The Pastor as Theologian

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Praxis is the mixture of reflection and action; it is the activity of theorizing and practice (Freire 2000). The pastor is a practical theologian and their job incorporates thinking in community about God and moving that community toward seeking the character of God in both systemic and individual lived realities of daily life.   Good pastoral theologians possess the ability to speak meaningfully and truthfully about broad topics of ultimate social concern rooted in a deep understanding of the nature and character of God. A true pastoral voice attempts to speak well of God, and to live a reflection of God in world. The role of the pastor theologian is, however understood in whatever tradition we embrace, is in some shape or form about bringing people face to face with the reality of God, responding to God’s invitation in their lives, and shaping their existence by the eternal truths revealed in sacred text (Strachan 2015). The pastor theologian understands their role not only as leading the worship life of a community, but shaping the thought life of a community with an eye toward active engagement in the world.

Church is a countercultural enterprise which models an alternative set of values and practices to those of the larger world (Allen 2008). Christian communities should not seek to leave their home cultures; rather they remain in them subverting and subduing anything that deters human flourishing in order to bring the realm of God into manifestation within that culture (Volf 2011). Theology is that discipline which has the responsibility of continually examining the proclamation of the church in light of Christ. The task of theology, then is to critique and revise the langue of the church (Cone 1997).  Pastoral theologians focus the community on transforming themselves and the world in light of Gospel narrative. Churches need the preachers who proclaim the Gospel to be theologians who are skilled at interpreting it. Reflecting theologically keeps preachers present to attend to the realities the Gospel is meant to impact, enabling them to take an ancient text and make it applicable to contemporary circumstances (Cone, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody 2018).  This is the only way the church reveals a community bound together by their willingness to journey into the meaning and mystery of God. The place where disparate parts of our humanity can be bound together and then kept from being separated again (Spong 2001). 

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As a practical theologian, the pastor must engage the community in making connections between their life experiences and their current worldviews.  The pastor challenges everyone to think critically about the roles their family histories, ecclesial formations, and social contexts have played in the way they engage the world (Francis 2015). This is done in light of a clear understanding of the person and work of Jesus and the intent of the Gospel.  Insomuch as theology seeks to understand, to interpret, and to impart the Word of God and its meanings in various historical, cultural, and social context, the task of the preacher is to preach a new world into existence (Bond 2013).  A text cannot be understood apart from the world it creates in the imagination of the hearer. Its effects- social, emotional, psychological, and otherwise – are vital to any extraction of meaning, since that meaning has no productive existence outside the mind of the hearer (Townes 1997). The pastoral theologian acts as a co-creator of the work by supplying the portion of the text that is not written but implied. This is a powerful task in that it sets the frequency of understanding and action in any given community. 

It is of the utmost importance that we have pastoral theologians who have been steeped in a theological education that looks beyond the walls of the academy, historically truncated faith genealogies, contemporary institutional communities of believers, all of which have been guilty of centering the self as adjudicators of reality (Hopkins 2007).  We need pastoral theologians who see themselves not just as CEO’s or life coaches but fundamentally as prophetic voices holding up the folly of the culture and pointing that culture toward a preferable future that is rooted in the realm of God – a future that centers the love of the Divine for any and all equally and without dissemination. We need a generation of pastoral theologian who are on fire with passion for human flourishing who are committed to the whole council of God.

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited


Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.

Bond, Adam L. 2013. The Imposing Preacher: Samual DeWitt Proctor & Black Public Faith . Minneapolis: Frotress Press .

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black power. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

—. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Francis, Leah Gunning. 2015. Ferguson & Faith Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community. St Louis: Chalice Press.

Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.

Hopkins, Dwight N., ed. 2007. Black Faith and Public Talk. Waco : Baylor University Press .

Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.

Strachan, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen. 2015. The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic.

Townes, Emilie M., ed. 1997. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope Salvation & Transformation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

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Dangerous Times

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Our human siblings of the dominant culture far too often insist upon continuously descending to their lowest estate by committing acts of terror in houses of worship. These terrorist acts seek to dehumanize minoritized people and separate them from any notion of Imago Dei. In  the Christian and Jewish traditions, Imago Dei is the theological concept (based on Genesis 1:26-34) that God made the first people in a way that very much resembles God’s own self. The doctrine purports that humanity is made in God’s image and, therefore, the individual is of sacred worth (Lightsey 2015).  Further, the doctrine of Imago Dei postulates that humanity in its authenticity is united with God in character and nature—even if brokenness and sin, in some theologies, has transgressed this original nature (Ruether 1993). This same concept is found in some form in every major religious tradition. In light of this, our task—as people made in the image and likeness of God—is to overcome the temptation not to love and appreciate all those whom God has called good (Lightsey 2015). Supremacist terrorist choose to carry out their egregious acts of mayhem and murder in places of worship precisely to eradicate any hope that marginalized people will see themselves as anything other than objects subject to the control of their will. 

Black Churches, Synagogues, Temples and Mosques provide marginalized people the space to give voice to their deepest feelings and expression of their theological prophetic imagination. These minoritized spaces with their own forms of religious worship is a world uninvaded and unmolested by the gaze and governance of the dominant culture (Frazier 1974). Religion poses the biggest threat to systems of domination because it emboldens the adherents to see themselves as powerful subjects rather than oppressed objects.  The Black church was held as the exemplar institution in the Black Community to resist the opportunity-hoarding of the dominant culture in ways that further disinherit Black people.   Opportunity-hoarding, a practice of the dominant group, keeps good things like

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education, jobs, and capital within their social network (which is most often predominantly white). This habitual way of acting reproduces racial disadvantage (Glaude 2016).  In this way, most religious spaces that serve the marginalized function in ways that promote this life empowerment to the community. The solidarity fostered within these religious communities threatens the dominant power structure to the degree that they are willing to turn these Holy sites into sites of terror.

Arrogant elitism and shameless privilege have come together in the most traumatizing way in our culture and the blatant manifestation of it has come to bare in shootings, bombings, and burnings of houses of worship. Much of the current horror that has been inflicted upon religious sites is connected to a sense of entitlement that has grown among the privileged. When you have been in power and privilege for an extended period of time, anything that seeks to decenter your extreme advantage feels to you like persecution. The response to this rage is manifesting in murder. This is not a new phenomenon, particularly here in the United States of America, where the foundational economy was built on a structure that depended on cheap, exploitable, rightless labor and required the subordination of a whole race of people.  

The mere suggestion that those people be given basic human rights was called an attack on the southern way of life (Anderson 2016). The cowardly burning and bombing of churches has long been the path of weak minded people steeped in a culture of dominance and supported by theologians who are complicit in the worse form of spiritual abuse.

So, I write to remind the church of our primary task in this hour as we face the reality of a culture of hate. The purpose of our religious spaces must be to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998).  Our communal gatherings must formulate patterns and rituals that bear hope for the liberation of all people.  We must not shy away from being the moral voice of the nation and the world, calling all people to carve out a culture of resistance, that speaks truth to power and disallows the principles of justice and holiness to be hijacked, abused, and overlooked. We must have the courage to find the truth in our traditions and then have the courage to be true to the truth. 

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited
Anderson, Carol. 2016. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury.

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America . New York: Schocken Books.

Glaude, Eddie S. 2016. Democracy In Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. New York: Crown Publishers.

Lightsey, Pamela R. 2015. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology . Eugene, Or: Pickwick Publications.

Ruether, Rosemary. 1993. Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

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Lessons from Jesus

After a week of examining the ministry of Jesus, which culminates with the triumph of love over death, I have been reminded of some notable insights. The work of Jesus reminds us that the prophetic instinct always discomforts the comfortable and comforts the discomforted. Idolatry in its most basic form is a human attempt to evade or deny the contingency or fragility of any human construct (including government and religion). Just as in the time of Jesus, modern attempts to ossify, petrify, or freeze human creations of method, technique, rationality, sexuality, nationality, race, or empire are suspect. The prophetic work of Jesus was not about predicting outcomes but rather to identify concrete evils (West 2002). Much of what passes for prophetic ministry in today’s vernacular is missing the complete picture of the prophetic ministry of Jesus.

The social teachings of Jesus: respect for the person; service as “summum bonum”; overcoming evil with good; and the equality of humanity situate him as a radical revolutionary prophet  (Rustin 2012). 

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These teachings are diametrically opposed to contemporary popular culture. If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then we are in need of the message of Jesus in every cultural outlet known to humanity (Douglas 1999).  The prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy, all in service to laissez faire market capitalism which neglects the poor, undermines the dignity of labor, threatens the environment, and glorifies greed; makes the prophetic message of Jesus completely countercultural. This countercultural message is as relevant and necessary today as it was over two thousand years ago.   The gospel of Jesus accents decision, commitment, engagement, and action which transforms what is in the light of that which should be. It does so because Jesus recognizes the dignity of persons is their ability to contradict what is, to change and be changed, and to act in light of that which is not –yet. This also recognizes the depravity of persons is their proclivity to cling to the moment, to refuse to transform or be transformed. This situates the proper loci of Christianity in the center of this worldly liberation and other worldly salvation (West 2002).

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The teaching of Jesus can best be described as a seamless garment, a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death (McCoy 2015).  The ethics that emerge in the teaching of Jesus show God’s defense and vindication of the oppressed, a critique of the dominant systems of power and their powerholders, the vision of a new age to come in which injustice is overcome by the reign of peace and justice for all. They are ethics that denounce religious ideologies and social systems that function to justify and sanctify the dominant unjust social order (Ruether 1993). We can no longer pretend be followers of Jesus without wearing the seamless garment of these ethics with courage. The real work of following Jesus retaining our prophetic critique in order to speak truth to power knowing we cannot assimilate or incorporate because we dare not render unintelligible the radical mess

age of progress that happens when you point to the ethic of Jesus.

From Jesus’ personal mission statement taken from the book of Isaiah to His last moments intimate moments with His disciples, his ministry was focused on service. He was consistently serving the needs of individuals and the community. The work he did to maintain his ministry was minimal in comparison to the work he did to benefit the individual and redirect power in the social space.  It is easy for those in power and those with privilege to ignore the emphasis of Jesus on social service and redirect the attention to

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otherworldly attributes because they can escape the call to service that central to following Jesus. For those on the margins this is not so easy because the conditions of tyranny that they suffer on a daily basis and the attacks on their very embodiment are most in need of the attention of Jesus and His modern followers. I am grateful to be reminded of the person and work of Jesus. I am personally called to lean into the invitation to take up my own cross and follow Jesus in this way of being in the world. The road is rough, and the going is tough, and the hills are hard to climb, but I have decided to make the way of Jesus my choice.

Feel Free to Comment Below!

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical Professor

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .

McCoy, John A. 2015. A Still and Queit Conscience: The Archbishop WHo Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church . Maryknoll: Orbis.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston : Beacon Press .

Rustin, Bayard. 2012. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. Edited by Micheal G Long. San Francisco: City Light Books.

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

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The Death of the Cross

An honest analysis of Holy Week invites us to take seriously the death of Jesus. It is easy to rush to the glorious resurrection and the triumph of life over death, but if we are ever to take seriously the power of the resurrection, we must be radically acquainted with death. For those of us living in the contemporary moment the paradox of a crucified Jesus at the heart of the Christian story is amplified when we look at the reality of modern government sanctioned executions of innocent persons. This paradox is particularly evident as we consider crucifixion was a particular form of torture reserved by the Roman Empire for insurrectionists and rebels, and our own nation has often used capital punishment in much the same

way (Cone 2011). The cross of Jesus, a paradoxical religious symbol, inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  Maybe this year as we engage Holy Week we should really look at the Jesus of the crucifixion.

The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body shows up in Palestine with an anti-imperialist message over against the religious tradition of his time.  It is Jesus who unhinges the relationship between the underprivileged and the privileged: born in a manger and becoming King of the Jews without amassing either wealth or military might. By meeting needs of the poor, hungry, those without healthcare, and the mentally ill, Jesus becomes popular with the masses. It is not from the center of power and privilege he moves the crowds but by serving the needs of the people.  The narrative of the life of Jesus highlights his lived reality as a practicing Jew living in a territory controlled by Roman political, military, and economic forces. Jesus through preaching and practice, in living and behavior performed masculinity in ways that opposed patriarchal expressions of maleness (Copeland 2010). Any nonnormative behavior from those who will engage the act of leadership leads to the death of a cross.

The cross of Jesus is moored to his engagement as a political operative and revolutionary.  The message he proclaimed not only called for change in individual hearts but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures in his setting in life: colonized Israel. If Jesus had his way, neither the Roman Empire and the ruling elites among his own people would have held their positions of power (Hendricks 2006). The cross follows a call for a radical redistribution of authority and power, goods, and resources in favor of those on the margins of society.

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Jesus’ awareness of his ministry charge, noted in Luke 4:18, was in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah; therefore, if leaders are to be faithful to the work of Jesus they will engage prophetic praxis. This engagement will always cause them to risk popularity and possibly even safety.   Sallie McFague, a prolific feminist theologian, taught that if one understands the life and death of Jesus as a parable of God’s relation to the world, then being a Christian means to be willing to look “God-wards” through the Jesus story. Further, one is constrained to ask how that story is significant now (1987). This is of great import in that what makes theology distinctively Christian is its analysis in light of the person and work of Jesus. The cross is the destination on the way to resurrection that the leader must prepare for. Such vulnerability for leaders includes the task of critical theological reflection; this should result in leaders who think critically about the role of family formation in their own history, their ecclesial formation, and their social context.  All this is needed to be faithful to Gospel values as seen in the person and work of Jesus (Francis 2015).  May we become radically acquainted with the cross in this Holy Week.

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical Professor

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Francis, Leah Gunnning. 2015. Fergusen & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community. St. Louis : Chalice Press.

Hendricks, Obrey. 2006. The Politics of Jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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The Palm Sunday Crowd

Palm Sunday has historically focused on the Triumphant Entry of Jesus. It has centered the narrative of Jesus’ prophetic critique of the Roman government delivered through an act of political satire that mocked imperialism and its pageantry. Prophetic critique can be defined as a principled public criticism of and opposition to systematic injustice and Jesus ride through the center of town on a lowly donkey surely qualifies this scene (Hendricks 2011). What we rarely talk about is what this moment may have been for those bore witness to the scene. Why would they cheer and celebrate this liberative movement, and yet a week later those same crowds cried out for Jesus to receive the death penalty? What was it about these people that caused them to respond in vastly different ways to the same voice of liberation?

I submit, that the crowds of oppressed people born under Roman occupation, suffered from self-hate and oppression sickness.  Oppression sickness is internalized oppression that causes the oppressed to be infected by the sickness of the oppressor (Flunder 2005). It happens when people who are oppressed begin to see themselves in the same way the oppressor sees them and causes the oppressed who long for freedom to reject those who speak of freedom.  There is often immense struggle for oppressed or exploited groups to have or maintain a standpoint on which to critique dominant structures because in their own minds the experience of the oppressor confers special jurisdiction over the right to speak about oppression (hooks 1994).  That is to say the experience of having no voice teaches people to remain voiceless, and one exceptional voice of liberation is often not enough to sustain a movement toward liberation.

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One definition of a prophet is a person who threatens a culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads. Jesus observed that societies kill those prophets and when the threat of their prophetic voice is gone, they build monuments to the prophets and to watered down, sanitized versions of the teaching of those prophets. They are no longer then cultural critics, rather they become tools of the dominant power structures of those cultures. Jesus obviously intuited this would be his own fate and yet engaged his role in the epoch fiercely (Pearce 2002). Oppressed people struggle to identify the voice of the prophet until they are handed a sanitized version of the prophet, at which time they begin to question the narrative and move toward the potency of the true message. We see this very scenario played out in the lives of Malcolm X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Creaser Chavez, and Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J.  

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What the crowd failed to realize is the same thing that oppressed people everywhere must learn. It is only through rejection of oppression – which is always defined as rebellion – that liberation comes. Truly the message of Jesus was love, and the only way to demonstrate true love of self and of the oppressor alike is to rebel against the tyranny of domination. Paradoxical though it may seem love may only be found in the wholesale rejection of the violence of oppression (Freire 2000).  Jesus’ act of political resistance was seen by Rome as a threat in that oppressors conditioned by the experience of oppressing others will always see anything other than dominating as a violation of their sovereign rights. The crowd had not moved far enough toward internal freedom and decolonization to recognize the messenger of hope in the moment as signal that true liberation had come.

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Jesus engages a pedagogy of the oppressed in this moment as prophetic praxis. The crowd fails to engage this learning movement because the threat of freedom was far greater than they had been conditioned to process and yet the moment is not lost on us as we look back through the privileged lens of history.   I wonder how far we have really come as we engage our celebration of Palm Sunday? Do we see this as an opportunity to speak truth to power and call the attention of our congregation to the dominating forces of evil? Are we in danger of repeating the mistake of the crowd in not recognizing how imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy violently marginalizes the masses while the wealthiest one percent have become a ruling class? Will we cry hosanna while doing nothing to support those voices who bear witness to our freedom? Who will we be in this moment?

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical Professor

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.

Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.

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Musings on Theological Education

The traditional model for theological education in the West has for years featured a banking method of instruction. The banking model featured a sage on the stage dumping information into the assumedly empty heads of students who were expected to regurgitate the thoughts and ideas of learned professors. Somehow our institutions of higher learning have come to see knowledge as a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those they consider to know little or nothing (Freire 2000).  Theological scholarship of a Western Anglo-Teutonic nature upholds a hegemonic view of sacred text and disinherits voices from the margins in the quest of faith seeking understanding. Much of the difficulty in moving our theological thoughts in a progressive direction is rooted in teaching methodology that upholds bias toward the supremacy of the dominant culture. Theologies are about power…. These discourses and seminary pedagogies are about the hegemony of power- the distribution and the economy of this power (Cone 2018). 

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A full eighty percent of the faculty teaching in ATS (Association of Theological Schools) accredited institutions in 2017 where white (Young 2018). Given the abundant weight of dominant voices and the overwhelming preference for the western banking model of education, seminaries and schools of theology have often been repositories for colonization. In the banking system of education, the assumptive narrative is that memorizing information and regurgitating it represents gaining knowledge that has been properly deposited, leaving little room for resistance discourse or counter-cultural critique (hooks 1994).  Perhaps one of the reasons there is a steady decline in the enrollment of most seminaries and schools of theology is that they are woefully tone deaf to the voices of those on the margins. The faculty fails to embody and reflect the reality of the communities who most engage organized religion and there is little education for critical consciousness.  While I have heard countless arguments regarding the reasons for the decline in enrollment, few are taking seriously that the pedagogy of our religious institutions is out of sync with the needs of our society.

It might serve us well to reconsider a new pedagogical framework entirely for theological education. I suggest that our programs begin to feature voices from the margins who traffic in education for critical consciousness. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation (Freire 2000).  Forty-two percent of students enrolled in ATS accredited institutions self-identify as being other than the dominant culture and yet their stories are still not centered in the academic enterprise and the majority of their instruction is not by people who share their narrative (Young 2018).  How revolutionary would it be if these voices, along with women and other minoritized communities, were centered in institutions that make the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute to the central goal of expanding the conversation? It would be interesting to see religious education where the experience and the voice of the students was centered on par with the academic training of the professor?

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Accepting the decentering of the West globally, embracing multiculturalism, compels educators to focus attention on the issue of voice. A focus on who is speaking and who is listening rather than seeing students as passive consumers in the educative process would be transformational for many seminaries. This is the revival that is needed in the halls of religious education. Religion does change and religions do change and often that change is superficial before it is structural and systemic, but if religious education as we know it is to survive in the contemporary moment, our systems of religious education must catch up to the changes already in the making (Frazier 1974).  

Heretofore much religious education in the West has lacked integrity. While holding forth lofty aims such as freedom, equality, and justice to be central to the message of the Gospel, there has been an absolute failure to create learning environments and outcomes which reflect these very virtues. Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs, and behaviors. When our behavior is congruent with our professed values, when ideals and practice match, we have integrity (hooks, Rock My Soul 2003). The current sociopolitical landscape is inviting religious education to a new integrity where its own praxis and pedagogy become the sight of liberating education.

Feel free to comment below!

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical ProfessorSCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America . New York: Schocken Books.

Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.

hooks, bell. 2003. Rock My Soul. New York: Atria Books.

—. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Young, Mary H. 2018. Committee on Race and Ethnicity: Cultivating Educational Capacity Conference . Pittsburgh : The Association of Theological Schools.

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Islamophobia and the Christian Voice

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Christian fueled Islamophobia is an arrogant disremembering of history and sacred text. Islamophobia is the irrational fear of people who adhere to the spiritual practices of Islam, more commonly known as Muslims. Islam together with Judaism and Christianity are a connected family of religious practices who trace their collective origin to Abraham. As Abrahamic faiths, these three religions have a common history of sacred text that contain violence. For Christians to read Islam as violent because the sacred text, known as the Quran, affirms violence is disingenuous and the height of religious hypocrisy.  The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is replete with violence committed, commanded, and condoned by God. When Christian people characterize Islam as violent, it serves as an indictment against the God of Abraham. The story of Abraham and Hagar shared between the religious traditions involves slavery, poverty, exploitation, rape, and domestic violence; this is a joint story, and a shared tradition (Williams 1993). Violence is not the property of Islam it is our collective religious failure. The lessor minds of our traditions have led us into sinful acts of violence in the name of our religions because our human need for dominance has overtaken our better selves.

All of our words about God whether Christian or Muslim are wrestling with concepts too large to be contained in mere linguistic constructs.  Theology is, at its best, an uneasy truce between the radical mystery of God and the limitations and idolatries of human language (Farley 1990). True spirituality traffics in humility, and is always void of blaming and shaming. Christians must remember with deep humility and sorrow the history of violence perpetrated by religious zealots who hijacked the Bible to validate their own atrocities. The Inquisitions, The Crusades, The Salem Witch Hunts, Chattel Slavery were all acts of terrorism enacted in the name of the Christian God.  Violence is a part of spiritualities whenever and wherever extreme fundamentalism is present. The history of religious violence is not particular to Islam or the Quran, it rears its head when authoritarianism is allowed to have platform in religious space.  Religious rituals become irrational when extreme consequences are attached to any lapse in performance of said ritual. In fact, one can always recognize the irrationality of ritual in a religious space by the degree of fear produced by its violation (Fromm 1950).   

The fear of the religious other must stop at once. Fear and fear mongers breed the violence we are witnessing in New Zealand and across the globe. Christians are responsible to our Muslim siblings to be as responsible in our rhetoric about Islam as we are careful in our interpretation of Jesus. Religious traditions fall into crisis when the received interpretations of the redemptive paradigms contradict lived experience(Ruether 1993). When our reckless interpretations lead to acts of violence we have lost the ethical center of our religiosity.   Text in our own Bible justifying slavery and hostility to religious and radical outsiders fall below ethical sensibilities and therefore we must seek to read them with fresh eyes in order to understand their usefulness in a just and humane world ordered in keeping with the realm of God.

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There is a temptation for Christians to allow the Bible to be co-opted by small minded despots in service of nationalism, power, and greed. This temptation is a compromise of the message of Jesus in a well-meaning attempt to legislate morality and at the expense of true transformation. These autocrats are morally bankrupt and yet cling to the Bible as though it is the foundation of their enterprise for more wealth and power, need for Muslims to be demonized because they need the energy of hate to finance imperialist capitalist supremacy. People who peddle in Islamophobia traffic in fear and forget that for any social or political endeavor to claim to be consistent with the Biblical tradition, it must have at its center justice for all people regardless of national origin. Even in the Old Testament all the Law Codes promote and legislate social justice and economic parity, and all are particularly concerned with the rights of the most vulnerable members of society which in includes the stranger (Hendricks 2006).    

Every Christian leader must call on our Christian siblings to stand with those of the Muslim faith in these most violent times. Contact the nearest mosque and find out how you can show support. I encourage you to cease propagating the false notion that Islam is a violent religion. Remember the ways in which the Christian faith has been used to support violence and terrorism throughout history and until the present moment. As many cast dispersions on Islamic militants there are yet American Christians burning down and blowing up abortion clinics. We are Abraham’s children so we must solve the issue of violence together and not in isolation.  

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical Professor

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Hendricks, Obrey. 2006. The Politics of jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston : Beacon Press .

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness . Maryknoll: Orbis.

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Holy Hope in the Season of Lent

The forty days of Lent observed by much of the Christian tradition is a solemn time of preparation of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It calls for prayer, benevolent giving, repentance, and self-sacrifice or fasting. Conceptually, it is the season that causes us to live into the gratitude of the resurrection by denying ourselves comfortability or pleasure. After this year of engaging our sociopolitical climate I am not sure that lent is exactly what I need. Self-denial and benevolent giving is a normative state of being for marginalized communities. For me particularly, living in my Black embodiment means being in a constant state of generosity, just navigating the dominant culture. In a negrophobic society, Black ontological integrity suffers compromise. In such a society, blackness mutates as negation, nonbeing, nothingness; Blackness insinuates an “other” so radically different that the Black humanity is discredited (Copeland 2010).  I fail to see what benefit lent brings to communities that live in constant lamentation.

Perhaps this year, lent should be reserved for those most in need of prayer, repentance, and self-sacrifice. My mind goes to the recentspecial call meeting of the United Methodist Church. There are many otherspaces in need of Lent, but this fresh wound is an excellent example of wherethis liturgical season should be lifted and centered. No matter what side ofthe issues you fall on, one has to see the divisions and fractures within thechurch as hurtful and damaging to whole body, but particularly damaging tomarginalized groups within the church. These meetings fly in the face of whatChrist calls the Church to be, as we are called to be one. This is not new orshocking; it is the DNA of Methodism in United States. While John Wesleyinstructed Francis Asbury -the first Bishop of American Methodist- to ban allslaveholders from the church, American Methodist ideologues seemed determinedto give racism irrefutable theological grounding. By 1856 the central thesis ofMethodist writing was that slavery per se, is right…. Domestic slavery, as aninstitution, is fully justified by the condition and circumstances God hadsanctioned for the African race in this country (Griffin 1999).   Usingthe Bible to justify bigotry and exclusion is central to the MethodistNarrative. Let us not forget that the African Methodist Episcopal Church wasfounded because Black people were not allowed to pray at the altar in Methodistchurches. Splitting over full inclusion is the tradition. Here is a need forLent. Here is where the Church is called to prayerful repentance and those withpower are called to self-sacrificing.

For those of us who live in marginalized spaces, I amcalling for a different liturgical season. The season of hope. Hope that pointstoward resurrection. The Gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to explainedin a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidaritywith the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive isthe faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hopeout of despair, as revealed in the biblical account of Jesus resurrection (Cone 2011).  Holy hope invites us into a season ofprophetic imagination, where we dare for forty days to dream a picture of a preferredfuture. What if we actively remember the goodness of the opulent andextravagant Universe. A season where we intentionally discuss the goodness ofthe world both human and nonhuman. I am calling for a season of Holy Hope wherewe see the potential for life while staring death directly in the face.  Holy hope does not ask us to ignore the fissuresand brokenness of our flawed existence, rather it dares us to proclaim goodnews to poor and broken-hearted people who are weary of systems of oppressionand sublimation.

This season of Holy hope begs us for experimental liturgies. Liturgies of resistance which alter and arrest the Lenten liturgies common to us and reshape them in ways that offer prophetic hopeful encounter with the Divine. Rituals are really shared actions that are expressive of common strivings and rooted in common values (Fromm 1950).  Holy hope as a common value invites me to engage the congregation in singing bright songs and dancing! Dancing is an act of resistance to the oppressive systems that dare to challenge the way I own my personhood and my space. My embodiment is never a problem or a question therefore, Holy hope invites me to counterhegemonic movement that puts my selfhood on full display! This season leading to the Easter celebration will be one of singing and dancing and radical love. I invite all marginalized people into the season of Holy hope, knowing that death must give way to victory.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Directorof Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical ProfessorSCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY| SEATTLEUNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion.New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Griffin, Paul R. 1999. Seeds of Racism in the United States of America . Cleveland : The Pilgrim Press .


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Where Do we Go From Here?

As we face the close of Black History Month 2019, I am asking myself, and the church, where it is we go from here. The church of my youth led me to believe that Black and Brown people had made great strides in our nation, and that for the most part overt racism wIMG_7205.jpegas a historical challenge that had been overcome by Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Recent sociopolitical realities have forced us to admit that the while the face of racism changed for a brief period of time, the underlying sickness and depravity of racism is still very much alive in the American psyche. Much of the underlying sickness that is racism is still a product of bad theology and religious rhetoric that betrays the Gospel message.  Charlottesville and the rise of mass demonstrations of racist hate are calling for the church to bear aggressive witness to the most fundamental elements of faith. If we fail to speak truth to power in this season of animosity, we abandon the validity of our voice in the commons. The call at this juncture is to understand that the Black radical tradition is a Black religious tradition, and even more seriously a Black Christian radical tradition.

We must call on the dominant culture to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that marginalized people need or want (Baldwin 1993).  This is a difficult task since our society has been built on imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchal norms that are designed uphold the systems of domination that make up the social currency of our institutions and cultural structures. There is a way that even the most progressive and liberal of the dominate culture traffic in paternalism as though their opinion is necessary to validate the legitimacy or competency of minoritized voices. For those who do not face racial oppression, the dignity or sacredness of life may become but an abstract principle to be affirmed, and one that is sometimes affirmed at the same time Black humanity is denied (Prevot 2017). The supremacist narrative of America is the antichrist because it has killed and crippled tens of millions of Black bodies and minds in the modern world, not to mention the genocide of indigenous people. It is found in every aspect of American life; however, it is even more insidious when found in churches, seminaries, and religious teaching (Cone 2018).  We must work tirelessly to dismantle systems of domination and hold those gatekeepers of the systems accountable, even when they present as allies.

We must interrogate white rage, the inevitable backlash whenever people of the dominant culture feel threatened. The trigger for white rage is always Black advancement. It is not the mere presence of Black people that is the problem; it is Blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, and full demand of equality (Anderson 2016). It happens when Blackness is audacious enough to present as equal and refuses to be subjugated or to pay homage.  There is a particular viciousness that surfaces when Blackness asserts itself without looking for the support or patronage of dominant benefactors. We must cry IMG_7222loud and refuse to accept the poor behavior and tantrums of our dominant siblings when they are confronted with the brilliance and capacity of marginalized people. Their displays of power must be met with swift and immediate rebuke if equality and equanimity are ever to be achieved.

We must call the Black church to move forward in the liberation tradition working diligently to decolonize the minds of the people. It would seem that whole segments of the Black ChurcIMG_7236h are still wrestling with oppression sickness; that is, the internalized oppression that causes the oppressed to be infected by the sickness of the oppressor. Any time both the oppressed and the oppressor share the same view of the oppressed, liberation is impossible.  Self-hating behavior is not uncommon in oppressed populations.  Oppressed individuals often engage with systems that degrade them.  In fact, all oppressed people try hard in some stage of liberation to assimilate and prove to the oppressor that they are okay (Griffin 2010). The effort to mimic the dominant Christian culture still has witness in the Black Church tradition with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege, patriarchy, and ultimately closed doors (Flunder 2005).   There seems to be a failure to move beyond the normative mode of Puritanical discourse and the Calvinist underpinnings so common to the development of the Black Church (Kornegay 2013).  Black churches have combined a fervent evangelical theology with a progressive political stance for more than one hundred years. The Black church moving from this moment must embrace a tripartite assignment for the church: (1) To proclaim the reality of Divine liberation, (2) to actively participate in the struggle for liberation, and (3) to provide a visible manifestation that the Gospel is a reality (Warnock 2014).

The time has come for us to lift Christian ethics in every facet of life. Christian ethics can give voice to God’s righteous anger against societies that abuse the poor and oppress the stranger (Prevot 2017).  We must trumpet a liberative ethic that that brings together particular and universal moral concerns that compel Christians to engage in an ongoing struggle for sustained, systemic changes in the universal moral agreements about social relations in our society as well as improvements in the material conditions that help to produce these particular problems (West 2006). In essence, we must become the voice of the voiceless, lifting the those on the underside of power in every way we can, until the reign of God makes all people equal.

Feel Free to Comment Below!

 

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Anderson, Carol. 2016. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury.

Baldwin, James. 1993. The Fire Next Time. New York: Vintage International .

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

Griffin, Horace L. 2010. Their Own recieved them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches. Eugene: WIPF &STOCK.

Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Prevot, Vincent W. Lloyd and Andrew, ed. 2017. Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books .

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

West, Traci. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.

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Salute to Womanist Scholars

Black History Month cannot be celebrated fully without the recognition of the theological contributions of Black Woman.  This contribution is often overlooked and undervalued, but Black women have shaped the trajectory of theology in America fromRelated image the survival of the middle passage, through their collective sexual abuse and the trauma of slavery, in the dehumanization of American apartheid known as Jim and Jane Crow, and in the present moment.  If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then white culture built on white religion and theology certainly exists in the United States, yet Black women have consistently offered a counter narrative to this theological hegemony (Douglas 1999).  Even in churches where Black woman have made up the majority of the congregations, raising the majority of the finance, while serving with no authority or ability to control the spending of the finance they have raised, Black women have consistently called to question a patriarchal view of God that excluded them from Imago Dei.

Image result for Yvette FlunderAs a religious scholar I must admit I struggle with the idea that theology is a purely distinct mode of thought.  This Western Anglo-Teutonic insistence upon a categorical distinctive suggests that there is somehow a divide between sacred and secular. This for me must be interrogated: What counts, and who decides what counts, as theological thought? The theologian’s very identity is produced through the capacity to “think theologically” as a pure category, as a distinct mode of thought (Crawley 2017). What I propose is that all thoughts are in some way connected to God talk, however I recognize that what has emerged from years of Black women’s theological critique is the well-developed theological presence known as Womanist theology. While Womanist theology pushes back on the hegemonic narrative of Western theology it subscribes to the insistence upon a categorical distinctive, this is the conundrum of using the same tools that built the house to destroy it (Lorde 1984).

Image result for valerie bridgeman woman preachWomanist theology asks where God is in the lives of Black women and how Black women name God  (Mitchem 2002).  Contemporary Womanist spirituality evolves from the nineteenth century moral reform and woman’s club movement. While it is a spirituality rooted in community, it is also concerned with the individual (Townes 1995). All theologizing that gives attention to Alice Walker’s definition of Womanism is considered Womanist theology.  Walker’s definition includes being a black feminist as well as a woman who loves other woman, sexually and/or nonsexually. In addition, a Womanist is committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female (Walker 1983). These theologies are a response to the exclusion of Black women’s experience by classical feminism (Hopkins 1999).  The value of feminist theory to Black women is diminished because it evolves from a white racial context that is seldom acknowledged (Crenshaw 1989). Womanist theologians recognize that Eurocentric theology has been effectively much more about the control of woman’s bodies than about God, or rather discourse about God has focused on normalizing the white male embodiment and marginalizing all other forms of human ways of being in the world (Crawley 2017). The tasks of Womanist theology are to claim history; to declare the authority of Black women, men, and children; to learn from the experience of the forebears; to admit shortcomings and errors; and to improve the quality of woman’s lives (Lightsey 2015). A Womanist theology engages a social-political analysis of wholeness  and begins with a religio-cultural analysis. This analysis lifts up those aspects of Black life – that is, of Black religion and culture – that are sustaining and liberating for BlacImage result for valerie bridgemank people.  As it is bifocal, a sociopolitical analysis of wholeness will confront racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism not only as they impinge upon the Black community, but also as they are nurtured within that community (Douglas 1994). That is to say, both internal and external pressure against the full humanity of Black women and Black bodies are explored through a Womanist hermeneutic.

The Church should be determinative and not reflective of society, especially as it deals with the human body as a theological problem.  Birthed as it was in response to white supremacy and hegemony, the Black church must continue to be a prophetic critique of all systems of domination that oppress and marginalize any and all people. The DNA of our thinking, those powerful and pervasive prejudgments based on race, gender, sexuality, and religious constructs that comprise an active epistemic framework affecting what we see and how we engage thImage result for womanist theologye world are all bending toward new realities (Kornegay 2013).  All theological construction comes out of and is shaped by particulars. Particulars which shape theology include but are not limited to; social, political, economic, cultural, and historical dynamics (Ellen T. Armour 2005). Womanist scholars provide voices that call the Universal mystical body of Christ to be faithful to the message of the Gospel for all people.

 

Feel Free to Comment Below!

Peace Is Possible,

 

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Crawley, Ashton T. 2017. BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham Press.

Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Ellen T. Armour, Paul E. Capetz, Don H. Compier. 2005. “God.” In Contructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes, edited by Laural C. Schneider, 19-76. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lightsey, Pamela R. 2015. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology . Eugene, Or: Pickwick Publications.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. “Uses of the Erotic, The Erotic As Power.” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, by Audre Lorde, 53-59. Tramansburg, New York: Crossing Press.

Mitchem, Stepahine Y. 2002. Introducing Womanist Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.

Walker, Alice. 1983. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

 

 

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