Imagining the Future of Theological Education: Episode 6

Podcast Episode 5

A conversation with Rev. Matthew Wesley Williams, President of Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, & Dr. Teresa Delgado, Professor of Religion and Ethics at Iona College, Chair of the Religious Studies Department, and Program Director of Peace and Justice Studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY, bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today.

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Read the show notes for Episode 6

Community-Based Models of Theological Education

Rev. Matthew Wesley Williams, President of Interdenominational Theological Center and Dr. Teresa Delgado, Professor of Religion and Ethics, Chair of the Religious Studies Department, and Program Director of Peace and Justice Studies at Iona College consider how theological education is meeting the needs of African American and Latinx students. The conversation also considers changes required to make religious education more equitable, diverse and inclusive.

3 questions covered in this episode conversation:

  • How are Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Theological Institutions (HBCU/TI) delivering models of religious education that avoid the inequities embedded in predominantly white institutions?
  • How is black liberation bringing a community-centric focus to support prophetic problem solvers serving the needs of their communities?
  • What efforts should predominantly white institutions consider when acknowledging values in the academy that still support white supremacy?

Episode Summary

Participants discuss how white supremacy values are deeply embedded in predominantly white institutions of theological learning. The conversation considers how Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Theological Institutions (HBCU/TI) provide community-centric models go beyond theory to teach relevant practices for integrating the gospel into communities served. The chat closes with some words of advice on how theological education may become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Conversational Highlights

2:15 – How well is theological education meeting  demands for equity, diversity and inclusion and how are HBCU/TI helping preparing students for the diverse communities they will serve?

  • Triage is essential to deal with the angst, anxiety and trauma students of color experience as a result of institutions designed in ways that are inhospitable to diverse lineages, cultures and theological perspectives.
  • HBCU/TIs have a long heritage of preparing students by delivering culturally relevant, competent and responsible education. These approaches address misinterpretations in the academy via culturally relevant, competent and responsible practices bridging theory with practice.
  • HBCUTIs create an environment for students to learn without the burden of proving their legitimacy for the educational experience.

8:17 – HBCU/TI leverage a community connection that simply does not exist in predominantly white institutions. How does this difference support religions education?

  • Theory prioritized over practice in predominantly white institutions has created an alien space that requires educators to split their head from their heart.
  • HBCUTIs have maintained critical values in spite of the academic model.
  • HBCUTIs are developing models that focus on how knowledge generated, from whom and for what purpose. This approach can cultivate a new generation of prophetic problem solvers.
  • Learning should be about applying critical inquiry to create solutions attuned to the realities of everyday people,

11:41 – What are some of the core pillars of black liberation?

  • Learning must be leveraged in accordance with the needs of the community, for example taking on the challenge of food insecurity.
  • The classroom should be only a staging ground for multiple learning laboratories taking place in the community and relevant to the needs of those served.
  • The white academy’s structure has valued, preserved and perpetuated white supremacy. In contrast, HBCUTIs are structured to realize that local histories and people within a community are the primary source of knowledge. De-coloniality considers the needs of the community and how institutions can give voice to that need. Considering what can help local communities thrive should become the basis of theological learning and action.

16:36 – Given systemic challenges embedded in theological education, how can the narrative of Christianity be addressed in a way that is more  appropriate, relevant and faithful?

  • HBCUTIs have successfully placed the central focus on the community doing the inquiry.
  • HBCUTIs integrate the realities of African people into the Christian narratives.

21:56 – What words of advice could benefit predominantly white theological institutions?

  • A lot of defensiveness exists when it comes to how traditional models of education reinscribe white supremacy. If we can get beyond the defensiveness, education can be more in service to the gospel.
  • White supremacy is a position of dispossession, exploitation and extraction of one group for the benefit of another group. A false identity called “whiteness” erases cultures and lineages.
  • Acknowledging white supremacy values are embedded in the academy, institutions must reckon with what restitution and reparation look like if they are committed to the gospel message.

27:44 – How are we going to construct a future given that power concedes nothing when it comes to serving black and brown communities?

  • Alternatives to traditional theological education exist and should be explored in light of the challenges embedded in the academy.