By: Eric D. Barreto
July 17, 2015
If the theology I teach cannot speak in Ferguson, if the students with whom I learn cannot prophesy in Baltimore, if our interpretations of Scripture do not declare grace and justice in Charleston, then is our theology worthy of its name?
If theological education could previously assume a future apart from the questions of difference and diversity, this last year shattered such delusions. Ferguson. Long Island. Baltimore. Charleston. As I have described elsewhere, these are the frames within which I will remember this last academic year and within which my own teaching is being transformed.
In my classes over the last year, I constantly confronted a haunting question of both pedagogy and theology. If the theology I teach cannot speak in Ferguson, if the students with whom I learn cannot prophesy in Baltimore, if our interpretations of Scripture do not declare grace and justice in Charleston, then is our theology worthy of its name? But even more troubling is wondering whether a theology that stands mute before racial animus and violence is worthy of the God who creates us and liberates us.
These are urgent matters for us, first, because the racial and ethnic composition of the US is changing in dramatic ways. By the year 2040, we will no longer be a majority-minority nation but a nation of many minority populations. That is, by 2040, no one ethnic group will be able to declare itself a numerical majority.
For theological education, this reality is not a concern for the future but the present. Juan Martínez has recently noted that theological schools in the US will confront a 2040 moment in the next decade, not in 25 years! Demographically, the church is leading the way. It’s time for our theologies and our pedagogies to catch up.
The transformation we need is not just numerical, however. We ought not imagine ourselves successful if the faces of our students or our church members are more numerous and colorful than before. Our theology, our pedagogies, our epistemologies need to become more colorful as well in order to meet in a new and vibrant way the God who revels in our differences.
So, I invite you to two more reflections over the next few months on theological education and the swirling contentions we are experiencing around race and ethnicity, diversity and difference today. What is clear is that any education in theology and ministry demands close attention to the demographic shifts that are transforming our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world. In my next post, we will wonder together what this kind of theological education is not. We will focus on the all too common pitfalls what derail our efforts to be expansive and inclusive in our educational and theological efforts. In a final post, then, we will turn to a more constructive effort. What might theological education that treasures the diversities with which God has gifted us look like moving forward?