Over the course of the next few weeks seminaries and schools of theology across the nation will be holding graduations. Sending out into the world people who are academically trained as theologians and ministry practitioners, these institutions will begin preparing for a new group of eager minds to mold. I am curious as I contemplate this season of transition, whether these students have been prepared to face the challenges of ministry in our present global sociopolitical context.
Anyone who follows my work knows that I am particularly concerned with imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy and the ways in which interlocking systems of marginalization continue to collude to further disenfranchise a multitude of people. A quick glance at my work will reveal a strong cultural critique from a liberative lens, but what may not be a clear is my deep concern for tradition, legacy, and heritage. I do not hold a socially progressive lens in polarity to a deeply traditioned orientation, I see the two engaged in a sacred dance requiring each to hold tension with the other. Seminarians are graduating into a crisis that falls in the midst of that sacred tension; I fear many do not know it.
Our global community is in a time of unrest. The sociopolitical realities across the world are creating a common existential crisis. From Brexit, to the election of Donald Trump, to hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, humanity is wrestling with the very foundations of safety and human flourishing. At the same time religious education has focused its attention on preparing students for job placement after graduation. Often at the expense of deep education of the soul many seminaries are offering shallow schooling of the mind. This education versus schooling is in my opinion held by many institutions as a binary construct that favors a false dichotomy of head over heart. The need for institutions to be financially sustainable has put unjust pressure on them to fill seats and sometimes the filling of seats disallows the filling of hearts.
As a Bishop and educator, I would like to invite us into a deeper exploration beyond binaries. Here at Seattle University the faculty and staff are constantly in dialogue around how to provide students with education that is formation oriented while preparing them for real-world job placement. My own bias says that the School of Theology and Ministry is doing a stellar job of living into that tension. Nevertheless, I am deeply troubled as I take in the national landscape of religious education.
I believe viable theology has a reciprocal relationship with the community with which it interacts, and the current sociopolitical climate of the global community demands extensive education in liberation theology with a resistance edge. The principal insight of liberation theology insists that redemption is not only the rescue of certain individuals for eternal life in another world, but the fulfillment of all humanity in the political and social realities of this world (McFague 1987). A spirituality of resistance implies that if an oppressed people have pride in their own culture and heritage, as well as the knowledge that they are children of God, then they will not be as vulnerable to the oppressive structures, systems, and ideologies that attempt to convince them that they are nobody, and that their lives are not worth living (Douglas 1994).
The Kindom of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis that reconciles the truth of both (King 2015). If seminaries and schools of theology are to indeed prepare graduates to find gainful employment while building a more just and human world, it is my opinion that they must redouble their efforts and commitment to teaching through a liberation lens, in a world where so many are so broken by so few. To the class of 2017, may you indeed be empowered to live the Spirit in the world!
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.
King, Martin Luther. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.
McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.