By: Stephen Ray
December 09, 2015
How might the fortunes of theological education change if the fastest growing segment of explicitly religious students became the subject?
Conversations about theological education and diversity generally focus on opening our doors to diverse populations—here read people of various shades of brown, while generally understanding ourselves as playing hosts while maintaining a vibrant sense of our own “traditions” and ecclesial “affiliations”—here read white. Usually this sense is framed by the narratives of mainline of Protestantism recalled from the mid-20th century. The welcoming us and the (un)grateful them has shaped everything from the recruitment of students to the cultivation of donors to the decisions about vendors who serve our institutions at every level. In sum, theological education has been captive to the idea that it, as such, is a creature of and symbiotically linked to the fortunes of white Protestantism. It is just this captivity which will in short order pave the way to oblivion for many of our institutions of theological education. But, there is another way.
I want to suggest the unimaginable, namely, placing the hope for the future of theological education in brown hands. While to many this will seem but wishful rambling, I would suggest two presently visible realities suggest otherwise. The first is that the fastest growing segment of seminary students in many schools are Pentecostals and Evangelicals of various brown hues (e.g., COGICs and AMEs). In spite of clear evidence of this most mainline seminaries out of hand assume that these students are either unavailable to them or would not “fit” if they came. These assessments are based on flawed interpretations of what it means to be a Black Evangelical and inadequate appreciation for the transformative power of theological education when students are received as partners in building the future of the church and not just objects of liberal paternalism.
Time and again in my classes I have witnessed the openness of students when they feel their traditions are respected and that the teacher really is excited about their presence.
Likewise, the experience so many of them bring of the intersecting systems of evil which devastate their communities equip them to embrace the very types of “suspicions” at the heart of so much of our work in the theological academy. Frequently, their potential is squandered because neither they nor their traditions are taken seriously. Instead they remain “guests” while the eyes of theological education remain fixed on whatever is the current construction white normativity—here read nones.
How might the fortunes of theological education change if the fastest growing segment of explicitly religious students became the subject? How might the fortunes change if their communities were viewed as partners in building the future of the Church? How might it be different if in theological education we learned to trust brown hands?