May 4, 2015

Open Letter to Constituents of Central


Creative Commons - Voice of America


Creative Commons - Fibonacci Blue

Creative Commons - Fibonacci Blue

            In January 2015 African American Presidents and Deans in theological education issued an open letter, calling for action “in light of the current state of social justice in the United States of America.”  Offering a litany recounting the stained history of racial inequity, this letter calls upon leaders and citizens, Congress, churches, and colleagues in theological schools “to arise from the embers of silence and speak up and speak out as the prophet of old, “let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). 
            The signatories, who are treasured and respected colleagues, then urge other presidents to endorse this letter “by responding in your own particular context to our theological call to action with curricular programs, public forums, teach-ins, calls to your congressional leaders, writing op-ed pieces,” and other expressions of solidarity and concern.
            Picked up by Huffington Post, the letter has garnered more attention this past week as the events in Baltimore have sent a tremor through the terrain of that community and beyond.  I want to add my voice, both to endorse the letter and to describe how Central is seeking to dismantle barriers to justice, particularly through our seminary’s educational initiatives.



            Central practices racial inclusion as a core value.  Whether building a cohort of students or seeking new board members, Central desires to include voices that will challenge injustice and embody the diverse beauty of the Body of Christ.  Because educational privilege is uneven, we are intentional about pedagogical patterns that display differing cultural strengths.
            Hear these words from gifted alumnus Reverend Cedric Rowan, pastor of the venerable First Baptist Church, 5th and Nebraska, in Kansas City, KS:
As an African American male, I was given the freedom to forge a theological perspective by embracing my black church heritage; I read James Cone, James Evens, Jr., and other black theologians to form this position.  I commend Central’s faculty for encouraging ministry assignments within urban communities and recognizing the black cultural reality.  Central is a melting pot of theological training where race, culture, and gender do not comprise a divide, but its catalyst.  Graduates of Central are equipped to lead the fight against injustice.



When the seminary moved from the city to the suburbs nearly nine years ago, some suggested that we were abandoning our historic commitment to diversity.  Not so.  Indeed, if one examines the demographics of our student body, we are more multicultural than ever before.
Central’s engagement with racial disparities is not limited to the classroom, but also interfaces with larger communities.  The Urban Missional Institute, an initiative that draws varied faith traditions together to address issues arising from boundaries that exclude, is a forum for listening, collaboration, and transformative actions.  Led by Rev. Dr. Wallace Hartsfield, II, the UMI demonstrates that theological education must not be invisible on the social landscape.


            On August 8, 2015, Central Seminary will offer a Day of Hope event to be held at Third Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri.  A year almost to the day of Michael Brown’s death at the hand of Ferguson law enforcement, this event will bring together folks from around the City for worship, words of hope, and to view and discuss Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism, a DVD produced by the EthicsDaily, which considers past mistakes and future challenges regarding racial unity and social justice. Central’s St. Louis site coordinator (and soon to be Doctor of Ministry graduate), Terrell Carter, author of Walking the Blue Line: A Police Officer Turned Community Activist Provides Solutions to the Racial Divide, will lead the event.  His unique perspective as a leader in the St. Louis faith community, as well as a former police officer, will help to create an atmosphere of openness and understanding as participants look for ways to heal the racial divide.
            Of course, there is so much more to be done as a theological school, and we will seek God’s guidance and courage to be more prophetic.   Central is neither silent nor passive in the face of discrimination; we are not neutral in the campaign for justice, and we will craft a new future with God so that the “beloved community” can become a reality.

            Molly T. Marshall


Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

April 27, 2015

Women Claiming Their Rightful Place




            I had to chuckle a little, for there are too few places where women can claim clear institutional space.  At least, we have always been able to count on the women’s room to be a clear domain!  It was a powerful moment, to be sure.
            Recently President Carter has written a compelling book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.  His analysis of the global impact of gender discrimination and the abuse of women is riveting.  He contends that liberated women can play a critical role in confronting the most serious problems that plague their communities.





            Relegating women to secondary status and diminishing their power has damaging consequences—poverty, disease, persecution, and war.  Indeed, women suffer the most when these conditions prevail.  Carter understands that narrow religious beliefs have helped foster this ongoing marginalization. His Baptist witness is welcome, and it has far-reaching implications.
            In this season of Easter, the biblical texts in Acts speak about a new kind of community.  Gathered through the proclamation of resurrection, the nascent church practices a new inclusivity, what Elizabeth SchΓΌssler Fiorenza calls a “community of equals.”  Trusting that Joel’s prophecy of the Spirit being poured out upon all had come to pass, early expressions of ekklesia did not resist the leadership of women.





            Regrettably, this new inclusivity did not last long, as restive patriarchal forces subjugated women again as a means of pacifying persecutors.  When women claim equality, it disturbs those who pursue pater familias  (the father as the ruling member of the household) as the natural order of things.  Transposing this structure of the family into the church has extended the shadow of patriarchy across the centuries.



            A core value for Central is gender equity, and we realize that it is harder for women to achieve their full potential in churches and society.  We began a Women’s Leadership Initiative to correct this discrepancy, and we are preparing gifted women to serve their communities with theological wisdom and effective practices.  We believe that God is calling them to craft a new future, and we are endeavoring to support them in faithful response.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church,

and serving humanity.