May 4, 2015

Open Letter to Constituents of Central

Creative Commons - Voice of America

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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.

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