Challenging Theological Tourism | Sojourners

Challenging Theological Tourism

In his foreword to Beyond Theological Tourism: Mentoring as a Grassroots Approach to Theological Education, Walter Wink writes, "I suggest that for our next sabbatical we visit the United States." Apt words for a book that challenges the reader to "come home," to see our neighborhoods with the fresh eyes not of a tourist looking for the exotic, but as students and participants ready to learn from the mentors and teachers who live there—the poor, prostitutes, the homeless.

Edited by Susan Thistlethwaite and George Cairns, the book is written for those who train church leaders and who seek to both transform and be transformed by the context in which we live. It challenges the way we educate seminarians and provokes seminaries to see themselves as part of a neighborhood, a community of people who have something to share and teach the future leaders of the church.

Four Chicago-area seminaries banded together to create a new model for theological education: Chicago Theological Seminary, Lutheran School of Theology, McCormick Theological Seminary, and Catholic Theological Union. The project was meant to challenge a kind of "theological tourism," where professors and students visit oppressed communities without truly participating as subjects in the subjectivity of the marginalized.

Participants were involved in three international immersions, each lasting three weeks, and one local immersion. They were to be "leaven in the loaf," passionate catalysts who would provoke institutional change and assist in the "globalization"—defined by Thistlethwaite to mean "the uncentering of Euro-Atlantic culture and theology"—of their seminaries. Participants realized that the city had lots to teach them: Christ was already active in the local culture and in the lives of those whom they met, whether in a shelter for women and children or at Genesis House, a hospitality house for female prostitutes.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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