It harks back to a landmark of the South African churches' uniting against apartheid, the Kairos Document. The challenges of injustice in that time are similar to our time, though the events and details may be different. Mass imprisonment, repressive policing, differentiation of outcomes by race, law and order rhetoric, tragic and wrenching public killings, widespread fear and anger--these conditions ought to drive the church back to its convictions and its knees. Searching our faith should also compel us to proclaim the love that has taken hold of us, so that we no longer see one another as those formed by the world see one another. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God's own self, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:14-19).
It's a brief statement offering many subjects for thought and action. It is neither a comprehensive treatise nor a call to a single strategic act. It speaks to theological educators and their institutions about the way we teach the blessed texts and traditions of a faith that follows one who came to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Take a moment to attend their words for our time. And notice in the second paragraph that the person mentioned is Shaw Divinity's Dean David Forbes, who as a Shaw undergraduate was part of the initial gathering at Shaw of what would become the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, guided in part by Shaw's own Ella Baker.
(This Open Letter represents a collective effort by African American Presidents and Deans in Theological Education. A full list of the authors is at the bottom of the letter.)
January 15, 2015
An Open Letter to Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools in the United States,
At its annual meeting at Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, African American Presidents and Deans of theological schools in the United States issued a call for action in light of the current state of social justice in the United States of America.
One of our leaders, a founding member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), noted that the socio-economic and political realities that led to the establishment of SNCC at Shaw University 54 years ago are actually eclipsed by the realities of this day. In 1960 there were lynchings and robe-wearing Klansmen. Today lynchings occur, but in different forms. Klansmen today bivouac without robes and hoods. Slavery still exists but under the auspices of a prison industrial complex. Discrimination thrives, with no intent or program for relief. As was true in the 1960's it is time for citizens of good conscience to once again rise up and rally to the cry for freedom and justice for all.
From a manger in Bethlehem, a Bantustan in Soweto, a bus in Montgomery, a freedom Summer in Mississippi, a bridge in Selma, a street in Ferguson, a doorway and shots fired in Detroit, a Moral Monday in Raleigh, an assault in an elevator in Atlantic City, an office building in Colorado Springs, a market in Paris, a wall in Palestine, a pilgrimage to the shrine of Rincon and a restoration of ties between Cuba and the United States on December 17th, the kidnapping and assault of young school-aged girls and the reported killing of 2000 women, children and men in Nigeria, a new generation of dream defenders, a transgender teen's suicide note, to our abuse of the environment - God sends a sign - a Kairos moment. The racial climate in the United States, and the respect for our common humanity everywhere, is clearly in decline.
How can Americans acquiesce, remain silent, passive and neutral as African-American men and women are slain in the streets of Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and beyond? How can people of conscience be still when African-Americans quake with fear to walk without harm in their own cities and towns? How can we remain docile when leaders of our nation, especially the United States Congress abdicate their civic and moral responsibility to set a tone of civility and humanity?
How can we abide a justice system, which is neither blind nor equitable? How can we suffer a justice system that victimizes African Americans and Latinos by jailing them disproportionately?
How can we sit idly by while our children are slaughtered in the streets without provocation?
How can we as United States citizens claim that we are "created equal" and that we are committed to "freedom and justice for all" while injustice is rampant in the land?
How can we continue with business as usual in our theological schools in the midst of so many egregious injustices?
We believe that citizens of good conscience must arise and call our nation to assess and address the rising tide of injustice throughout our legal and criminal justice systems.
There must be restraint to those who shoot, kill, and maim innocent young men and women in the streets of our nation. And so . . .
We call upon the leaders of our nation to reaffirm the founding principles of this nation: liberty and justice for all.
We call on all freedom loving Americans to reaffirm a commitment to "the beloved community," where the freedom and rights of all are respected and protected.
We call on the United States Congress to set a civil and moral tone in the way they respect our twice-elected president.
We call on leaders on the national and local levels to join citizens of good will to reject practices, legal and adjure, which mar the American dream of liberty and justice for all.
We call on our churches and every house of faith to challenge their members and communities to live out an inclusive commitment to love God, self, the neighbor-enemy, and creation across any and all boundaries that would dehumanize, alienate, and separate.
We call on all Americans of good conscience who gather across the country to speak out for liberty and justice for all... always. As our modern day prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
We invite our colleagues -- presidents, deans and leaders of all divinity and 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). We encourage you to endorse this statement 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 more.
We recognize this Kairos moment and stand in solidarity for "liberty and justice for all."
Yours in the struggle,
African American Presidents and Deans in Theological Education
List of Signatories
- Dr. Willard W.C. Ashley, Dean of the Seminary, New Brunswick Seminary
- Dr. Brian K. Blount, President, Union Presbyterian Seminary
- Dr. Marsha Foster Boyd, President Emerita, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
- Dr. Michael J. Brown, Academic Dean, Payne Theological Seminary
- Dr. Gay L. Byron, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Howard University School of Divinity
- Dr. Leah Gaskin Fitchue, President, Payne Theological Seminary
- Dr. David C. Forbes Sr., Interim Dean, Shaw University Divinity School
- Dr. Charisse L. Gillett, President, Lexington Theological Seminary
- Dr. Thomas W. Gilmore, Coordinator of Education, Cleveland Center, Ashland Theological Seminary
- Dr. Mark G. Harden, Dean of the Boston Campus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Dr. Kenneth E. Harris, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
- Dr. Barbara A. Holmes, President, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
- Dr. Carrie D. Hudson, Associate Dean for Academic Advising and Scheduling, Ashland Theological Seminary
- Dr. Vivian L. Johnson, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, United Theological Seminary
- Dr. John W. Kinney, Senior Vice President & Dean for the School of Theology, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology
- Dr. Vergel Lattimore, President, Hood Theological Seminary
- Dr. James W. Lewis, Dean, Anderson University School of Theology
- Rev. Stephen Lewis, President, Forum for Theological Exploration
- Dr. Paul M. Martin, President/CEO, American Baptist Seminary of the West
- Dr. Myron F. McCoy, former President, Saint Paul School of Theology
- Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
- Dr. Rosemary Bray McNatt, President, Starr King School for the Ministry
- Dr. Joy J. Moore, Associate Dean of African American Church Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary
- Dr. Deborah Flemister Mullen, Dean of Faculty and Executive Vice President, Columbia Theological Seminary
- Dr. Evelyn L. Parker, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Perkins School of Theology
- Dr. Alton B. Pollard, III, Dean, Howard University School of Divinity
- Dr. Angela D. Sims, Dean of Academic Programs, Saint Paul School of Theology
- Dr. Emilie M. Townes, Dean, Vanderbilt University Divinity School
- Dr. Edward P. Wimberly, President, Interdenominational Theological Center
- Dr. Robert S. Woods, Vice President of Academic Affairs/Dean, Memphis Theological Seminary
- Dr. Mary H. Young, Associate Dean, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology