Seminaries offer theological education and prepare pastors and others for ministry. But what do they teach their students about social justice? In the September-October issue of Sojourners, eight recent and not-so-recent graduates to reflect on how their seminary education their work of social justice today. But wait, there are more seminarian insights than we could fit into the print magazine! Here are three bonus reflections.
Barn Raising by Rich Gorman
My wife Dori and I spent our seminary experience immersed in work with the urban poor in the Appalachian hills of East Tennessee. A majority of our time and energy was dedicated to reconciliation between the poor and their more materially affluent neighbors. About two years into the work, I was burned out and angry. The classroom became a refuge for me because I could freely vent about what I believed to be “the wicked ways of the wealthy.”
Over time, God made it clear that reconciliation must begin in my own mind and heart. My calling was not to mobilize the rich to engage with the poor, but to strive to understand and love both. God forced me to confront my own shameful attitudes and, as a result, he did some amazing things over the next two years.
As my heart began to be transformed, I started seeing the incredibly unhealthy attitudes of my classmates. They were reading the right books and believed the right things about social justice, but, like me, were driven by pride and arrogance. Our lives were marked more by elitism than grace. I am forever grateful for the wisdom and patience of the Emmanuel staff, who helped me to work through some vital issues in these areas.
For all of academia’s positives -- and there are many -- in seminary, we can focus so intently on serving God with our minds that we lose our hearts. As my dad used to say, “any idiot can burn down a barn” -- but it takes creativity, ingenuity and an acute imagination to construct something new and beautiful. God placed me in a situation that demanded that I work out both my faith, and what I was learning in the classroom, with fear and trembling. This made all the difference.
Rich Gorman co-pastors Community Christian Church-Edgewater in Chicago with his wife Dori. They will graduate from Emmanuel Christian Seminary in Johnson City, Tennessee in 2012.
The Community Push by Elaina Ramsey
[In seminary] I learned that it takes a community to answer the biblical call of social justice. The pursuit of social justice is hardly ever glorious and is often riddled with disappointment and discouragement. But it is Christ’s beloved community that continually pushes me to hope, pray, and work for a more just world. As creatures made to be in community, we cannot be whole so long as our neighbors are broken and suffering in the throes of injustice. This is the paradox of the Gospel, in which we are called to find life and fulfillment by losing ourselves for the sake of others (Mark 8:35).
Elaina Ramsey lives in Washington, D.C. and serves as the national field coordinator for Women's Action for New Directions. She graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in May 2010.
My Civic Altar Call by Andrew Wilkes
Attending Princeton Seminary helped me understand that public service can be a legitimate form of social justice ministry. During my second year at Princeton I heard Newark Mayor Cory Booker deliver a lecture series at Princeton University. He concluded the occasion with a soul-stirring summons to move from “sedentary agitation” to actively loving and serving our communities. I responded to his civic altar call, eventually working as a policy intern in the office of the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
Seminary, by turns, supported and stretched me; it provided a rich theological vocabulary and safe environment that facilitated my foray into a nontraditional field placement. Seminary also forced me to be less risk-averse and to develop a sense of calm while navigating the uncertain -- and often volatile -- space of municipal politics.
I harbor an abiding love for and commitment to the church. My seminary sojourn helped to realize that this ultimate love is neither incompatible with a penultimate love of democracy nor opposed to a vocation of public service.
Andrew Wilkes is a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs in New York City. He graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2010.