ABSW Prospective Student Days!

Explore ABSW Poster

Events begin Sunday with the GTU Grad Fair. We continue Monday evening at 6pm for chapel and a dinner to follow. The week will be open for daytime interviews with Director of Admissions, Rev. Tripp Hudgins or a faculty person. Evening courses will also be open for prospective students to attend. Friday evening Dr. Kaya Oakes of Cal Berkeley will speak about the religious “Nones.” Lastly, on Saturday, we will host a breakfast where you will meet with representative faculty and staff who will share their vision of life at ABSW. RSVP today!

Professor Emeritus, Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., Responds to Dean LeAnn Snow Flesher

Dean Flesher’s blog on the recent mass shootings in Oregon is logically lucid with cogent arguments for a widely diverse readership. In this blog Dr. Flesher appeals not to political correctness or to a theological partisan view but her appeal is to common sense and wise judgement. Therefore, every one would do well to read to carefully read her words and share them with others.

What a wonderful blog Dean Flesher has written causing us to reflect deeply on our faith in ways that address the out of control violence in our homes, schools, workplaces, churches and communities. Violence is toxic evil not only in the neighboring countries of the world but in our very social locations. This blog  carefully written  with clarity is most insightful for implementation.

The difficulty the patriotic citizens will have in being open to the reasoning  process of Dr. Flesher is due to the way the American narratives of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism have legitimized the use of violence  to remove the indigenous peoples, and build an economic system on black bodies that mattered only for profit and the militaristic westward expansion of the West  into Asia. This narrative is taught to children and youth, and they grow up seeing movies which celebrate violence.

Stokely Carmichal said violence is as American as apple pie. Americans suffer from the pride of power and the pride of virtue. Both expressions of pride contribute to the arrogance of power .The strength of this blog is the clear use of ethical arguments to appeal to the highest and the best in the idealized  core values of the American social contract.

The Utilitarian ethic of the greatest good for the greatest number espoused by John Stuart Mill  supports the ethical method of Dr. Flesher when we apply consequential ethical theory to confront the  the harmful effects of rejecting a  Frankena ethic of duty or obligation. Violence respects neither race, religion ,class, gender,  nationality, or age.  It is more pervasive in deprived  communities whose infrastructures have been dismantled by velvet glove exploiters who bow to invisible power brokers who shape public policy and politicize ethical issues with mindless aphorisms swallowed by a gullible public. For survival reasons , the have nots prey on each with drugs placed in their community by outsiders whose greed preys on the needy.

Violence puts at risk the four freedoms of America. They are:  freedom of speech , freedom of religion. Freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Students are afraid to attend school, afraid of others who differ in color, class, or gender sexual orientation, or  religion.

Flesher,in this blog,has shown no fear  in speaking up and out  against the absurdities of injustices and violence. Challenging those who  argue we are most safe when we are most armed is a holy calling  that she has accepted and she now calls each of us  in the faith community  to  be faithful to the ethics of Jesus. Let us join her in  correcting this myopic  vision of a nation trapped in its own contradictions.

Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr.
Professor Emeritus,  A.B.S.W. 

How do we respond to yet one more mass shooting?

I would like to make some clear statements.

  • There are ways, tested and proven, to reduce gun violence in a nation.
  • The US Congress has blocked the implementation of such measures, and has even blocked the accumulation of data that would help us know how to implement programs to reduce gun violence.
  • The blocks imposed by Congress have been made on the founding principle of Liberty and Freedom for all. The underlying premise is that small government is better; and that government ought not to impose itself on its citizens in too many ways. Citizens ought to have the right and the freedom to decide if they will own and use guns.
  • Yet, we have laws against murder and violence. Laws that are unevenly imposed upon perpetrators for various reasons. Often perpetrators go free and innocent victims suffer unnecessarily.
  • President Obama has made strong statements regarding the perpetrators of the numerous mass shootings from the past few years. He has declared that these perpetrators have some type of mental illness that has resulted in unnecessary violence being imposed upon innocent victims.
  • In order to wade our way through this complex set of views and circumstances we need a guiding ethic.
  • Frankena, in his book entitled Ethics, espouses the following ethical basis for his decision making:

In a normative theory of moral obligation justice equals:

1) Dealing with people according to their deserts or merits

2) Treating human beings as equals w/ regard to the distribution of rewards and punishment

3) Treating people according to their needs and abilities: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

** 1 is balanced by 2; 3 is the case for special needs; unequal treatment requires justification

8) Given the reality that the US citizenry is uneven with regard to access to resources, levels of education, emotional maturity, and mental health, it seems essential that we adopt an ethical framework, with regard to gun violence, that addresses the abilities and needs of each. We need an ethical framework that allows for responsible, safe ownership and use of guns and prevents misuse of guns and abuse of gun ownership.

9) As a faith leader in our nation, I adhere to, teach, and preach the sanctity of life, as well as the need for equity and justice for all. Simultaneously, I am aware that the population is not even. For example, Children and youth do not have the maturity of an adult, and we do not expect them to behave as an adult. Those with disabilities, physical and mental, do not have the same capabilities and access to the world. If we, as a nation, do not formulate laws, processes, and standards that address the unevenness in the population, with regard to gun violence, we are in essence putting guns into hands of people that are not equipped to use them in safe, ethical, and responsible ways.

10) The current policies on gun ownership and violence in our nation are irresponsible and unethical. It’s time for Congress to take down the road blocks and move forward toward the implementation of proven processes that will reduce gun violence. In essence Congress is asking all citizens to risk their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, everyday so that every person may have equal access to guns.

11) The data speaks for itself, as of July 24, 2015 there were 204 mass shootings in the US within 204 days. The math on that is pretty easy. One a day!

12) Finally, let’s be clear, mass shootings are only the tip of the iceberg, everyday gun violence in US black communities kills many more Americans; everyday! .

Is this the way we want to live and die?

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD is Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at American Baptist Seminary of the West.

A Liturgical Imagination #ABSWLiturgy

Follow our Missional Liturgy class on their page. Here are the instructor’s remarks on the Oregon shooting.

Missional Liturgy

Here we go again. Here is our national liturgy.

A young man walks into a building armed to the teeth. Students die. The police arrive. The young man dies in a shootout with the police. It is a complex and devastating suicide. So many lives are marked. A community is marked. And the media storm begins.

Our liturgy moves from the local to the international at the speed of the internet.

The National Rifle Association contra mundum, Liberals and Conservatives are squaring off, and Pundits are shouting. The beleaguered President Obama predicts that he will have to address the nation again before his term is over when there is another mass shooting. The media is on fire. For now.

The liturgy gradually comes to a close as our shared attentions are drawn elsewhere by the always updating Twitter feed.

Somewhere someone is making plans to kill or injure another…

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Breaking Out of the Routine

“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America.  We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction. “ ~ President Barack Obama, October 1, 2015

A student sat in my office before class last night and sighed deeply, “Of course, my spirit is just so heavy tonight thinking about the people affected by the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “I feel like I’m at a point where I should be able to know what to say at times like this. I’m going to graduate soon. And people are going to come to me and expect me to have the answers.”

I don’t teach students to have The Answers at times like this. In fact, many of the most stentorian religious voices that come forward with answers after times of tragedy generally make me cringe or want to go crawl under a rock.

It’s also difficult (impossible?) at times like this not to feel as though anything one says is just some script that was written years ago and we are only rehearsing the all-too-familiar lines yet again. President Obama in his address expressed his frustration over just this feeling when he remarked, “Somehow this has become routine.  The reporting is routine.  My response here at this podium ends up being routine.  The conversation in the aftermath of it.” Everything that is being said today has been said already, usually by the same people. It’s hard not to feel like it’s all just shouting in the wind.

ContextGraphicNonetheless, I seek to equip my students with the tools they need to think through complex events; to address violence, oppression, and injustice; and to work with communities in creating plans that lead to liberation.

This week in my Theology as Living Conversation class, we discussed one such tool for analysis that I think can be used effectively for faith leaders and communities as we seek to respond from a theologically sound basis to events like the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Every experience, including high profile, tragic experiences such as this one, occurs as an event (or episode), which is part of a larger situation, that is itself embedded within a broader context. (See the graph included below.)

According to Richard Osmer in his book Practical Theology, an episode is a singular event that happens in a particular place at a particular time. A situation is the pattern of events and circumstances that contribute to the occurrence of that episode. And the context that encompasses each of these refers to the broader, interlocking systems that come together in such a way to give rise to these situations and episodes.

Using this method of analysis, we will want to certainly pay attention to the particular details that apply to why yesterday’s shooter chose to enter Umpqua Community College and slaughter people. It is also gives us a way to talk about what makes our responses to these events so routine, in the President’s word. These constantly scripted and rehearsed responses are part of the pattern of events that comprise episodes of mass shootings.

I think it also gives us a way out of these scripted responses, as we seek to understand even those responses themselves as being bound up in larger, complex systems that may not only help to bring these scripts about, but likely benefit from them becoming routine. (I couldn’t help but hear echoes of my mother lecturing me as I listened to the President’s clenched-jaw frustration yesterday, “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times!”)

Consider for a moment how the perpetuation of a feeling of futility and impotence is precisely what is needed to maintain the status quo.

I suspect that most of us tend to be able to talk about individual episodes of violence, and we are also good at reciting our scripts about the situations that give rise to these episodes. We fire off facebook posts about gun laws, offer simplistic mental illness diagnoses, or call for more armed security guards. While each of these do point to systemic issues, our public discourse about these things rarely draw out those interlocking systems in fruitful ways. Where we need more attention is precisely in our ability to grasp the systemic issues at play.

We don’t need to have the answers at times such as this. But faith leaders need to be equipped to talk about events like yesterday at all three of these levels in order to help our communities discern an incisive theological response that drives people out of futility and into effective, hope-filled, and just action.

Resources for Further Inquiry

Below are some web-based resources that can help inform your analysis of the context in which mass shootings occur.

Researchers have been calling for new approaches to study incidents of rampage violence.

The Stanford Geospatial Data Center offers an in-depth online resource analyzing mass shootings in the United States over five decades.

In 2011 a paper was given at annual meeting of the American Political Science Association analyzing the attribution of blame after mass shootings, looking at the roles of partisanship and education play in how people understand events such as this.

Don’t count on journalists doing their research before they report. Here is site that you can use that is intended for journalists that offers excellent resources. Produced by Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public.

Dr. Jennifer Davidson is Associate Professor of Worship & Theology at American Baptist Seminary of the West, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Follow her on Twitter: @momentofbeing.

What To Expect

One of our students is on to something. Squirrel suits!


Liberation, Lament, Greek Geekery, Sermonizing, and Seminarian Angst.

Frustrations and Victories. Retrospectives on Blessings and Tribulations. General Nerdiness. Occasional Rants.

And promise…more than just lists like the above.

I started this Blog on my “downward slide” in seminary. With a planned Graduation Date of May 2017, I’m closer to finishing than starting at this point. This is something I had always thought about doing and I realized that if I didn’t just do it, I never would.

Who am I? My name is Paul Schneider. I’m a Father and Husband. I’m a Christian, denominationally an American Baptist. I’m a Seminary student, and  occasional preacher. I’m an even more occasional fiction writer. I am a gamer who loves role-playing games, video games and board games. I enjoy reading speculative fiction of all kinds and in any format, but especially as comics, novels, and short stories. I live in Oakland, California, and go to school…

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Youthquake 2015

Will you be at YOUTHQUAKE?

Pacific Coast Baptist Association

Registration and consent forms:Youthquake 2015

Please let your youth (high school through 2nd year college) know that we are having the 4th Youthquake on Friday, Sept. 18 to Saturday, Sept 19, 2015 at First Baptist Church, 1515 Santa Clara, Alameda,  CA.  This is an event that brings youth together from many churches to worship, fellowship, and serve the Lord in missions.  Youth stay overnight at the church.  Saturday is our mission day.

It begins on Friday with 6-7 pm registration, 7 pm the program starts.  We’ll have an outstanding missionary speaker.

Saturday begins with a local missionary speaker who has been working over 20 years with recovering addicts.  After our early morning worship, we will head out to various mission sites around the Bay Area.  Sites include, City Team SF, World Impact Oakland, Allen Temple Street Disciples, Richmond Rescue Mission, Alameda Food Bank, Seafarers Ministry of the…

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