ABSW Faculty Retreat

And so it happened yesterday that the faculty stumbled upon a Trustee (and alum). Selfies happen.

ABSW Faculty and Staff accosted Board President, Dr. Jim Hopkins on their return from lunch. We do like a good selfie.
ABSW Faculty and Staff accosted Board President, Dr. Jim Hopkins on their return from lunch. We do like a good selfie.

The faculty and staff of the seminary met yesterday to discuss the new academic semester and plan for the arrival of the new students. We shared the work we did over the summer (theology conferences, teaching in Africa, book proposals, activism, and the arts) with one another. It was an enlivening opportunity to catch up.

We are also excited about what we are offering this semester. We are teaching online and in the physical classroom. We are focusing on the discipline of public theology in most of our classes.

What does it mean for you to be a public theologian? Well, come on by and find out.

Widows, Orphans, and Black Lives Matter

The lives of widows and orphans mattered. In Exodus 22:22, God tells Israel that “you shall not abuse any widow or orphan.” God was so concerned for the widow and orphan that the law provided for their care. It was mandated that grain be left behind for them during the harvest and along the edges of the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Leviticus 19:9-10). Failing to provide such care provoked God’s wrath.

Why this penchant for the widow and orphan? Did God value them more than anyone else in society? No. The Bible says that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Yet, God does show compassion and concern for those who are most vulnerable. God lifts up the plight of the last and the least because they are at the greatest risk. And given this concern, God requires that we take special care so that these vulnerable, tender members of society are not neglected and forgotten. To take them for granted, to forget or abuse them invites God’s anger that their plight might become ours.

If we were to cast this concern into today’s context, I believe that God would assert that Black Lives Matter in the same way that the lives of widows and orphans mattered. Black lives matter because blacks, suffering numerous disparities that serve to disadvantage, are most vulnerable in society.

Consider the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and Eric Garner. Were these just random, isolated incidents? No, these deaths are evidence of the increased risks born by blacks. According to USA Today,[1] a white police officer killed a black person nearly twice a week in the United States during a seven year period ending in 2012.

Then while blacks represent 12% of the U.S. population, they comprise 40% of the prison population.[2] These numbers are increased by disparate policies in terms of policing and drug enforcement. Additionally, exposure to extreme racial disparities makes the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the discrepancy in incarceration rates.

Consider also that blacks are more likely to die from preventable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes.[3] Although the differences are recognized, the gap remains persistent due to discrimination, cultural barriers and lack of health-care access.

And blacks suffer disproportionate economic inequalities. The unemployment rate for whites in the United States is 4.8%, but soars to 10.4% for blacks.[4] Furthermore, Black men earn $.75 to every dollar that white men earn, while black women earn only $.70.[5] This issue becomes more problematic when we consider that nearly 1/3 of every black household is headed by a single woman.[6]

So when we consider the disparities that exist in our society and the vulnerabilities that they create, God would undoubtedly declare that Black Lives Matter. Because of higher mortality and incarceration rates, poorer health outcomes, and economic disenfranchisement, black lives are made vulnerable because black lives are impacted. Therefore, as people of faith, we have a responsibility to speak out in the face of such injustices.

By declaring that Black Lives Matter, we exercise our moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable in our society.

By declaring that Black Lives Matter, we assert that those who were slain or who died from preventable diseases did not die in vain.

By affirming that Black Lives Matter, we honor God who gave us the mandate to protect those tender members of society for whom God extends compassion and concern. Truly black lives matter.

Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson
Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson

The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is the Executive Director of the Ministers Council, American Baptist Churches, USA, an autonomous, professional, multi-cultural organization of ordained, commissioned and lay Christian leaders serving American Baptist Churches. Dr. Jackson is also the author of the forthcoming Judson Press book, Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7 Rs of Sanctuary for Pastors.

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/.

[2] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/racial-disparities-incarceration.html.

[3] http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/populations/REMP/black.html.

[4] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t02.htm.

[5] http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0882775.html.

[6] http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2010/02/black_americans_in_the_2010_census.2.html.

#Ferguson and A Reason to Hope

The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson by a white police office is a miscarriage of justice and sets the country back forty years. It says to me, that my life as a black man in America and the lives of my children are not valuable. It also says to me that a white officer can shoot me or any one who looks like me if he only says he was in fear for his life – even if the facts and eyewitness accounts contradict that.

In Ferguson, I was hopeful that the grand jury would do something- even if only a small reprimand – to send a message to police officers around the country, that it is not okay to shoot an unarmed man 35 feet away from you with his hands in the air and ready to surrender. But this did not happen. And while many in the nation (like myself) were grieving over this miscarriage of justice another grand jury in New York refused to find any wrong doing in the choking of a black grandfather who was accused of selling cigarettes but was not a threat to anyone. Those two decisions made me feel as if someone punched me in the stomach and knocked all the wind out of my body.

I am still grasping for air and I am still shocked and saddened.

My concern is this: if there is never any police sergeant on the scene to tell misbehaving officers to stop using excessive force; and then the justice system does not step up to the plate and say this wrong and you will be punished, then how can any black man in America feel that he will receive fair treatment on the streets or in a court of law?

It now seems obvious, that there are two justice systems in America, one for white people and one that denies black persons due process.

There is one thing, however, that gives me a reason to be hopeful.

Many protesters throughout the nation were also white men and women (and other races as well) saying that this is wrong. If enough Americans can continue this protest and insist that these killings stop and everyone be treated fairly, then perhaps one day we can have a country that protects all its citizens.

Ronald Burris, PhD., is Associate Professor of Church History American Baptist Seminary of the West

Honoring the Past, Building Upon It For the Future

It is always exciting to enter into a New Year and the challenge presented by the New Year as we celebrate in January the legacy of the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the accomplishments of African Americans living in Diaspora in February with the observance and celebration of Black History Month, and the accomplishments and achievements of Women during the month of March.

As a product of the Civil Rights Movement in American, I am so grateful for the work of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week, now month, who set this celebration in motion with the publishing of his magnificent book entitled, The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933. In 1926 Dr. Woodson initiated the annual February observance of Negro History Week. It is said that he chose February for the celebration because February 12th was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and February 14th was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass. It was not until 1970 however that the week was expanded into a month.

It is believed that the motivation behind the establishment of Negro history week by Dr. Woodson was this now famous quote from his book:

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Brought to America as slaves, the achievements of Black men and women had gone unnoticed until the efforts of Dr. Woodson were acknowledged. His work lifted up before Americans and the world community the great contributions that have been made by African Americans to the development of American economy and culture.

Let me share with you some of the acknowledged achievements of African Americans considering, where would we be without their contributions.

There would have been very few crops that flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.

There would be no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator, and without it, one would have difficulty reaching higher floors.

There would be few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for internal combustion engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signal.

There would be no rapid transit system because is precursor was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Albert R. Robinson.

Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they would be cluttered with paper because a black man, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper.

There would be few if any newspapers, magazines and books available to a mass audience because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purvis invented the fountain pen, Lee Barrage invented the typewriting machine, and W. A. Love invented the advanced printing press. They were all of African descent.

Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been easily transported by mail because William Barry invented the postmarking and canceling machine, William Purvis invented the hand stamp, and Philip Downing invented the mailbox or letter drop.

Our lawns would be brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the lawn sprinkler and John Burr the lawnmower.

When we entered our homes, we would find them poorly ventilated and poorly heated, because Frederick Jones invented the air conditioner and Alice Parker the heating furnace. Our homes would also be dimly lit, because Lewis Latimer invented the electric lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern, and Granville T. Woods invented the automatic cut off switch. Our homes would also be filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the mop and Lloyd P. Ray, the dust pan.

Our family needs would be unmet because Jan E. Matzeliger invented the shoe lasting machine, Walter Sammons invented the comb, Sarah Boone invented the ironing board and George T. Sampson invented the clothes dryer.

Finally, we would be resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled until another black man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.

These are but a few acknowledged contributions made by African American living in America. There are many more.

What would this country be like without the contributions of African Americans? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,

“By the time we leave for work, millions of Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.”

Dr. Woodson reminds all of us through his insistence on affirming and acknowledging the many contributions of African Americans that Black History includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Dubois and President Barak Obama to name a few of the magnificent contributors to the history and culture of America. We are called to honor the past and mandated to build upon that past for the future. For it is true that we all stand on the shoulders of the great women and men of the past.

It was Runoko Rashidi who said,

Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson was truly a great man, an intensely dedicated soldier in the cause of African freedom and redemption. We proudly salute and praise him, and as we begin the new millennium we dedicate ourselves to extending Black History Month into the entire year and the unending an unceasing celebration, recognition and commemoration of the global history of African people.”


Dr. Paul M. Martin

President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

A Word About Cone’s New Book

Every issue of the Review and Expositor Journal begins with a “Word from . . .” and a “Word about . . .”  This blog will appear in the winter 2012 edition of the Review and Expositor as a “Word about . . .”


The Cross and the Lynching Tree [Book]Race has been a topic of great concern in our nation since the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement (1948 to present).  I am delighted that the Review and Expositor has given two full issues to the topic and even more delighted to provide a “Word About . . .” for this issue.  In this brief “Word about . . .” I would like to highlight a new publication, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by Dr. James H. Cone (2011).  In this recent publication Cone addresses the historic reality of mob violence and torture that led to the lynching of Blacks post Civil War and after the end of slavery in our nation. In the book Cone notes:

The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly 2000 years.  One is the universal symbol of Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America.  Although both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy.  Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on a cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or tree relatively few people . . . have explored the symbolic connections. (xiii)

In chapter one Cone provides numerous accounts and details about lynchings that took place in the US post emancipation and during the time of Jim Crow.  From a sociological prospective, one can say that lynching was an extra legal punishment sanctioned by the community.  Many scholars date its origin in Virginia during the Revolutionary War when Charles Lynch or William Lynch (both were called the original Judge Lynch), with the support of the community punished Tory sympathizers. (3) During this era it was considered necessary to protect the community from bad people that were out of reach of the law.  In later years it was applied to the freed Black slaves, for whom resistance to lynching was out of the question as it would lead to even more of the same.

In chapter two, Cone goes on to discuss the significant theological contribution of Reinhold Niebuhr, not only to the terrible beauty of the cross (i.e., salvation in the cross, victory in defeat, life in death), but also to Christian social ethics.  Cone touts Niebuhr as “probably the most influential single mind in the development of American attitudes which combined moral purpose with a sense of political reality.” (32)  Throughout the first half of this chapter Cone gives Niebuhr numerous accolades for his work to create theologies that confronted the injustices and inequities lived out in the United States during his lifetime, and rightly so—for Niebuhr did indeed significantly change the landscape of American theology.  His work was seminal for many of the ideological emphases that we see today.  Towards the end of the chapter and throughout the remainder of the book Cone provides honest critique of Niebuhr’s work; affirming the positive as mentioned above and challenging his silence and lack of action around the cry for legislation that would outlaw lynching. 

According to Cone, Niebuhr was “at most a moderate on racial justice.  Rather than challenge racial prejudice he believed it must ‘slowly erode.’” (48)  In chapter three, entitled “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Struggle to Redeem the Soul of America,” Cone emphasizes King’s famous discussion on “Why We Can’t Wait.”  Niebuhr encouraged patience; King responded “It is hardly a moral act to encourage others patiently to accept injustice which he himself does not endure.” (39)  For the transition from slavery resulted in the development of Jim Crow, yet another means for controlling Blacks in America; and along with Jim Crow came the rise of lynching Blacks in America. 

King is famous, of course, for his Gandhian inspired non-violent resistance theology that undergirded the Civil Rights Movement.  For King Non-violence was more than a strategy; in his thinking it was the only way to heal a broken humanity.  In response to the fall out that came from King’s “Beyond Vietnam” address at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967) King states: “. . . when I took up the cross I recognized its meaning. . . . It is not something that you wear.  The cross is something that you bear and ultimately that you die on.” (84)  It is clear King had seen the power of the cross that was made even clearer by Oscar Romero’s famous statement pronounced shortly before he was martyred “. . . if they kill me I shall be resurrected in the hearts of the Salvadoran people.”  In these two brief examples, I hope the reader can catch a glimpse of the profound significance of Jesus’ death on the cross that goes well beyond ideas found in classical traditional atonement theology. 

As a “professional” student of theology for more than 27 years now, I want to state clearly that it was not until I took a study trip to El Salvador, heard the stories, talked to the people, and read the theological reflections of their contemporary theologians that I truly understood the significance of the cross and, consequently, of its comparison to the lynching tree.  All of our big fancy theological words such as atonement, substantiation, propitiation, expiation, and so on, do not and cannot bring to life the truths found in the martyrdom of these great theologians (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Romero) who understood theology as something practical and active; who lived their theology and called out for others to do the same.  The martyrdom of these two men changed the world and the theological enterprise forever.

In his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, of which I have shared but a small portion in this brief “Word about, . . .” James Cone has exposed the gap between White progressive theology and the Black theology of Liberation.  He has dared to be open and honest about the theological developments in Black culture and in so doing called the progressive White theologians to task for not adequately and actively addressing issues of race in their ethics.  To Dr. Cone I say “Thank you for your honest reflections and your challenge to White America;” to White America I say “Please read this book and embrace its truth.”

“A Word about . . .”

By LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament

American Baptist Seminary of the West at

The Graduate Theological Union

Berkeley, CA