“Out of Fear and into Freedom”: Seminaries respond to recent threats and acts of violence

August 14, 2017 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

Jesus’ reminder in our lectionary Gospel lesson (Matt. 14:22-33) Sunday for disciples not to be afraid, followed by his invitation to Peter to get out of the boat and come to him on the water, speaks directly to the heart of Christians today. In and with faith in Christ, we dare to step out of the safety of our congregations and into a world filled with metaphorical and literal storms. Just in the last week there has been an escalation of international nuclear threats, as well as white supremacist violence.

The Rev. Dr. Roger Gench, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., preached on the Gospel lesson Sunday, noting this text is a reminder of the Exodus narrative where Moses called the people of faith, Israel, “out of fear and into freedom” amid the storms of the world.

PC(USA) Seminaries are crucibles of faith formation for our future ministers and they have joined a chorus of those responding to the threats and acts of violence over the last week. I have collected and am still gathering responses that I have and will continue to share here. I’d like to hear how you and your faith communities are finding hope in the midst of these days.

Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga.
President Leanne Van Dyk made a statement on the Columbia Theological Seminary page on Facebook early Sunday morning.

“Columbia Theological Seminary is absolutely clear that such callous hatred and prejudice runs deeply against the grain of the gospel. We are also clear that our call as Christians is to recognize the reality of entrenched racism, to repent of the sin of racism, and to commit ourselves to speak up, to act, to challenge, and to witness. Nothing less is possible for us as we follow where God calls.”

Read the full statement here.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Kentucky
President Michael Jinkins posted a statement on the seminary web site on Monday putting the violence in Charlottesville in theological context.

I am also a Christian, and my faith teaches me something very important that I cannot afford to forget: God didn’t go to all the trouble of becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to make us Americans or even Christians. God plays for much higher stakes than nationalism or religious affiliation.

God sent Christ to make us human. To use explicitly Christian language, God calls us to be human in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Whenever we violate that fundamental calling, the calling to be human, we decide that we have given over to other powers, other loyalties, and other gods in our culture and the world the authority to name us and determine our character and destiny. This is idolatry.

Read the full statement here.

McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago
President David Crawford created a statement on Saturday reminding all of us that this will not be the last time that we see racism in full display – that the promise that Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died for has not been fulfilled.

It has been fifty-four years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King sat “alone in a narrow jail cell” and wrote his now famous letter. Fifty-four years of waiting for that “not too distant tomorrow.” That tomorrow did not come in his lifetime. He knew that it probably would not. But, he prayed it would happen in the lifetime of his children, of all children, and today we are once again reminded that evil does exist in this world; and, today, the tomorrow Dr. King described seems very far off, indeed.

Read the full statement here.

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh President Rev. Dr. David Esterline released a statement Monday, and the seminary shared a blog post from professor Rev. Dr. Leanna K. Fuller on how pastors and churches can respond.

Esterline’s statement:
The hatred and racism displayed in Charlottesville this past weekend are intolerable and must be denounced for what they are: sinful and evil. At the center of the Christian gospel is the fundamental belief that all people are created in the image of God, and so all people are to be respected and valued. “White supremacy” is an evil ideology, standing in direct contradiction to the way of Jesus, which is the way of inclusion and acceptance of all people.

Read the full statement here. 

Rev. Dr. Leanna K. Fuller is associate professor of pastoral care authored a blog post on Monday about how pastors can address racism and social justice from the pulpit.

As Christians, it is not our job to push a partisan political agenda in our communities of faith. Our faith is founded on the lordship of Jesus Christ, not on membership in a particular political party. But as Christians, no matter what our political affiliation may be, it is our job to work for justice, to raise our voices and speak the truth in Christian love – even when it may be uncomfortable. As Christians, it is our job to call sin by its name and to engage in confession and repentance. As Christians, it is our job to affirm that every single person is a beloved child of God.

Read the full post here.

Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey
President M. Craig Barnes posted a statement on the seminary’s web site on Monday.

Over the last several days we have again witnessed the blatantly destructive force of racist ideology, which continues to be a scourge upon our land. The hatred and violence surrounding the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville have no place in our nation and are fundamentally incompatible with the promise of the gospel. As Christians, we renounce this hateful ideology. We serve a God who delights in the dignity and worth of all humanity and who calls us to work for a more just society in the broken world we inhabit.

Read the full statement here.

San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Francisco

The seminary released a statement on Monday from Rev. Dr. James L. McDonald, President of SFTS.

SFTS denounces and opposes white supremacy in all of its many forms, and particularly the violence and terrorism that the world has witnessed in Charlottesville this weekend. San Francisco Theological Seminary embraces and joins in the prophetic and pastoral letter of the Center for Innovation at SFTS, and pledges to be a full partner in the important work of eradicating racism.

Read the full statement here.

Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, Va. (with another campus in Charlotte, N.C.)

The seminary community came together on Monday, August 14, for an evening Vigil of Mourning and Solidarity. You can watch the service here.

Additionally, President Brian K. Blount issued a statement about the violence. An excerpt:

It is the violence that has brought us here. The violence of hating others because they are different. The violence that comes from idolizing symbols in divisive and dangerous ways. The violence that comes from using those symbols as a pretense to foment hatred and sow discontent as if both were protected ideals of our body politic.

Read the full statement here.

Union alumni who attended as counter-protestors to the alt-right rally wrote blog posts about their experience. Rev. Christopher Tweel (M.Div.’14) wrote about his experience, which you can read here. Rev. Allison Unroe (M.Div.’11) wrote about her experience, which you can read here.