Diversifying the Pastor's Study
Barth, Bonhoeffer, Brueggemann, Calvin, Craddock, Luther, Moltmann, Tillich and Wesley. These are the names that line many pastors’ studies. They are the standards or “classics” of seminaries and theological education and preparation. Generations of preachers can be taught without ever mentioning the name of a Black preacher or a theologian of color.
Culture coach Nikki Lerner asked a recent webinar audience, “How do you give voice to a diversity of leadership through your preaching and teaching resources?” We asked some of our pastors to share why a diversity of voices within your pastor’s study are essential to preaching, teaching and living a gospel-centered life in 2020.
Rev. Russell Ewell, Sr. Pastor, Pitts Chapel (Springfield)
For the pastor of the historic Black church, Pitts Chapel in Springfield, Rev. Russell Ewell holds “a unique sitz im leben (setting in life) as both a black man and a pastor with a disability.” He says he approaches scripture through a hermeneutic of suspicion and empowerment, but love is always the basis for it.
Recalling Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Ewell shares, “If all the parts are not working together, the body is not working as fully as it should. It’s the same with theology, if voices are not represented, we are not working as well as we could, as the body of Christ, the Church, as we could.”
Ewell encourages White colleagues to begin exploring and recommends engaging the American Association of Religion for recommendations on the newest scholarship with a diversity of theologians, and suggests one way to exposing congregations to diverse voices includes naming your sources in your preaching and teaching.
“I would recommend that people come along as an ally, identify themselves that way and identify the sources you are using,” said Ewell. “Don’t hide the identities of the people on whose work you are standing. I invite allies to be a part of this work.”
Rev. Tracey Wolff, Pastor and Director of The Field Campus Ministry (Springfield)
Rev. Tracey Wolff believes a diversity of voices matter in biblical scholarship and preaching because her experience is limited. “I need to know something about the world and broader than my own. A variety of voices helps me broaden one’s view of God. I don’t want to offer anyone a limited version of God.”
When it comes to resources, she thinks about “What voices need to inform this sermon, teaching, bible study – whose voice would offer a perspective that would not be my own?” Two resources that are not far from her reach are True to My Native Land: African America New Testament Commentary and the Global Bible Commentary.
As pastors learn to embrace more diverse voices in their study, Wolff suggests giving yourself some time. “I would encourage to read a variety of Black theologians – one voice is just that. One voice,” she said. “Sit with it awhile. Then, see how that shapes you.”
Rev. Elsie Quintanilla-Perez, Sr. Pastor, New Covenant (St. Louis) and Zion (Lemay)
Hispanic pastor Rev. Elsie Quintanilla-Perez offers a helpful reminder that theological resources are not found only in books. “It can also be found in the experience of listening to the voices of diversity. Have you ever visited or had the opportunity to be in a worship service that is different from your culture? We can never see the importance of diversity if we do not understand the other, only then do we learn to know him, see his pain, joys, failures and achievements.”
White pastors who do not realize the breadth and depth of non-White biblical resources may be tempted to jump in too quickly.
“Many times, we want to defend other cultures, but we do not even know or understand them. It would be good before looking for non-White people’s books. We would set ourselves the task of trying to understand the roots of the cultural, social and racial problems faced by non-White people,” Quintanilla-Perez says.
“That understanding must often start from pastors, to be taught in their congregations. I have had experiences where racism does not come from the people in the congregation, but from those who lead the congregations.”
Rev. Dr. Antonio Settles, Sr. Pastor, Union Memorial
Non-White theologians shaped Rev. Dr. Antonio Settles’ understanding of God and the Church. “I learned that God is on the side of the oppressed through studying liberation theology and that the Church stands alongside the community, alongside the marginalized and oppressed.”
He suggests checking out Howard Thurman’s works including: Jesus and the Disinherited, Disciplines of the Spirit and The Centering Moment. Non-White biblical resources often speak to the oppressed or silenced voices in the text. “Utilizing these resources would help White pastors to broaden their concept of suffering, particularly suffering for Christ,” Settles says.
The theological works we use to inform our preaching and teaching can help center marginalized voices. Settles thinks that centering the marginalized means “doing what Jesus did as found in Luke 4:18 when Jesus said that He came to set the captives free. Jesus was making the marginalized his primary focus. It means liberation, having compassion, offering hope to those who have not been included.”
Rev. Dr. Choongho Kwon, Associate Pastor, Platte Woods
Rev. Dr. Choongho Kwon believes a diversity of voices matter in biblical scholarship and preaching because it’s the basic nature of the biblical narratives. “There are two creation stories in just the first two chapters! Four Gospel stories. The Bible itself is an example of diversity of voices,” laughs Kwon. “That’s just how I read the Bible.”
As a Korean American pastor who emigrated to the United States 17 years ago, Kwon says, “I never regarded Abraham as an immigrant when I read that passage in South Korea. But now I read it as such because I am in a new place with a new identity.”
Where to Begin?
It can be overwhelming to know where to start with regards to your own study. We have begun an online bibliography of resources for you to check out at www.moumethodist.org/diversifyingyourstudy.
If you would like to add a resource, please visit Diversity your Pastor’s Study bibliography at www.moumethodist.org/diversifyingyourstudy.