How seminaries can join the resistance
Kentina Washington Leapheart, Director of Programs for Reproductive Justice and Sexuality Education, Religious Institute
In the first one hundred days of this administration, progressive people of faith have organized and mobilized across the country in unprecedented ways. Determined to resist the administration’s actions and proposals, people of faith are working to end the harm these policies would inflict on the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.
Seminary, divinity, and rabbinical school campuses have also been abuzz since last fall, with students and faculty reflecting about what it means to do ministry in these perilous times. Whether working in local congregations, in non-profit organizations, or in the classroom, religious leaders everywhere are considering anew what it means to reside and serve in the liminal space of the prophetic and the pastoral.
While there are no easy answers to the question “What do we do in times such as these?” one thing is for certain: this religious resistance will be a marathon and not a sprint.
Theological institutions have a unique role in this movement as they create environments to nurture students’ vocations and prepare them to be bold and courageous in their public witness, no matter the context.
There are many ways seminaries, divinity, and rabbinical schools can actively resist this new administration. Here are a few suggestions.
Liturgical Direct Action
Seminaries should be environments where prophetic witness is encouraged, valued, and supported. As racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, gender, and sexual diversity are all under attack by this administration, it is imperative that religious leaders speak up on behalf of those most deeply affected. Worship must be a site of resistance within the walls of a seminary.
For example, last week, I preached at my alma mater, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The service was co-sponsored by Sacred Worth (the LGBTQ affinity group) and the Garrett-Evangelical Black Seminarians. Based on the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, my sermon was a call to action, inviting students — particularly white and straight-identified students — to pay attention to their encounters with queerness and Blackness along the “wilderness roads” of ministry. During the Prayers of the People, we lifted up the names of Black trans women who had been murdered, and the service ended with “Child of God,” a song written by Mark Miller in response to conflict in the United Methodist Church over LGBTQ concerns.
Seminaries can build worship around one of the Religious Institute’s many worship resources. We have recently created a number of resources for the upcoming National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice.
Holding public, community education events
Theological institutions should not only be in the business of educating students within their four walls. Seminaries must burst their institutional “bubbles” and connect directly with local communities.
Many seminary faculty are engaged in theological and pastoral projects that have real social and political consequences. Invite them to give talks or present panels on topics such as religious freedom, religious exemptions, upcoming legislation, or recent executive decisions. Explore how particular notions of gender, sexuality, and reproduction factor into these conversations.
This is also a great way to allow local clergy and people of faith to benefit from your community’s resources and to develop practical tools to share with their congregations, motivating the larger community to take action.
Partnering with reproductive justice and rights organizations
As Congress debates the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, graduate theological schools must not remain silent. The proposed repeal would have devastating consequences for millions of Americans, limiting access to health care and disproportionately affecting poor people and people of color. The repeal would also severely limit access to a broad range of reproductive health care, including abortion care.
These changes directly impact individuals’ bodily autonomy, including their ability to make moral and ethical decisions about healthy sexual expression and reproduction. Many seminarians lack experience talking about these issues in faith communities.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood Federation of America in partnership with the Religious Institute can help facilitate these conversations and give students the tools to become public advocates and pastoral caregivers around issues of reproductive justice.
The long game
None of us knows what the next few days, weeks, months, and years will look like under this administration. Having faith does not mean that there is an absence of fear. Indeed, many people of faith are experiencing fear during these trying times.
The good news is, both our fears and our faith can be strong catalysts for action.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s did not achieve progress overnight, and this new movement for human rights will not either. Simply put: this is a long game. Among all of the seminaries, rabbinical, and divinity schools, there are bright, creative, committed students and religious leaders dedicated to imagining and working toward a just, whole, radically inclusive society. Our times require faith leaders boldly committed to justice. Seminaries must train them for prophetic resistance.