Public Theology Isn’t Just for Academics
Our faith comes to life when we share our stories.
After the police shooting of Michael Brown in October of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, Cornel West and other clergy organized an interfaith service to protest Brown’s murder. Yet young protestors in attendance rejected what they interpreted as theological platitudes offered from the stage, wrote Leah Gunning Francis. Allegedly, a seminarian asked the platform speakers to change their chant from “Show us what democracy looks like” to “Show us what theology looks like”—in effect, asking the ministers to publicly weave the structure of their faith into their activism. Don’t tell us, write about it, or preach it. Show us your theology.
This chant could apply to the many situations of oppression and abuse the church is witness to today. From the recent deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery to the ever-growing #MeToo movement, socially situated abuse and trauma continue to stump evangelical religious leaders reaching for a theological response. Many evangelical Christians are ill-equipped to respond to racism, abuse, and trauma with much more than time-worn words. And a recent Barna study showed that most pastors feel only “somewhat” equipped to help congregants with any kind of significant trauma.
Can we show each other, or even simply articulate to each other, what our theology looks like? Our shared stories—of trauma or otherwise—and what we do with them, can offer our listeners a path back to God.
In June 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released the Caring Well Report, detailing decades of sexual abuse within the SBC. I wrote the report’s introduction, which described my story of abuse by my youth minister …
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