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Dear WTS Community,

These past few months have been incredibly difficult as we have grieved the loss of lives, community, routines, and expectations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This last week was monumental as we mourned the loss of over 100,000 lives to this deadly virus here in the United States.

Last week was also painful because we witnessed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. His death once again called attention to the suffering and lament of the African American community, whose collective experience has all too frequently been marked by injustice and brutality. The death of George Floyd concluded a span of a few weeks where we grieved the loss of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and invoked the memories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Laquan McDonald, among many others.

Incidents like these remind us of the long history of injustice and racism in our country. This past August marked 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and much remains to be done on both relational and systemic levels to ensure justice and equity regardless of the color of one’s skin.

Incidents like these also cause us to lament how some law enforcement officers have misused and abused their authority, thus overshadowing the dedication and commitment of those public officials who put their lives at risk every day for the sake of others.

This past week reminds us that violence is not the answer. The groundswell of protests represents the hurt and frustration that the African American community has experienced through the criminal justice system. Let us not gloss over the pain that led to these protests and the sincere cry for justice that continues beyond the violence. We remember the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” At the same time, the small minority incidences of violence and looting, whether committed by those genuinely frustrated or by those simply taking advantage of the situation, often end up hurting the very businesses, communities, and people the protests aim to help.

This past week also reminds us that while we live in a polarized society, God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and that he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). God has also called us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn, and not to overcome evil with evil but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:15, 21).

Over this past year, the diversity committee at WTS has worked on a statement on racial and ethnic diversity at our institution. The proposed statement includes the following affirmation:

We affirm that all human beings are in the image of God, and we uphold the full dignity and worth of all people of all racial and ethnic identities.

We therefore reject any direct or indirect discrimination against, and devaluing or dishonoring of, any person on the grounds of race or ethnicity.

In the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we commit to discerning and uprooting all forms of racial prejudice, individually and in our institutional culture.

I share this not because we have arrived. We have much work to do. I share this because this proposed statement not only demonstrates our commitment as an institution, but also is a much-needed reminder for such a time as this.

In this season of Pentecost, when we remember how the breath of God fills us with the Holy Spirit, our country is protesting the death of a man who cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Jesus Christ did not turn away from suffering such as this but took it upon himself. Before he rose and sent the Spirit, he struggled for breath on the cross. Pentecost Sunday is a powerful reminder that we do not strive for reconciliation or fight for justice alone. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has come to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). Through the cross, justice and reconciliation with both God and fellow human beings are possible. Let us continue to be Spirit-filled people in this world, crying out for justice, proclaiming peace, and joining in God’s work of reconciliation wherever we go.


Soli deo Gloria,
Felix Theonugraha,
President

 

 

View the webinar: Race and the Church: A Christian Response to the Death of George Floyd.

When it comes to the work of racial justice, this year’s Stoutemire lecturer Dr. Leah Gunning Francis says two things the church needs are courage, and the will to listen.

“The dominant narrative in our world is ‘everyone has an equal chance of success.’ All you need to do is pull yourself up by the bootstraps and you can be successful just like XYZ person over here. Well we know that’s not true—the playing field is still not equal or level,” she says. “You now are going to have to take the time to listen to people’s experiences and perspectives that you might not be accustomed to listening to.”

When it comes to the work of racial justice, this year’s Stoutemire lecturer Dr. Leah Gunning Francis says two things the church needs are courage, and the will to listen.

“The dominant narrative in our world is ‘everyone has an equal chance of success.’ All you need to do is pull yourself up by the bootstraps and you can be successful just like XYZ person over here. Well we know that’s not true—the playing field is still not equal or level,” she says. “You now are going to have to take the time to listen to people’s experiences and perspectives that you might not be accustomed to listening to.”

Monday September 30 at 1:30 P.M. in Mulder Chapel

Faith Following Ferguson: Five Years Later

Five years have passed since the killing of 18 year old Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer.  Brown’s killing sparked a protest movement for racial justice that has not been seen since the Civil Rights movement.  In her book, Ferguson and Faith, Dr. Leah Gunning Francis explored the role of local clergy in this movement and the various ways their faith commitments compelled them to join in.  She has since reconnected with many of these clergy to learn about what’s been happening these past five years.  What have been some of the effects of this movement on the St. Louis region?  How have clergy continued to live out their public faith now that the cameras have gone?  In this lecture, Dr. Gunning Francis will reflect on these learnings and their implications for our nation for such a time as this.

 

Bio:

Dr. Leah Gunning Francis is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dr. Gunning Francis is also the author of the book Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015). She interviewed more than two dozen clergy and young activists who were actively involved in the movement for racial justice in Ferguson and beyond. Dr. Gunning Francis researched and wrote Ferguson and Faith while serving as the Associate Dean for Contextual Education and Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ferguson and Faith is a collection of stories of courage and hope. Dr. Gunning Francis gleaned from these stories seeds of possibilities that, if nurtured, could serve us well into the future. These are the stories that were rarely imaged on television, yet they are integral to the fight for justice in Ferguson and resonate with the struggle for human dignity around the country.

In 2012, Dr. Gunning Francis was awarded the prestigious Engaged Scholars Fellowship to study issues of risk among middle-class African American young men. She argues that the meta-narrative about young black men puts all of them “at risk,” regardless of socioeconomic class, and utilizes the narrated experiences of black mothers to construct a new narrative about young black men that honors their humanity and is concerned for their well-being.

Dr. Gunning Francis’ additional research interests focus on transformative education as reflected in her doctoral dissertation, Beyond “Band-Aids” and Bootstraps: Toward a Womanist Vision of Christian Education as Social Transformation. Her writing reflects her commitment to the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of women, men and children; and highlights her particular interest in underserved and minority communities.

Dr. Gunning Francis has provided pastoral leadership for congregations in Georgia, Illinois and Ohio. She has received numerous awards to include the Candler School of Theology’s G. Ray Jordan award for excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service, and the Fund for Theological Education’s Doctoral Fellow Award. In 2015, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Fontbonne University.

Dr. Gunning Francis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Hampton University; a Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

A native of Willingboro, New Jersey, Dr. Gunning Francis is married to Rev. Rodney Francis. They live in Indianapolis with their tween-aged children. To learn more about Dr. Gunning Francis visit www.leahgunningfrancis.com.

 

In this episode Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah discusses his own faith journey and how it influences his work in justice and racial reconciliation in the church.

In this episode Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah discusses his own faith journey and how it influences his work in justice and racial reconciliation in the church.

Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts and David Bailey of Arrabon discuss what Faith and Vocation means to them during the Calvin Symposium on Worship.

Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts and David Bailey of Arrabon discuss what Faith and Vocation means to them during the Calvin Symposium on Worship.