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March Madness of Religion: West

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket


 delacruzMichigan (3): Dierdre de la Cruz

Deirdre de la Cruz specializes in the cultures and histories of Southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines.  Her current book project is a historical and ethnographic examination of several apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, especially as they articulate with projects and practices of colonial and post-colonial modernity.  In addition to Philippine history and ethnography, her research interests include theories of religion, colonialism and post-colonialism, visual culture, histories and theories of the mass media, and global occultisms.

Discussion of Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions and the Making of a Filipino Universal (Podcast)

Faculty Bio Page



Gonzaga University (4): Patrick Wanakuta Baraza

Dr. Baraza is an ordained priest from the diocese of Kitale, Kenya. He has been teaching African Catholicism and Islamic Civilization in the Religious Studies Department at Gonzaga University since 2005. He is the author of “Rival Claims for the Soul of Africa” as well as “Drumming up Dialogue: The Bukusu Model for the World“.

What GU Students Can Learn in Africa (blog)

Faculty bio page

fadekenicolecastorTexas A&M (7): N. Fadeke Castor

Dr. N. Fadeke Castor is a Black Feminist anthropologist, African Diaspora Studies scholar, and Assistant Professor in Anthropology and Africana at Texas A&M University.  Her current research and teaching interests include religion, performance, social identities (esp. race, gender, class), citizenship, identity and representation in popular/public culture, and decolonization, in the African Diaspora (specifically in the Caribbean and West Africa). Dr. Castor is also initiated in the Yoruba diasporic religion to Ifá, Obatala, and Egbe where she holds the titles Omo Awo Fadeke and Iyalode Egbefunmilayo.

In her written work she explores emerging forms of cultural citizenship with special attention to the performance of decolonizing practices and intersections of identity. Her new project, Black Spirits Matter, looks at the interplay of African diasporic religions, social justice, and transnationalism as an example of spiritual citizenship in action.

“I Am because They Are: Devotion and Intimacy in Trinidad Orisha” (Video lecture)

Professional website

Faculty Bio Page

jamil-drake-profileFlorida State (9): Jamil Drake

Jamil Drake specializes in American religious history with particular interests in 20th century African-American religious cultures; religion and politics; and religion and popular culture. More specifically, he is interested in questions around religion and racial identity in the U.S. He is currently writing a history of race and class in American religion tentatively entitled, To Know the Soul of the People: American Folk Studies and Racial Politics of Popular Religion, 1900-1940To Know the Soul of People tells a story of how the study of race and religion became a central topic in folklore research and the developing social sciences in the first half of the twentieth century. His research explores how the use of “folk religion” played a fundamental role in the process of classifying cultural behaviors that contributed to defining black lower and working-class communities in twentieth-century America.

The Politics of Poverty and Race (online article)

Faculty bio page

Michael Shepherd is an Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies and Political Science at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA. He tweets at @profshepherd and @global_theology

March Madness of Religion: Midwest

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket


zahn_mollyKansas (1): Molly Zahn

Molly Zahn’s research focuses on issues of scriptural interpretation in the Hebrew Bible and in early Judaism (primarily the Dead Sea Scrolls and related texts). Other interests include the ancient Near Eastern world, early Christianity, and the historical relations between Christianity and Judaism. Molly’s publications explore how interpretation shapes the development of authoritative or scriptural texts themselves, and examine the variety of creative ways individuals and communities claim authority for new interpretations.

Interview with The Rhodes Project (website)

Faculty Bio Page

Mark Goodacre

Duke (2): Mark Goodacre

Mark Goodacre is a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University. He specializes in the New Testament and Christian Origins. His research interests include Jesus, the Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas and Jesus in Film. He is the author of four books including The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (2002) and Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics (2012). He is well known for internet sites like The New Testament Gateway and his podcast, the NT Pod.

Faculty Bio Page


ameburyClemson (5): Richard Amesbury

Richard Amesbury is a philosopher and scholar of religion who works at the intersection of ethics, philosophy of religion, and political theory. He chairs the American Academy of Religion’s Law, Religion, and Culture Unit and serves on the steering committee of the AAR’s Religion and Politics Unit. Prior to joining the department as chair in 2017, he was Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he also led the university’s Center for Ethics and directed the Institute for Social Ethics.

Religion and Rights: An Interview with Richard Amesbury (website)

Faculty Bio Page

Burrus-Virginia-hqSyracuse (11): Virginia Burris

Virginia Burris is the Bishop W. Earl Ledden Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Religion at Syracuse University. Professor Burrus specializes in the literary and cultural history of Christianity in late antiquity.  Her interests include: gender, sexuality, and the body; martyrdom and asceticism; ancient novels and hagiography; constructions of orthodoxy and heresy; histories of theology and historical theologies.

Ancient Christian Practice, as fellow-in-residence at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (website)

Faculty Bio Page


Michael Shepherd is an Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies and Political Science at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA. He tweets at @profshepherd and @global_theology

March Madness of Religion: South

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket


bradshawKentucky (5): David Bradshaw

David Bradshaw is a professor of philosophy and department chair at the University of Kentucky and an Orthodox theologian. His research focuses on the ways that ancient Greek philosophy shaped medieval philosophy and religious thought, and how these, in turn, contributed to the formation of modernity.  Most of his work to date has been on the philosophical roots of the division between the Greek-speaking (eastern) and Latin-speaking (western) branches of Christianity. His more recent work has continued this comparative study with respect to other issues such as divine freedom, time and eternity, the nature of the will, and free will and predestination.

What Orthodoxy Can Contribute to American Intellectual Life (audio)

Interview about the connection between Philosophy and Theology (video)

Faculty Bio Page

Katharine Schweitzer

Nevada (7): Katharine Schweitzer

Katharine Schweitzer is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno whose research covers social and poltical philosophy, ethics, and feminist philosophy. Her dissertation, “Principled Compromise in Theorizing about Justice” (Emory University, May 2014), focused on how to understand and resolve conflicts of values, especially those which are associated with the ideals of liberal democracy and postulates how to respond to disagreement about the basic principles of justice. Without a nuanced understanding of principled compromise, theorists lack a key resource for negotiating the diversity of moral, religious, and metaphysical beliefs and values.

Faculty Bio Page

manglosKansas State (9): Nicolette Manglos-Weber

Dr. Manglos-Weber studies the connections between religion, politics, and global inequalities with a focus on how religious memberships shape patterns of social trust and political engagement. She is also an eclectic methodologist, who combines ethnographic and interview work with quantitative survey data analysis.

Manglos-Weber is currently revising a book manuscript on migration, religion, and social trust based on ethnographic research within a West African church in Chicago, IL.

Personal web site and list of publications (website)

Faculty Bio Page

tishaLoyola-Chicago (11): Tisha Rajendra

Tisha Rajendra specializes in Christian ethics and Roman Catholic social thought at Loyola University Chicaho. Her current work uses Catholic social thought and liberation theology to address questions of migration, human rights and state sovereignty under conditions of globalization.

Myths and Migrants, a discussion of her book Migrants and Citizens: Justice and Responsibility in the Ethics of Immigration  (article)

Faculty Bio Page



Michael Shepherd is an Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies and Political Science at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA. He tweets at @profshepherd and @global_theology

March Madness of Religion: East

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket


massimoVillanova (1): Massimo Faggioli

Massimo Faggioli is a full professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University (Philadelphia). He had been founding director (2014-2015) of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship and on the faculty in the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul (Minnesota) between 2009 and 2016. He writes regularly for newspapers and journals on the Church, religion and politics, frequently gives public lectures on the Church and on Vatican II, and he is co-chair of the new study group “Vatican II Studies” for the American Academy of Religion (2012–2016).

Pope Francis and the Unfolding of Vatican II in Today’s Church (video lecture)

Faculty Bio Page

bergmannPurdue (2): Michael Bergmann

Michael Bergmann’s specialization is in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion. Within philosophy of reason, he is an advocate for skeptical theism, emphasizing that one should be critical of the ability of a human person to evaluate the morality of actions of God.

Skeptical Theism and the Problem of Evil (article)

Faculty Bio Page



Mark_Webb_BWTexas Tech (3): Mark Webb

Professor Webb, is the chair of the Philosophy Department and specializes in epistemology and philosophy of religion. He is currently working on philosophical problems arising from the commitments of the world’s religions, starting with karma and reincarnation, and their implications for free will and personal identity.

Interview on teaching style (video)

Faculty Bio Page



galeWest Virginia (5): Aaron Gale

Aaron M. Gale is an associate professor of religious studies at West Virginia University as well as the director of WVU’s Program for Religious Studies. Dr. Gale’s research has centered upon the Jewish roots of early Christianity, specifically as it relates to the community associated with Matthew’s Gospel. This research has resulted in various publications including the book Redefining Ancient Borders: The Jewish Scribal Framework of Matthew’s Gospel.

Faculty Bio Page





Michael Shepherd is an Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies and Political Science at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA. He tweets at @profshepherd and @global_theology

Amos and Black Lives Matter

Pastor Eddie Anderson speaks to the congregation at McCarty Memorial Christian Church in West Adams. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

Pastor Eddie Anderson speaks to the congregation at McCarty Memorial Christian Church in West Adams. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

With the Bible spread before him, Anderson read from the Book of Amos — describing a scene of people chanting angrily in the streets, taking over the town square and grieving for the dead.

“Amos said until justice is established we will be forced, we will be called to wail,” he preached before pivoting from the past into the present. “We will wail and say ‘Si, se puede.’ We will wail and say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We will wail and say ‘No Justice, No Peace.’”

In an article exploring some of the disconnect between the Black Lives Matter movement and traditional civil rights leadership in Los Angeles, writer Angel Jennings highlights response from clergy. In the quotation above, we see an example of utilizing scripture to connect a congregation with the continued search for justice.

Amos is set in the divided kingdom and he is from Judah but he is preaching in Israel. He is the outsider who is both the recipient of injustice and the herald for reconciliation. He begins by declaring the judgement that awaits the nations surrounding Israel (which would have received support and applause from any audience in Israel) before turning his message to challenge Israel itself for how the elite have oppressed the poor.

Amos uses a phrase, looking forward to the Day of the Lord when God will act to establish justice against all oppression. In this scenario, the surrounding nations are called enemies of God, but so is Israel! The prophets message is that a nation’s history is not a replacement for righteousness and covenant as God’s people. As an extension, a church’s history is not a replacement for pursuing justice and righteousness in imitation of Christ.

Read the full article from the Los Angeles Times. Read more about Pastor Eddie Anderson and McCarty Memorial Christian Church here.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of Global Theology and an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA.

Reclaiming Jesus in Diversity

Last spring, I had the opportunity to lead a lecture series on Christology and Whiteness at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA, in which we discussed the various ways that Euroamerican assumptions become the default in the ways that we understand the Christian faith, scripture, and the Church. Additionally, we looked at Black Theology as a necessary critique for this dominant perspective (More on Black Theology here and here) and the need to enculturate the gospel with diversity for its full embodiment.

One of the illustrating points of how a community reclaims Jesus within their own cultural identity was the statue of “Black Jesus” at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA. (For our readers outside of the United States, Detroit is a major city which has experienced significant economic upheaval based on changes in factory manufacturing, which disproportionately affected African-Americans and other minority groups.)

Image Credit: David Schalliol

Image Credit: David Schalliol

The 12th Street Riot in 1967, caused by police brutality and unjust social conditions, lasted 5 days and rocked a community and a country teeming with racial friction as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining force. In the midst of this conflict, a statue of Christ in a grotto of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary was painted.

According to the Seminary:

The story of Black Jesus is moving and was at one time controversial. During the second day of the disturbance [the 1967 riots], an African American housepainter boldly painted the hands, feet and face of the white Sacred Heart of Jesus statue black. Opinions were highly polarized at the time, even among Detroit’s black residents. Some considered the painting an act of faith and racial pride; others saw it as mere vandalism. Over the years, the meaning of the landmark has evolved to almost unanimously symbolize Jesus’ love for all races, and particularly for the city of Detroit and its black citizens. The seminary has steadfastly kept the features of the landmark painted black for four decades, and intends to do so forever.

The paint on the head, hands, and feet of Jesus occupy a small part of the statue’s surface, yet their contrast speaks volumes to the common depiction of Christ. For a community facing injustices, this becomes a reminder that Christ is present with them and not the sole property of the privileged and powerful.

The significance of cultural groups reclaiming the image of Christ in themselves teaches us a few lessons.

We understand the incarnation better.

  • To believe that God entered into the human story and was entirely present within a human form endows an extreme amount of cultural particularity. Jesus of Nazareth was, quite simply, a Jewish man, living in and around the Galilee region in the first century of the Common Era. He spoke Aramaic at least, ate a lot of salted fish, dressed in a common fashion, read Hebrew scripture exclusively, maintained Jewish religious customs, and fit within his social context as the son of a carpenter and, later, a religious teacher. Despite all of these unique cultural factors, neither Jesus nor Christian traditions have required their followers to honor the cultural practices of its leader! For God to inhabit a human is for God to inhabit humanity, in all of its diversity and complexity. (This becomes a running challenge in the first-century church as some Jewish-background Christians want to retain cultural practices as a core component of the faith, while Gentile-background Christians bring their own former religious practices, like ecstatic speech and disassociation with the physical body, to the community. Acts 15 is one of the flashpoints of trying to reconcile these differences.) Christianity has been a translated faith since its inception and continues to adapt to new communities and concerns today. By engaging with how different cultures have applied the gospel in their context, we are inspired to see how to reflect the spirit of Christ in our own communities. To look for and value diversity is to see how Christ is incarnated again and again in different ways.
  • We are challenged to reveal where we have made our own social preferences a stand-in for faith.

    • Taking the time to examine our own cultural conditions is similar to a fish studying water. Because we are unconsciously shaped by so many factors, it is easy to assume that those factors and our experiences are universal. This is especially true if we inhabit social locations of privilege or power. (In 2013, a major news representative crystallized this assumption in an on-air segment arguing that Santa Claus and Jesus were white. Her reasoning? “They just are.” – Video Link) When we assume that Jesus belongs to White culture, discipleship means becoming more White to the exclusion of other diverse and valuable identities. When we assume that Jesus belongs to White culture, discipleship means becoming more White Click To Tweet Once we are aware of this tendency, we can see where they have infiltrated our leadership structures, worship styles, spiritual direction, and have distanced others and their ability to live fully into their identity as a disciple of Christ.

    We learn to see Christ as present in our neighbors and are moved to action.

    • Despite the divisions which may exist due to geography, language, economics, education, there is the possibility to find commonality with people who are, otherwise, complete strangers. Through this association, Christians of one social location can see in another the presence of Christ, if they choose to look! We can see our sisters and brothers affected by adverse weather, or political posturing, or living under threat of violence and injustice. By cherishing their Christian identity first, we protect against the pressures to divide based on social hierarchies. When we see our sisters and brothers treated unfairly, we are motivated to become involved in their struggle because it is no longer their issue, but a family issue. We cannot gaslight and dismiss their experiences, but need to listen, learn, and follow their leadership. As a white, American male, I believe that #BlackLivesMatter as a necessary societal improvement, but I also believe that Jarrett, and Stanley, and Ramon, and Delonte, and Troy, and Gary’s lives matter and that they have something to teach me about living the Christian life. Of course, these influences come from all types of diversity- people of every national origin, economic status, gender expression and orientation, physical ability, political affiliation, language and literacy, and creed. The community that grows despite these differences will look truly peculiar to those outside the Church and creates invitation to share the radical influence of the Gospel. These relationships are also an entrypoint for responding faithfully and thoughtfully to the calls for justice and reconciliation.

    What has been your experience in seeking diversity in the Church? What barriers have you encountered or benefits enjoyed?

    Michael Shepherd is an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA and editor of Global Theology. He can be reached at editor @globaltheology.org or on Twitter at @Global_Theology or @mchlshepherd




    Indigenous Jesus, Reading Luke with Settlers

    Painting by ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ

    Painting by ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ

    Dan Oudshoorn (Blog Link) has recently begun a project entitled A Blog Commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Written for Settlers in the Occupied Territories Called Canada, in which he reflects on the gospel text alongside the history and lived experience of indigenous persons to understand more about who Jesus is and challenge the assumptions of “settlers” like himself (and me).

    At the time of writing this post, he had posted the first two entries, and Introduction and a selection regarding Luke 1:1-4. (Part 1 | Part 2)

    Oudshoorn’s treatment in his introduction provides parallels between the historical context of Jesus of Nazareth and the Lukan community with the indigenous people of North America, specifically Canada. Similar to James Cone’s assertion that Jesus is Black (more on this here), the research and presentation provide the means for recovering from the blinders of assuming Jesus belongs to a privileged class (white, male, Western).

    In striking fashion, Oudshoorn describes the similarities, writing,

    It is also what it means to say that Jesus was an Indian, i.e. a Judaean.  Shortly before Jesus was born, the Roman soldiers had passed yet again through the region engaging in a scorched earth, shock and awe campaign to pacify the region and to punish the people for their refusal to be extinct commodities.  Children were taken from parents (like the RCMP and the Indian agent took children away from Indigenous parents and jailed or shot any who resisted) and sold into slavery (sent to residential schools or white families) in faraway lands.  The land that had been a part of the people was taken from them, crops were destroyed, people were forced to become transient labourers, maintaining a cheap labour pool for absentee mega-farmers or for city folks.  The roads were lined with the crucified bodies of able-bodied men – the very bodies that many large family units depended on to earn the money to buy their daily bread.  Sacred places were defiled, taxes were imposed, and temples were built to foreign gods.  Many were killed.  Many women were raped.  And Mary became pregnant with Jesus.

    The significance of Jesus identifying with the Indians lays the foundation for the remainder of Luke-Acts for what it means for the community of his disciples.

    But the story about this Indian whose name Jesus (Yeshua) means salvation, deliverance and rescue – this Indian from a colonized land, from an uprooted people, from a scorched earth, from a single teen mom – is presented as “good news.”  This, after all, is what the word “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον or “euangelion”) means.  From this word we get the title, “evangelist” i.e. one who brings good news” or “one who spreads the gospel” but what we will discover is that the “good news” spreads not so much like light into darkness or leaven in a loaf, but like a virus in a computer system, or like fire in the master’s house, or like revolution in the hills of Saint Domingue in 1791.  Because, and here I’ll say only gesture at what is to come later, this good news is only good news to some people.  It is very bad news to others.

    The second post enters into a conversation about what it means to be a “friend of God”- the Theophilus whom the gospel is addressed to. This section is a challenging polemic about whether to consider ourselves friends or enemies of God. For someone who is attempting to support and encourage recognition of historically oppressed perspectives, this section was personally challenging as it lays raw the need to reflect truthfully about the realities of oppression and one’s own power and privilege:

    We have treated Jesus as if he were a European settler (Roman), God as if God were white (and male), and us as if we are God’s friends.  If we’re going to get this right, we have to try and hear these stories again.

    Please follow the link to Dan’s blog (Part 1 | Part 2) and subscribe. I am looking forward to continuing to read his Commentary as a fellow Settler in Occupied Territory.

    Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology and an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA.

    Following a Transgender Jesus

    jesusSuzanne DeWitt Hall’s recent article, Jesus: The First Transgender Man, wades into the contemporary firestorm about transgender access to public bathrooms in the United States with a reflection about gender identity and biological determination from two- fairly important- characters from the Biblical record: Eve (Genesis 2) and Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, et al.).

    Much has already been written about the flaws of seeing gender as a biological binary as well as how gender roles (and the number of gender options) are culturally formed, but her article approaches the issue using a different tact.

    She writes,

    If we take the Genesis account in it’s literal meaning, as conservative Christians demand that we do, she is also the first case of a transgender woman. God reached into Adam, pulled out a bit of rib bone, and grew Eve from that XY DNA into Adam’s companion. She was created genetically male, and yet trans-formed into woman.

    Then along comes Jesus and the whole pattern is both repeated and reversed. The first couple’s refusal to cooperate is turned around by Mary’s yes, and the second act of cloning occurs. The Holy Spirit comes upon the second Eve, and the child takes flesh from her and is born. Born of her flesh. Born with XX chromosome pairing. Born genetically female, and yet trans-formed into man.

    The significance in considering how these bodies are formed should not be a biology lesson, but ought to lead us to consider how tightly we hold to cultural assumptions about gender and identity.

    This is the same spirit in which we read Galatians 3:28 about other categories,

    There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    The differences between people are not magically erased but they no longer form the basis of our identification and relationship with one another. Any identity, gender included, is to be secondary to our identity in Christ.

    Perhaps a modern reading could include that there is neither cisgender and transgender, but you are all one in Christ Jesus. If this seems scandalous, I believe that we are approaching the original intent of Paul- to show the radical inclusion that is possible within Christian community.

    She concludes her post with a meaningful benediction, writing,

    A quick look at the dictionary for the prefix “trans” tells us that it means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” and “changing thoroughly,” all of which are great terms for the person of Christ. He cuts across all boundaries. He is beyond our understanding. He is through all and in all. He changes us thoroughly into new creations.

    In his person, and in his salvific actions, Jesus is truly the first and forever trans man.

    A special blessing to those brothers and sisters (and all who may find those terms of affection difficult) to know that Christ is present with you in your journey and invites you to live deeply from your identity as a new creation in Him and full fellowship within all of God’s family.

    Seeds of Freedom in the Midst of Slavery

    In the television series Hell on Wheels, the backstory of the character Elam Ferguson is explored in this flashback. In the episode entitled Revelations, he is shown as a boy reading scripture to his slave owner who has placed a bet upon his ability to read but not understand. Following this scene we see him hiding with other slaves in a barn and reading to them from Exodus chapter 6. This illustrates the dynamic of Scripture in the antebellum South in the history of the United States of America. Where scripture was used to enforce slavery, using citations such as Colossians 3 from the beginning of the clip, scripture was also an asset to abolitionists and to slaves themselves who found solidarity in the stories of Exodus.

    To read the account of God’s action to free the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, dispossessed people have found the power to live with strength and dignity, while rejecting the assertions that their inferior status is God’s intention. The Exodus narrative becomes the foundation of Liberation theology and other interpretive models as it presents the fundamental expression of God’s action in the world- to provide justice for the oppressed, not restricted to a solely spiritual or futuristic sense, but a new reality of human existence where all people can live in freedom.

    Discussion Question:

    In your community, how can scripture be used to support existing power dynamics? How can it be used to challenge the status quo?

    (Use of copyrighted material is intended solely for informational and educational purposes.)


    Islam and Christianity: Symptoms of a Wider Issue

    Much has been made recently about the comments of a professor from a North American evangelical university stressing the similarity between the faiths of Muslims and Christians. While the questions (and their responses) are not new, they revive passions that rattle the tension between the uniqueness of Christian revelation and the degree of inclusivity of that revelation. vramachandraOn his personal blog, Vinoth Ramachandra, Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, shares his thoughts on recent events at Wheaton College (Illinois, USA) and the much larger question of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. He provides an interesting example wherein the roles are reversed, explaining,

    The Malaysian Church, in recent decades, was engaged in a prolonged legal battle with their Islamist-influenced government which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to the supreme God and creator. Church leaders received directives stating that several words of Arabic origin, including Allah, Nabi (prophet) and Al Kitab (Bible) were not to be used by non-Muslims as Arabic was the language of Muslims. Usage by Christians would sow the seeds of “confusion”. The import of Malay Bibles printed in Indonesia (which used Allah) was effectively banned.

    Christians countered by pointing out that Allah was the common term used to refer to the supreme God long before Islam came into existence in North Africa. Arab Christians continue to worship God as Allah and Malay-speaking Christians have also been using Allah for centuries. Far from sowing “confusion”, it has facilitated communication and promoted mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.

    Clearly this was more than a matter of official historical ignorance. Islamists fearful of the conversion of Muslims sought to deter the latter from reading the Bible by claiming that Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. They have been successful. Christians lost the legal battle, with dire consequences for the future of social justice and religious harmony in Malaysia.

    He continues in his post to sharply criticize Western Christians who rely upon lazy rhetoric to brush aside an entire world religion, with whom Christianity does share a significant lineage, on the basis of wider, cultural suspicions or political media fears, reminding that,

    The actions of the Wheaton College authorities, like much of what is done in the U.S., reach a global audience. I can imagine how they will be seized upon by Islamists around the world as ammunition to deploy against Christians. And how betrayed Malaysian Christians must feel.

    American Christians- especially those studying and working in colleges and universities- cannot remain complacent with theological, historical or political naiveté. Willful ignorance is inexcusable. Americans have ready access to a wide range of scholarly literature and the latest information technologies that the rest of us envy. They don’t have to watch Fox News or listen to the latest chauvinist or demagogue. Some of the finest biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians are found in the American Church (sadly, it is not their works that are exported to the rest of the world).

    Moreover, every American city is multi-cultural and multi-religious. You can meet Christians from all over the world, as well as thoughtful Muslims from every Muslim sect, Jews, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. You can have your prejudices dispelled, your viewpoints and worldviews enlarged through such encounters and friendships.

    If American Christians do not avail themselves of the resources and opportunities on their doorstep, they will remain culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and a deep source of embarrassment to the rest of the global Church.

    Three quick thoughts from Ramachandra’s critique:

    1. How to increase the “export” of the finest of North American biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, and historians- is this a matter of educational institutions, publishing business practices, or other factors? I recall when I was living in East Africa that I could see American televangelists broadcast in syndication yet the library of the nearest theological university was woefully outdated.
    2. Given the presence of a wide diversity of cultural and religious adherents living in proximity to us, the church needs resources that will help to bridge these differences, both in fellowship and dialogue outside of the church. There is a tremendous opportunity to re-think our faith and practice when we are nudged to articulate our understanding to people who have had different experiences and commitments than we have had ourselves. (A useful book in encountering this process is Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the Context of World Christianity, or Soong-Chan Rah’s Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, for a more local application.)
    3. I would like to leave Ramachandra’s final sentence to stand on its own, as it is the most poignant of his entire post. I will only embellish his thought to remind us in North American, or any context, that if these are truly the markers of our churches- culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and embarrassing to the global Church, then there is something unhealthy that must be remedied, but this cannot occur unless we are able to evaluate ourselves with humility and grace.

    View full post: Pocket-Sized Gods? at vinothramachandra.wordpress.com.


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