of the Apostle Paul clarified significant differences between Paul and John Wesley. In some cases I felt a renewed appreciation for Wesley . . . But I also became aware of places where Wesley needed to be corrected by Paul.” Robert Wafawanaka (’97), Am I Still My Brother’s Keeper? Biblical Perspectives on Poverty (University Press of America, April 2012). From the publisher: “What does the Bible say about poverty and our responsibility toward the poor? This book examines the concept of ‘brother’s keeper’ in both the ancient Near East and the biblical world. Wafawanaka contends that biblical Israel failed to play the rightful role of brother’s keeper and claims that we, too, have strayed from this responsibility.”
Planting a SUSTAINABLE MINISTRY
OUR STUDENTS are pioneers in expanding what a theological education can be. THecology, a student organization that grew out of a discussion in Professor John Hartâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ecological ethics course, is leading the way. The group, which has organized recycling and fair trade coffee initiatives at the School, helps individuals incorporate sustainability into their lives and their ministries so that these actions become part of their spiritual mission. THecology also hosts conferences open to students, clergy, and other seekers.
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The Campaign for BU School of Theology aims to expand the boundaries of theological education.
THecology group members and youth explore the natural world at the United Methodist Retreat Center in North Andover, Massachusetts.
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