Why We Do This

By: Matthew Wesley Williams
October 15, 2014

While the statistics and field-wide trends are important, they don’t tell the whole story. There is more at stake.

Every now and then it is important to remember why we do what we do.

On October 1, we launched the 2015 FTE Doctoral Fellowships.

This is an appropriate moment to reflect briefly on why we do the work of supporting rising theological educators of color. Theological education remains in dire need of diverse scholars and leaders who will shape the future of the church’s witness in a world whose demographic ground is shifting beneath its feet. This “diversity deficit” in theological education is not only a matter of representation in positions or “faces in places,” it is also a question of how responsive institutions choose to become around the varied patterns of faith and life in communities of color. [1]

While the statistics and field-wide trends are important [2], they don’t tell the whole story. There is more at stake.

Misguided ideas derived from scholarship, shaped by centuries of well-developed intellectual and institutional infrastructure, devastate human communities. We don’t need to look further than national headlines for evidence. Teaching and scholarship can disrupt destructive group belief, changing how people see, think, and actbut only if pursued purposefully.

Students in FTE’s Doctoral Programs tend to take up academic pursuits believing that their intellectual production will, in some way, address flesh and blood problems of oppression and human suffering. Our “why” is in the quandary many students of color encounter as they learn the martial art of coding their questions within the language worlds of institutions, most of which are slowly coming to grips with the fact that so-called “contextual” perspectives are now central. Our “why” lingers in classrooms where future faculty receive subtle but stinging reminders of the role of theory, academic culture, and intellectual formation in cultivating the kind of people who either form or disintegrate beloved community.

FTE’s vocation is tied to the unique vocation of each rising scholar we are privileged to support. We invite rising scholar-educators to discern their professional trajectory in direct reference to that primary considerationvocation. The quality of one’s practice as an educator and colleague are vastly superior when their work is animated by a sense of call. If we can help future theological educators envision and hold a vital vocational core for their journey, then our efforts will have not been in vain.

[1] Fernando Cascante calls this “Inclusion with Justice.”

[2] You may review FTE’s 2013 report on the cultivation of scholars of color in theological education to learn more about these trends.

Tags: Diverse Solutions, Thinking Out Loud, Shaping the Future

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