SAFE TO BE HONEST, DARED TO RISK
plural [ta-bloh]: A picturesque group of persons around a common table
A Letter from the Editor Since this school was just an idea, even before the first graduating class, McAfee has represented both the best of tradition and the dedication to innovate the sacred art of vocational ministry. Those who join this community as staff, faculty and students have done so because they have passion and hope for the Church. That hope makes our community a place where it is safe to be authentic and speak the hard truth. It is also a place where we are dared to defy the status quo and take risks to transform our reality in service of something better. I am thrilled and honored to share McAfeeâ€™s stories of transformation with you as the new Editor in Chief of Tableaux. As McAfee enters its 20th year as a leader in ministerial education, we are experiencing growth that requires adaptability, risk, and vision. More than anything, it is our students that keep that visionary hope and inspiration alive. They remind me every day that progress is not an idea; it is action. Our classrooms are filled with 21st century human rights advocates, community developers, chaplains, ordained ministers, teachers, theologians, ethicists and civic leaders. These ministers arenâ€™t afraid to speak up and take big risks for what they believe in. They are a force to be reckoned with. Our students are history makers. I hope that you, too, will find encouragement and power in the stories that fill these pages. Our work as ministers may never be done, but what we do day-in and day-out is leaving an indelible mark. We are being formed into prophets and preachers and, as we are changed, the McAfee community is shaping the world we live in to become more like the Kingdom of God. For this reason, may all of us feel safe enough to be honest, and dare to risk it all.
Kate Riney Editor in Chief of Tableaux Special thanks to Brittini Palmer, Assistant Editor of Tableaux, for her dedication to tell these stories with integrity and creativity. All the stories in this issue were researched and written by Brittini, first year McAfee student.
CONTENTS | SUMMER 2016
New Staff Members Come with Big Dreams for McAfee Meet five new staff members and read about how they are inspired to lead McAfee.
10 The Journey to Leadership: One Lawyerâ€™s Transition from Seminary Student to CEO Paul Knowlton speaks about the spiritual journey that led to a major career change.
17 The Courage to Speak Up: Learning to Think and Act Ethically in a Divided World Dr. David P. Gushee reflects on the past year and the responsibilities of a Christian Ethics professor in the post-modern world.
8 The Greatest Risk Worth Taking: McAfee Alumna Conducts World-Changing Research as Professor at the University of Edinburgh Graduate Leah Robinson went on to Ph.D. work. Learn more about her teaching and research in Scotland.
12 Restoring Justice: Students Innovate Churchesâ€™ Approach to Peacemaking Seminary McAfee students practice justice, racial reconciliation and community development.
New Staff Members Big Dreams for McAfee COME WITH
Introducing the newest McAfee staff members. With so many new faces and personalities, we had to ask the truly insightful questions, like “How do you take your coffee?”
JEFF WILLETTS began his tenure as McAfee’s
Dean on July 1. Rev. Dr. Jeffrey G. Willetts is a native of North Carolina, but has lived most of his life in Northern Virginia. He is a graduate of Campbell University, B.A. ’85; Yale University Divinity School, M.A.R. ’88; and University of Wales, Swansea, Ph.D. ’97. He has served as the founding dean and vice president of The John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Virginia, since 1998. Dr. Willetts is also an active Baptist pastor with 25 years’ experience, first as a church planter and then as senior pastor of Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He is married to the Rev. Elizabeth Willetts (Beth), also a Baptist pastor, and they have three adult children, three dogs and a cat. Dr. Willetts’ academic interests are in philosophy of religion and philosophy of language. He currently serves as the book review editor for The Journal for the Philosophy of Religion. He is an avid sportsman, golfer and singer and likes to relax by watching professional sports and Netflix. Dr. Willetts feels deeply honored to become part of the McAfee School of Theology family and the wider Mercer community. In his estimation, “McAfee has always been a leader in theological education, a forward-leaning and innovative institution, dedicated to the Church, the community, and the wider world. I look forward to what God will be doing in our work together.”
Q. How do you take your coffee/tea? A. Coffee with french vanilla. Q. Half-full or half-empty? A. Always half-full.
| SUMMER 2016
Q. What is your Netflix addiction? A. “Justified,” “Breaking Bad,” “Sopranos,” “Game of
Thrones,” “Foyle’s War” ... you name it!
Q. Who is your favorite theologian/writer? A. Soren Kierkegaard. Q. Why did the chicken cross the road? A. To avoid being eaten! Q. What is your favorite thing about Atlanta? A. Its diversity!
NIKKI HARDEMAN joined the McAfee staff in
August of 2015 as the director of admissions. She is from Waynesboro, Georgia, the “Bird Dog Capital of the World,” but most recently moved to Atlanta from Macon with her two children and rat terrier. Hardeman wants to live in a world where people wait their turn, vulnerability is considered to be brave, people cheer more than they criticize and time is limitless. She has been fortunate to explore ministry through service in a variety of settings including denominational work, local churches, curriculum development and writing, leading workshops on a variety of topics, and now recruiting students who are taking their next steps in ministry. In addition to her work, Hardeman also engages her call through preaching, leading retreats and speaking at churches about Christian education. Hardeman received her B.A. at Mercer University in 2002 and her M.Div. at the McAfee School of Theology in 2005. When she’s not pursuing her vocational goals through ministry, she can be found chasing after her children or collecting a new hobby. She has enjoyed learning about baking, cooking, sewing, quilting, belly dancing, yoga and meditation. Hardeman is excited to be a part of an organization that is continuing to grow and transform as it seeks to understand what God is doing in the world, “I thoroughly love seeing our students in the halls and hearing how God is changing their lives and how God is forming us all to be better ministers of the Gospel. My work in admissions is congruent with my call to be a minister and I love helping students figure out the next right steps in their ministerial growth.”
Q. How do you take your coffee/tea? A. Yes, please! Q. What is your favorite childhood pastime? A. Probably bossing around my little brother. Q. What is the first question you would ask God
in heaven? A. Why roaches? Really, did you mean to make those?
Q. What alternate career do you dream about? A. Being a midwife.
Q. Half-full or half-empty? A. Half-full all the way (she co-runs a podcast
called “Glass Half Full”— you should check it out).
Q. What is your favorite thing about Atlanta? A. The convergence of so many different kinds of
people and cultures.
TAMARA SOLOMON joined McAfee as the
enrollment associate on the Admissions Team in October of 2015. Frequently referred to as “the glue” of the admissions office, Solomon brings many assets to the work of recruitment and enrollment. She began her work in higher education in 1998, and has since worked at many colleges and universities in the states of Georgia and North Carolina. She has worked in several divisions including Undergraduate Admissions, Student Accounts, Cooperative Education/Internships, Career Services, and the Registrar’s Office. She is the proud mother of two fabulous kids and, in her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and close friends, writing short stories, attending concerts (especially outdoor shows), trying new restaurants and just enjoying all the positive things life has to offer. She may be better known by her alias, DJ Tam-Tam.
SUMMER 2016 |
A. I would go back to Germany and just tour as many
cities as I could.
Q. What is your favorite thing about Atlanta? A. There are a lot of things to do in Atlanta but, being
a “foodie,” I truly enjoy all of the food experiences I have in Atlanta. Atlanta has a lot of amazing places to eat, not only in the city, but in the surrounding cities.
KATE RINEY made the transition from McAfee student
to staff member very quickly when she returned to McAfee as associate director of admissions in September of 2015. After a quick stint in Houston working for a search firm, she found her way back to a job and people that feel like home. Riney is a coach, creator, curator, recruiter, renegade researcher, recovering know-it-all and aspiring urban goat-farmer. She is a Georgia peach, born and raised in Woodstock who now lives the city life in Southwest Atlanta with her mixed border collie, Brinkley. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Georgia State University and graduating summa cum laude in 2011, she came to McAfee as a graduate student with an interest in non-profit ministry. She graduated from Mercer in 2014 with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and is now proud to call herself
Tamara Solomon Solomon is excited by the energy at McAfee, not just from the students, but from the faculty and staff as well. She points out that, “From the moment you walk in the front door, you can feel that everyone is so hyped about what McAfee has to offer and it is exhibited on a daily basis.”
Q. How do you take your coffee/tea? A. Blueberry green tea is my absolute favorite, with
two packs of Splenda.
Q. What is your Netflix addiction? A. I am such a fan of the 70s sitcom, “Good Times.”
I have several seasons on DVD, and I can spend an entire weekend watching that series from the first episode to the last when they get out of the ghetto.
Q. What is the first question you would ask God in heaven? A. Did I make you proud?
Q. What alternate career do you dream about? A. Being a writer. Q. If you could vacation anywhere in the world, where
would it be?
| SUMMER 2016
a “double-bear” and work for her alma mater. Becoming the associate director of admissions has allowed Kate to put her skills and passions to use helping future McAfee graduates to realize their ministerial potential and gift them with the opportunity for intentional learning and development at McAfee. She’s excited to be a part of a community that has extraordinary vision and yet honors tradition. According to Riney, “McAfee represents the best of diversity and radical inclusion that MLK spoke of when he envisioned the Beloved Community. We aren’t perfect, but we make our mistakes together and help each other overcome them. It’s beautiful to be a part of a group of people who are as equally pious as they are brilliant and lack even a shred of elitism. I truly feel like I’m in a place that cares about God’s transformational work in the world.”
Q. How do you take your coffee? A. Coffee with coconut cream and a splash of stevia,
but, in a pinch, black tastes pretty good, too.
Q. What is your Netflix addiction? A. There are too many to list. The latest is “Grey’s
Anatomy” since I’ve been catching up on the last two seasons. I also love “Felicity” because J.J. Abrams (creator of “Lost,” “Alias” and “Fringe”) is a brilliant story-teller.
Q. What alternate career do you dream about? A. Being an FBI agent. Q. Tell us your favorite joke. A. Decaf coffee. Q. Who is your favorite theologian/preacher? A. Though he’s not an ordained minister or trained
theologian, I believe Gary Haugen, the CEO of International Justice Mission, is one of the best preachers the world knows today.
Q. What is your favorite thing about Atlanta? A. I love that there are so many funky and quirky
things to do from brunch crawls along the beltline, to zombie parades, to book festivals. There’s truly something for every lifestyle and hobby!
BRITTINI PALMER assumed a work study position at McAfee in October of 2015 to serve as assistant editor of Tableaux. She is a first year student at McAfee pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. Palmer is from a small town outside the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Steelton). She is a graduate of Virginia Union University where she received a B.A. in Mass Communications and Journalism. In addition to writing and freelance reporting, Palmer has always been active in the community and advocates for human rights.
Brittini Palmer She serves as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She was licensed as a minister in 2015 by Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church under the Rev. Tyrone Nelson (Richmond, Virginia). She believes everyone has a story and writes to bring those stories to life with a passion to help someone along the way. Palmer is excited to be a part of such a diverse community as McAfee.
Q. How do you take your coffee/tea? A. I don’t really drink coffee or tea. Q. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? A. Butter pecan. Q. What was your favorite childhood pastime? A. Cheerleading; I was a cheerleader for 12 years. Q. What is your Netflix addiction? A. “Grey’s Anatomy” and “NCIS.” Q. What alternate career do you dream about? A. Music producer! Q. Favorite theologian/preacher: A. Right now it’s Howard Thurman. SUMMER 2016 |
The Greatest Risk Worth Taking: McAfee Alumna Conducts World-Changing Research as Professor at the University of Edinburgh
here are some things we know for sure: nothing ever stays the same and change is never easy. The Rev. Dr. Leah E. Robinson, McAfee class of 2007, believes if ministers, theologians and people of faith are not willing to accept the change that happens in their prospective communities, then they will face the reality of a forgotten church.
| SUMMER 2016
Change is not just a relevant topic in churches in America today, but in the churches of Europe as well. Dr. Robinson, native of Ringgold, Georgia, and author of Embodied Peacebuilding: Reconciliation as Practical Theology (2015), is doing great work in Northern Ireland and Scotland. After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Robinson lectured at the University of Glasgow from 2010 to 2015. She has since returned to the University of Edinburgh as Lecturer of Practical and Pastoral Theology and has integrated herself into the greater community while challenging the status quo. â€œNorthern Ireland and Scotland are two places that suffer
from sectarianism issues between Catholics and Protestants. said, “I have found — moving overseas and being exposed My research is heavily tied in the cross community work to different theological beliefs — that one’s understanding of that I undertake in these two areas. Education around the nature of God is absolutely molded by one’s context. As I theology and practice is a key bit of this work, mostly grow older, I feel as though God has become more complex, because a lot of distrust of the ‘other’ community occurs more multifaceted, and much bigger than the ideas that because people simply are suspicious of what they do not I had as a child. God is revealed in a far more interesting know,” said Robinson. reality, through the faces, stories and encounters that we The idea of the unknown and fear causes disconnect meet along the way.” among many groups around the world. This disconnect extends As I grow older, I feel as though God has become further than just black and white or Catholic and Protestant. No more complex, more multifaceted, and much bigger great activist who stood up for what than the ideas that I had as a child. God is revealed they believed was right has faced an easy task. in a far more interesting reality, through the faces, “This research is a big risk. These are contexts where there is active stories and encounters that we meet along the way. animosity amongst communities, and by placing yourself in the middle, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to damage,” said Robinson. She says that a strong sense of call is imperative to take on this kind of risk. Her conviction stems from her grandmother who always treated people with the utmost respect and dignity and required her to do the same. She was greatly influenced by her grandmother’s example who taught her the importance of basing Christian activism on appreciation for the individual and the humanity of each person. She points out that in ministry it can be easy to place God in a box. To push the envelope can be perceived as negative and looked Robinson leads chapel services at the University of Edinburgh, and attends the Balshagray down upon. Embracing change Victoria Park Church in Glasgow, Scotland. can cause churches and families to split. While this is true, pushing the boundaries may be the needed ingredient to move forward. Listening and following the call of God can be risky Robinson said, “Change is incredibly important in the faith business, but it is one she is happy to take. As she continues community and in my career. I think for far too long the her research and action for peace, she encourages others church has ignored the fact that theology has adapted and in ministry to not stand idle on the sidelines, “Push the changed throughout history. To talk about this change or boundaries, speak from your heart and your mind and your context and I can promise you that we will still only to discuss the cultural influences on theology and the way we understand our own faith is seen as a risk, especially if be discussing [a fraction] of what God is actually about. you are from a denomination that believes that the Bible is What you will be doing is challenging prevailing theological inherently the word of God.” thought that looks to use religion as a tool for oppression, She adds that it is easier for people to go their separate or as a means of channeling hatred for social or political causes. This challenge is what some of the best theologians ways than to come together. Interestingly enough, there may be more commonalities within conflicting groups than of our time and times past have attempted and it is, perhaps, differences. Change in any context is never easy. Robinson the greatest risk worth taking in this field of study.”
SUMMER 2016 |
THE JOURNEY TO LEADERSHIP “God, a spiritual reality beyond ourselves, is the source of direction for the Christian traveler.” — W. Lloyd Allen
aul Knowlton, class of 2015, is not scared to step out on faith. His unique journey is full of honesty and risks beginning at a very young age. From a lawyer, to seminary student, to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Morningstar Children and Families Services, Inc., Knowlton listens and follows the voice of God. The road to becoming a CEO can be complex, filled with tactical choices, and rubbing elbows to get there. Knowlton’s journey simply started with him wanting to be a better lawyer. He wanted to see where his clients’ problems came from and how he could assist before he was presented with a crisis. After contemplation, he knew the complete answer could be found within theology. While at McAfee, Knowlton still worked part time as a law firm director. With what he learned, he was able to manage his employees and work with clients in a better way.
| SUMMER 2016
One Lawyer’s Transition from Seminary Student to CEO
One could not deny there was something special happening in his life. It was in a classroom that Knowlton was encouraged to step out of his comfort zone and step out on faith. He first publicly spoke in his pastoral care class about his experience as a child in the foster care system. His classmates encouraged him to look into his past to see what his life was trying to tell him. This is where he saw the importance of being open to the leading of the Spirit, and even the voice of a friend. He felt a certain comfort in the McAfee community and felt it was safe to be honest. After graduation, Knowlton did not have a job lined up. His wife received a job opportunity and they moved to Washington, D.C. This was an unfamiliar place, and he was determined to make not just a personal transition, but a professional transition. Even after turning in multiple applications, he was experiencing a lack of finances and nothing seemed to be working out. When things seemed to be falling apart, he didn’t give up but surrendered to God, “My McAfee journey has been book-ended by surrender. I can tell you the minute I felt like I surrendered to God was within just a few months of starting my studies.” Knowlton
“My McAfee journey has been book-ended by surrender. I can tell you the minute I felt like I surrendered to God was within just a few months of starting my studies.” had to surrender again during the graduation and jobsearch process, “I remember my prayer very clearly. I told God if this is where you want me to go, this is going to have to drop in my lap. The only thing I know to do is be a lawyer.” Not long after he prayed for God’s guidance and good will, he received the call to be the CEO of Morningstar. Morningstar is a faith based organization located in Brunswick, Georgia, providing quality programming in a caring, supportive and safe environment for children. Morningstar promotes positive behavioral changes through their services including residential care, mental health counseling, family support and therapeutic foster care. In his role, Knowlton focuses on organizational operations, fundraising and engaging the community. He emphasizes the importance of relationships and connecting to the community in Atlanta plus its surrounding areas to inform others of the services Morningstar provides. He is a member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, Georgia, where he was ordained and now serves as a missionary partner in his role with Morningstar. Knowlton was prepared with the practical skills for this position, but did not know when and how God would intervene to lead him to his new career. He and his mentors believe that his transition from lawyer, to seminary student, to CEO was more than a career change. He experienced an internal spiritual transformation that altered his journey.
As CEO, Knowlton continues trying to operate in a spirit of surrender as scary as it may be, setting the tone for the rest of the organization. He reminds us that leadership is knowing how to follow and rely on God’s direction to make our calling as Christians known. Morningstar Children and Families Services, Inc. is a not-forprofit 501(c)(3) organization is licensed by the State of Georgia. You can visit morningstarcfs.org for additional information.
SUMMER 2016 |
Restoring Ju STUDENTS INNOVATE CHURCHESâ€™ APPROACH TO PEACEMAKING
ustice There’s talk that the Church of the 21st century has become irrelevant, pushed to the sidelines as a spectator and even consumer of culture. Like a worried mother, she hovers, watching the disturbing action, but not interfering. As a result, sermons are shallow, offering plates are empty, church staffs are downsizing, and prospective seminary students are told to choose a divinity school by finding the lowest price tag. At McAfee, our students believe that being the Church is a full contact sport with no spectators allowed. Our students jump into the mess of culture wars, unjust systems, corruption and chaos to make a difference and foster change. Adam Gray, class of 2016 at McAfee, expresses his passion as he talks about the way chapel at McAfee has modeled a new way forward for him. Currently, Gray serves as the Associate Pastor of Worship and Spiritual Formation at Peachtree Baptist Church. Founded in 1847, Peachtree Baptist Church, one of the oldest Baptist churches in Atlanta, has historically been a predominantly white congregation. However, the last
20-25 years has produced a more culturally diverse surrounding community and the congregation is starting to reflect this change. “We really look at the passage, Revelation 7:9, where every tribe and nation are gathered around the throne. We want our worship at Peachtree to be a forerunner of that day. God has given us these different backgrounds, points of views, and cultural experiences for the good of the kingdom,” said Gray. They started by finding the things that are most important from all the different traditions that make up the church body, developing a worship service that is authentically Peachtree. “This sometimes means a choir will sing an African American Spiritual, one selection may be in Spanish, and the person leading the prayer may be from China. There are going to be parts you may or may not connect to, [but] when we stretch toward each other, we can worship together,” said Gray. “We are very close to being able to call ourselves a multicultural church. We elected the first persons of color to the church council this year, a man from Kenya and a woman from India. Our Kenyan members have Kenyan friends and our Chinese members have Chinese friends. If we can connect those bigger groups, I am truly excited at what Peachtree will look like five years from now.” Reconciliation lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Gray believes the church has the power to influence the community, and if Peachtree can be the model, other churches will fall in line: “There is a richness that you’re missing out on if you only listen to people exactly like you. You must do the hard work of making that first relationship. This will open the door to so many things you never imagined.” Le’Roy Davenport, class of 2016 at McAfee, has been selected to serve as the Coordinator of Racial Equity at his alma mater, Mississippi State University. When Davenport tells his story, it’s clear his entire life has been preparing him for the ministry of racial reconciliation, “As a child, I was the only black person on my baseball team. In high school, I worked at a restaurant and was the first black person to work in the front. After two years of working there, I was promoted to manager and given a key. The owner told me I was the first person he trusted who was not white.” Davenport was accepted into Mississippi State University, a predominately white institution, and was the only black student worker in his office. He didn’t yet understand the impact of his presence as the only person of color in those environments. When God led him to McAfee, it gave him the opportunity to be in a much more diverse community and dialogue with people from many different backgrounds. Davenport, who now serves as
SUMMER 2016 |
“Before we try to tackle anything, we need to listen. When you begin to listen, you understand the real issue. Once we break down those barriers, that is where the healing process can begin.”
Associate Minister at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur said, “I learned to be bold with my voice, to be bold in what I believe.” At McAfee, he began to understand how he could make an impact in places like Mississippi still struggling with strained race relations. As Davenport travels throughout Mississippi to meet with organizations like the NAACP, rotary clubs, black and white ministers and other ethnic groups, he said, “We all will sit at the same table to discuss ways to bring racial healing and reconciliation in the state of Mississippi. Before we try to tackle anything, we need to listen. When you begin to listen, you understand the real issue. Once we break down those barriers, that is where the healing process can begin.” Davenport understands Rev. Corey Brown Mississippi has a reputation as a state with a deep racist and hateful history, but wants to help heal those wounds. “I have always said there is only one Heaven, and if we want to be together in Heaven we have to learn how to be with each other on Earth,” he said. Traveling the world for over 24 years with the U.S. Navy left one McAfee student feeling that the Christian faith has to be larger than what he learned through Western traditions.
| SUMMER 2016
When the Rev. Corey Brown was deployed to the Middle East, his suspicions were confirmed. There, he witnessed a brotherly connection amongst people of different religions and it prompted him to seek relationships with people of other faiths who seemed different than him. Brown said he started the BRIDGE Interfaith Alliance with the intent to show the true meaning of Christianity and to bridge the gap between other faiths. The BRIDGE symbolizes crossing the chasms of fear, ignorance, miseducation and extremism to reach a more symbiotic relationship between the faiths of the world. This organization is new but impactful, welcoming all faiths and people alike. While the media often portrays other faiths to be inferior to Christianity, Brown wants to bring light to the importance of love, which leads to action. People of other faiths often have a very open and curious posture compared to Christianity’s normally defensive stance. Brown said, “I
was a speaker on an interfaith panel in Talladega, Alabama, at a B’nai B’rith Youth Organization event for Jewish youth. There were nearly 300 children in attendance, and they were very eager to ask me, as well as my Muslim and Jewish counterparts, questions about our views.” Brown said, “I think the love that we have for each other has to be true, unconditional and unbiased. We need to come from a place of truly wanting the best for each other. It really breaks my heart as I watch the Islamophobia being created by political rhetoric. I have a lot of Muslim friends who are hurt and their kids feel threatened. They’ve lived in the United States since they were born. We have to learn to treat each other better, with much more respect and love.” Brown has become one of the first nonMuslim speakers for the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB) of Atlanta in order to help foster more accurate understanding of Islam and more respect for our Muslim neighbors. In addition to founding the BRIDGE, he and his wife, Cheryl, are the founders and ministers of Real Life Ministries — a missional community focusing on interfaith work in the Hall County community. Their congregation aids the homeless, feeds the hungry, and mentors returning citizens as a part of Governor Deal’s Healing Community Initiative pilot program in Hall County. He challenges everyone, young and old alike, to go meet their neighbor, find out what they like to eat, talk to their kids and simply connect with others: “I think it is a part of the command that Jesus gave to love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor. He didn’t just say ‘love your Christian neighbor or Jewish neighbor.’ He said ‘love your neighbor.’”
Dr. Melissa Browning introduced the course, Restorative Justice and Christian Social Ethics. Students in the course are expected to seek transformation in their churches and communities using the framework of Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of Beloved Community, John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice and Walter Rauschenbusch’s Theology for the Social Gospel. Amanda Washington, a current Restorative Justice student, explained, “What I like about this class is the hands-on approach to learning. We don’t just sit in class and talk about justice, but go out into the communities to find ways to influence our work as Christian leaders.” Washington is both leading her community and participating in the life of the local church through the dReam Center Church in Atlanta where she serves on the dReam girls ministry and media team reaching out to women and celebrating them. Browning reminds students that they will not learn for the sake of learning or with the incentive of earning a grade,
“I think the love that we have for each other has to be true, unconditional and unbiased. We need to come from a place of truly wanting the best for each other.”
As an activist, Dr. Melissa Browning is committed to ending the death penalty in Georgia and to bringing light to the injustice of mass incarceration. She works with congregations like her church home, Park Avenue Baptist, which emphasizes community development work and activism as part of the Christian life. As a scholar-practitioner, she encourages her students to not just talk about change but invoke change. In her tenure as Assistant Professor of Contextual Ministry, Browning
SUMMER 2016 |
Restorative Justice class taught by Dr. Melissa Browning but with a goal of creating real change in the community. Students step out of their comfort zones through field experiences, outside readings, and group projects that create resources for the community. Their work this semester is centered primarily on three criminal justice reform issues: mass incarceration, the death penalty and police violence. Students participate in vigils and protests, visit prisons, and lobby government in the spirit of restorative justice. Quinta Ellis, who is a first-year student at McAfee, said, “My knowledge of restorative justice, our ‘injustice system’, and the impact of crime and incarceration on the victim, guilty, and both families has expanded exponentially. We must consider new ways of realizing justice — for all.” Ellis is from Cedar Grove AME Zion Church in North Carolina and serves as the Southeastern Region Chair on the Connectional Young Adult Christian Ministry (YACM) Steering Committee. The students are encouraged and challenged to not just work in the church, but to be the church. Students from
this class created church curriculum entitled Ties that Bind: Breaking Down Barriers and Building Connections, a joint course for seminary students and incarcerated women focused on spirituality and embodied theology, and tool-kits for both reentry from prison and the Black Lives Matter movement to assist churches with reentry ministry and racial reconciliation respectively. Ellis urges us all to consider their part in working towards justice, “The church has sat comfortably on the hill for far too long and now should take its light down into the valleys of corrupt politics, erroneous racial and socioeconomicbased convictions, denial and mistreatment of the mentally impaired, and lack of rehabilitative processes in prisons.” Voices like Ellis’, Gray’s, Washington’s, Davenport’s, and Brown’s remind us that if we are to be conformed to Christ, we must engage the world we are living in. We cannot fix it, but we also cannot leave it alone. McAfee students are leading the way, making peace and making church history.
“The church has sat comfortably on the hill for far too long and now should take its light down into the valleys of corrupt politics, erroneous racial and socioeconomic-based convictions, denial and mistreatment of the mentally impaired, and lack of rehabilitative processes in prisons.”
| SUMMER 2016
THE COURAGE TO SPEAK UP Learning to Think and Act Ethically in a Divided World
or David Gushee, the Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, the last year has been a
whirlwind of accomplishments in the field of Christian Ethics. In his 21st book, Changing Our Mind, published in October of 2014, he addressed the controversial topic of the Churchâ€™s relationship to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Not long after, he was elected to not one, but two prominent positions in the academy: Vice President of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) Board of Directors and president-elect of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE). SUMMER 2016 |
The appointments have added a lot to his plate, but he is excited to serve both of these organizations in their work of advancing scholarship to ensure institutions teach religion and ethics in a responsible way. Gushee said he is looking at the bigger picture, “Ethics [as a field of teaching] is threatened at a lot of schools who think they don’t need it anymore. A lot of positions are being cut. To a lesser extent, this is also true with religious studies. Those of us who do this work can think of one hundred reasons why this is a bad idea,” said Gushee. “Ethics deals with moral questions and dilemmas we face in the world. It takes a certain amount of specialization to understand what is going on with those issues. This cannot be done accidently, you need people with training.” For Gushee, it is more important to stand in solidarity with others than to preserve his own sense of security. He was trained in a tradition that says professors’ jobs are not solely teaching but practicing what they teach by standing
| SUMMER 2016
“Ethics deals with moral questions and dilemmas we face in the world. It takes a certain amount of specialization to understand what is going on with those issues. This cannot be done accidently, you need people with training.” up publicly for a cause they believe is right, “I had teachers who were at the march on Washington D.C. in 1963. I had role models who knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who opposed the Nazis), and who were inspired by early pioneers of Feminism,” Gushee said. In addition to serving on faculty, Gushee is also the director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer, which promotes public dialogue, research and constructive solutions for important public issues. He
leverages his leadership positions to advocate for more than LGBT rights. Gushee addresses the controversial issues of capital punishment, “Often, God has proved faithful for those who have gone abortion and torture among others in his writing, teaching and public speaking. And like many out on the limb for people in need. It may not be visible of McAfee’s professors, Gushee serves the local right away, but don’t shrink back if you feel God is nudging church by teaching Sunday School and filling in other roles for the congregation of First Baptist you to speak up for somebody. There is a lot at stake here. Church of Decatur. Gushee’s practice of public ethics reflects his People are being mistreated, targeted and even killed.” understandings about Jesus’ teachings, who Jesus is, and who Jesus called us to be. On the impetus who have gone out on the limb for people in need. It may for his most recent book, Gushee said, “There are not be visible right away, but don’t shrink back if you feel an increasing number of relationships that matter to me God is nudging you to speak up for somebody. There is a with LGBT people, including one of my sisters and people lot at stake here. People are being mistreated, targeted and at church. This made the issue increasingly urgent for me.” even killed. You have people who do the targeting and the He said, “People were beginning to look at me to do more. hurting, and then you have the people that do nothing I was aware I had a platform, and if I were to take on this at all. The [latter] are not bad people, but I’m trying to issue people would listen.” Gushee knew that it would be encourage the formation of people who will be braver a personal risk to speak up and rethink his position, but than that,” said Gushee. “Jesus was the ultimate risk-taker. he also knew he had safety within the academic freedom When you take a risk, you have to go right or left. You ensured at Mercer. have to pick a course and not look back. Living with a It’s never a safe feeling to change; change takes risk. guilty conscious is a bad feeling.” Gushee said, “Often, God has proved faithful for those
SUMMER 2016 |