Sandor Goodhart will present at the 2019 Theology & Peace Conference!

We are thrilled to announce that Sandor “Sandy” Goodhart will lead us in a Midrash on Hebrew Bible and Beloved Community at our 2019 Conference, June 17-20, “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu.” Sandy is a Professor of English and Jewish Studies at Purdue University’s Department of English. He served as the Director of the Jewish Studies Program (1997-2002), of the Philosophy and Literature Program (2005), and of the Classical Studies Program (2007-2011). He is the author of five books on literature, philosophy, and Jewish Studies including Möbian Nights: Reading Literature and Darkness (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), The Prophetic Law: Essays in Judaism, Girardianism, Literary Studies, and the Ethical (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2014),
Sacrifice, Scripture, and Substitution (Notre Dame University Press, 2011; co-edited with Ann Astell), For René Girard: Essays in Friendship and Truth (East Lansing MI: Michigan State University Press, 2009), Reading Stephen Sondheim (Garland: New York, 2000), and Sacrificing Commentary: Reading the End of Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). He served as guest editor for a special issue of Shofar, 26.4 (Summer 2008) on Emmanuel Levinas, the co-editor (with Monica Osborne) of a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies, 54.1 (Spring 2008) on Emmanuel Levinas, and the editor of a special issue of Religion, An International Journal 37.1 (March 2007) on René Girard. He is a founding board member of the North American Levinas Society (founded with his students at Purdue), the former President of the
Colloquium on Violence and Religion (2004-2007), and the author of over ninety essays (including essays on Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow).

Sandy will lead us through a Midrash on the Hebrew Bible and Beloved Community.

REGISTER NOW!

 

Posted in Theology & Peace Conference | Leave a comment

Our 2018 conference was ground breaking! Don’t miss 2019!

by Sangeetha EkambaramFirst appeared in the Aug. 2018 Issue of the COV&R Bulletin.    REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2019 CONFERENCE!

American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee. The College has educated Civil Rights champions, national leaders and outstanding Christian ministers. The school’s history during the 1960’s and 1970’s was lively with cultivating civil rights champions, national leaders and outstanding Christian ministers. Students from American Baptist College, such as Julius Scruggs, Bernard Lafayette, Jim Bevels, William Barbee and John Lewis served on the front line of the Nashville Student Sit-In movement for justice and change.

The 2018 Theology and Peace conference, ACCEPTING THE INVITATION TO THE BELOVED COMMUNITY took place at American Baptist College in Nashville, TN. ABC has served as the training ground for several prominent leaders from the Civil Rights movement until today. Each aspect of the conference centered on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community.”

Theology & Peace President, Susan Wright, gives opening address.

Susan Wright, outgoing Theology and Peace president, opened the conference by invoking King’s awareness of the human need for community and engagement with the adversary in order to achieve this goal. Wright referred to René Girard’s concept of the pre-rational tendency to imitate each other’s desires as evidence of this need. [Watch on YouTube]

That evening’s film, King in the Wilderness, brought to attention King’s emphasis on economic justice as the true foundation of building the “beloved community.” The conference was graced throughout by community-building practices such as group singing, led by Patty Prasada-Rao and Elder C.W. Harris, contemplative meditation, and prayers.

Throughout the conference Patty Prasad-Rao and Elder CW Harris led us in prayer and song.

James Warren gave an audio-visual presentation, utilizing pop culture illustrations to introduce Mimetic Theory

Theology & Peace Contributing Theologian, Rev. Paul Nuechterlein on “Advanced Mimetic Theory”

The first morning engaged participants with the works of René Girard. James Warren oriented a group of newcomers by laying out the basics of mimetic theory. An advanced group featured Paul Neuchterlein, who reviewed the evolution of Girard’s theories, including the idea that the self-sacrificial victim in the Christian tradition uniquely addresses the basic issue of violence. He brought to attention the racial and gendered foundations of systemic violence through the lens of various academic disciplines and the need for personal self-awareness.

ABC faculty, Phyllis Hildreth, J.D. and Joseph Tribble, M. Div., responded. Primarily concerned with how mimetic theory intersects with beloved community, Hildreth aimed to contextualize Girard’s theories and the conversations surrounding them. She asked critical questions about who was included in the conversation and who was being centered. In conversations aimed at reconciliation, she cautioned that it is crucial to remember that, depending on one’s position in the power structures that be, not all approach the table in the same way. Tribble questioned Girard’s basic notions about mimetic desire within the framework of cultural, social, and psychological complexity. He cautioned against the tendency to oversimplify “into large categories.” Echoing Hildreth, Tribble argued that true engagement occurs when the dominant group is decentered.

Dr. Forrest E. Harris delivered a stirring, informative and powerful plenary session at the 2018 Theology and Peace Conference.

That afternoon, President of ABC, Dr. Forrest E. Harris, delivered a powerful plenary address. [Watch on YouTube]

He argued that it is exactly American society’s refusal to accept the “Beloved Community” in the form of economic justice, that “allowed the worst demons of racism to re-enter the house,” and in even more insidious forms than in the 1960s. Harris fervently argued that it is those at the margins of society that hold the key to true liberation for all, as their experiences stand in stark testimony against the “pharaohs of our time.” He used the metaphor of a stitching the garment of “life to love…and love to liberation” as the “singular calling of our collective humanity.”

Plenary #1 Panel Responses with Rev. Mary Mckinney and Rahim Buford

Rev. Mary McKinney and Rahim Buford followed with response. [Watch on YouTube]. Rev. McKinney traced her journey from growing up in a segregated Georgia to choosing a seminary in Chicago that could situate her perspective on race in America. She also discussed her identity as a queer woman, struggling with the conservative teachings of her religious upbringing.

Rahim Buford advocates on behalf of and mentors those held in a local juvenile detention center.

Rahim Buford, a student at American Baptist College, was formerly incarcerated for 25 years after being tried and convicted as a juvenile. He shared much about his life story, a testament to a harsh and unjust criminal justice system, especially towards juveniles. After a difficult and long process, he was eventually released. In addition to sharing his story, he advocates on behalf of and mentors those held in a local juvenile detention center.

Rev. Dr. Theophus “Thee” Smith explains targeting, from criticism & gossip to persecution, scapegoating & hate crimes, and ritual killing.

The plenary speaker that evening, Dr. Thee Smith from Emory University, addressed issues of restorative practices as a response to the human tendency towards “target practice.” [Watch on YouTube] He showed how the Christian practice of the Eucharist can address the issue of violence as it can act as a “substitution for the sacrificial victim.” Thee then pointed to various practices of reconciliation and invited the conference attendees to participate in an exercise “rehearsal for the beloved community.”

Cyntoia Brown hearing in Nashville: Parole panel split on granting clemency. Tennessean.com

Wednesday morning began with a powerful prayer session for the clemency hearing of Cyntoia Brown taking place that morning. Incoming Theology and Peace president Preston Shipp would be speaking in her defense.

Rev. Jeannie Alexander, director of No Exceptions Prison Collective, shared the experiences of the scapegoated.

Rev. Jeannie Alexander, Director of No Excpetions Prison Collective, then led the bible study focusing on Mark 5:1-20, reading through the interpretive lens of mass incarceration. She vehemently argued that Girard’s notion that modern day religion no longer enacts violent ritualism is plainly false. She offered the testimony of her own experience as a prison chaplain, and the ritualization of state violence in the rehearsal and performance of state executions. She further pointed out that we, as a society, scapegoat criminals, instead of dealing with systemic issues of racism and poverty[Watch Part 1] [Watch Part 2 ]

That afternoon conference attendees visited Thistle Farms, founded by Becca Stevens. The business assists women in escaping life on the streets or other dangerous situations and supports them in their “journey to wholeness.” Stevens asserted, however, that wholeness is not enough if poverty remains an issue.

Becca Stevens, President and Founder of Thistle Farms, delivers Plenary #3

Therefore, Thistle Farms also offers employment to these women through its bath and body care company. The business includes global partnerships, sharing its vision of economic justice to women in particularly Rwanda and in a Syrian refugee camp in Greece.

[Watch Becca’s Plenary] [Watch Q&A Session]

Inversion Vocal Ensemble

That evening, conference participants enjoyed dinner at Thistle Farms as well as a lively musical performance by the local Inversion Vocal Ensemble and folk singer Buddy Greene.

Final Panel Discussion with Joseph Tribble (ABC), Kristin McWilliams (Thistle Farms), and Thee Smith

The con-ference concluded with reflections on Girardian theory in the context of today’s realities. As participants reflected on the “Beloved Community,” Dr. Thee Smith reminded us that Dr. King was a sacrificial victim of American society, not only in his murder, but in the present day with the domestication of his radical vision.

Theology & Peace will return to American Baptist College, June 17-20, 2019 for our 12th Annual Conference: “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu.”

REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2019 CONFERENCE!

Posted in Theology & Peace Conference | Leave a comment

The Rev. Naomi Tutu will speak at the 2019 Theology & Peace Conference!

The daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Naomi Tutu blends her passion for human dignity with humor and personal stories. Her professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa, to being program coordinator for programs on Race and Gender and Gender-based Violence in Education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. She served as Program Coordinator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, and was a part of the Institute’s delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban. She the recipient of four honorary doctorates from universities and colleges in the US and Nigeria. Rev. Tutu is an ordained clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. She serves as a curate at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville and has recently been hired by the Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village to work on racial and economic reconciliation issues across Western North Carolina.

REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2019 CONFERENCE!

Posted in Theology & Peace Conference | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Battle Will Speak at Theology & Peace Conference!

Currently appointed as Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York, the Very Rev. Michael Battle, Ph.D. has an undergraduate degree from Duke University, received his master’s of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, a master’s of Sacred Theology from Yale University and a PhD in theology and ethics, also from Duke University. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1993. Battle’s clergy experience, in addition to his current church work, includes serving as vicar at St. Titus Episcopal Church in Durham, NC, rector at Church of Our Saviour, in San Gabriel, California; rector at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C.; and interim rector or associate priest with other churches in North Carolina and in Cape Town, South Africa.

On two occasions he moved into churches located in ethnically changing neighborhoods (to Asian in one and to Hispanic in the other) and helped both to adapt and grow. He also served as provost and canon theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. In 2010, Battle was given one of the highest Anglican Church distinctions as “Six Preacher,” by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. A distinction given to only a few who demonstrate great dedication to the church that goes back to 16th century England and Thomas Cranmer. Battle’s academic experience includes service as interim dean of Students and Community Life at Episcopal Divinity School, dean for academic affairs, vice president and associate professor of theology at Virginia Theology Seminary; as associate professor of spirituality and black church studies, at Duke University’s Divinity School; and as assistant professor of spiritual and moral theology in the School of Theology at the University of the South. Battle has published nine books, including Heaven on Earth: God’s Call to Community in the Book of Revelation,  Reconciliation: the Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu and the book for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me.

“French Anthropologist René Girard provides renewed self-esteem to Christians by showing how Jesus explodes the sacrificial, violent nature of human community. Jesus explodes the mechanism in human beings that requires another victim. Girard brilliantly articulates how human beings are entirely dependent on the re-establishment of order after cycles of victimary bloodletting.”(Heaven on Earth, 43)

In his PeaceBattle Institute he works on subjects of diversity, spirituality, prayer, race and reconciliation. Almost since its inception, he has served as pastor and spiritual director to hundreds of clergy and laity for CREDO for the Episcopal Church. He has also served as chaplain to Archbishop Tutu, Congressman John Lewis, the House of Bishops and, in 2008, was chaplain to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. He is a featured keynote speaker and has led numerous clergy and lay retreats, including the bishops’ retreat of the Province of the West Indies. In addition, Battle has served as vice president to the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi’s Institute for Nonviolence. Battle and his wife, Raquel, were married by Archbishop Tutu and are parents to two daughters, Sage and Bliss, and a son, Zion. All of whom were baptized by Archbishop Tutu as well.

Visit his website: michaelbattle.com

Faculty page: http://gts.edu/the-rev-dr-michael-battle/

REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2019 CONFERENCE!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu

June 17-20, 2019
12th ANNUAL THEOLOGY & PEACE CONFERENCE
 “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu”
American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee
Speakers Include: The Very Rev. Michael Battle, Ph.D.The Rev. Janet Wolf, The Rev. Naomi Tutu

REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2019 CONFERENCE!

René Girard

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mimetic Theory, as articulated by René Girard, offers profound insight into human nature, desire, rivalry and the tendency to create scapegoats on both the individual and systemic levels.

Martin Luther King‘s vision of Beloved Community offers an antidote to the disease that mimetic theory diagnoses.

Coming out of the context of apartheid South Africa, Desmond Tutu‘s theology of Ubuntu helps us understand our inter-dependence as a fundamental truth of being human, namely, that “I am only because we are.”

Desmond Tutu

The Beloved Community affords us the opportunity to move beyond our tribal tendencies and the scapegoat mechanism that insidiously infects our hearts, our communities, our political institutions and even our churches, and to enjoy inter-dependence and inter-dividuality in the spirit of Ubuntu.

More Speakers To Be Announced!

In partnership with American Baptist College, Nashville, Tennessee

Posted in Theology & Peace Conference | Leave a comment

Speaker Announced for 2019 Conference in Nashville!

We are thrilled to announce that Rev. Janet Wolf, director of The Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing at the Children’s Defense Fund, will join us for the 2019 Theology & Peace Conference, “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu,” June 17-20 at American Baptist College in Nashville!

The link above features Rev. Wolf on a panel with Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Ndume Olatushani (who was sentenced to death and served 30 years for something he did not do), and our T&P president, Preston Shipp.

The Rev. Janet Wolf is the Director of Children’s Defense Fund Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing. She previously served as faculty chair and professor at American Baptist College in Nashville, a historically Black college and home to many of the national civil rights leaders. For the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Wolf served as pastor of rural and urban congregations for 12 years. As director of public policy and community outreach with Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy, she worked with a national interfaith coalition on harm reduction, alternatives to incarceration and restorative justice. She is the author of “To See and To Be Seen,” a chapter in  I Was in Prison: United Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry. For 12 years she also served as a community organizer around poverty rights. Wolf graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Stayed tuned! More speakers to be announced shortly!

Posted in Theology & Peace Conference | Leave a comment

“Woke” to a New Reformation: The Razor’s Edge of “Identity Politics” as the Way to “Truth and Reconciliation”

Woke is a political term of African American origin that refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African American Vernacular English expression “stay woke,” whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Its widespread use since 2014 is a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. — Wikipedia, “Woke”

For Lent 1B in 2018 I began a regular feature at my website titled “Elements of a New Reformation.” The idea of this feature is not just a new call to reform the church but to be “woke” to the New Reformation that’s already underway. I believe the term “woke” to be appropriate here because it is movements like Black Lives Matter in which I see the New Reformation to be be underway. Unfortunately, the church, still slowly waking up from its collusion in Christendom, is not a leader of the New Reformation; it has been a follower in some quarters and still an obstructionist in many others.

In July I began a regular preaching stint again as an interim pastor. The Second Reading that day was Ephesians 2:11-22 (Proper 11B) — the perfect text on which to begin preaching on the theme of New Reformation. Combined with Ephesians 2:8-10 it is easy to see where the Reformation failed. The latter was right to emphasize grace in passages like 2:8-10, but then it not only missed the point of grace in the verses to follow (after the “therefore” in 2:11) but proceeded to make matters worse. (For more on Eph. 2 and healing tribalism, see my recent blog “Healing Tribalism.”)

‘Creating one new humanity out of the two’ (Eph. 2:15). This is what the New Reformation must be about. In the language of our current moment in history, it is about God’s spirit working in the world to heal tribalism. The Reformation ended up multiplying the tribes by which human beings lived out their tribalism. I’m sure that was not the aim but it was the result. Why?

I think that much depends on the razor’s edge of what today is called “identity politics.” The online Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a helpful definition:

politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group

What I’m calling the razor’s edge of identity politics is that a first step essential to healing tribalism is to be ‘woke’ to how identities are malformed in history that structurally favor one group over another in a society’s institutions and culture. In short, some form of identity politics is necessary and good. But the razor’s edge is to fall off to one side or the other. One side is to lose the larger aim of “the interests and concerns of any larger political group” — what is sometimes called the “common good.” This is what is most often referred to pejoratively as “identity politics.”

Take the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. Black Lives Matter can fall short of the razor’s edge if it misses the longer-term aim of lifting everyone toward the common good by simply pitting black lives against white lives. It becomes another entrenchment of tribalism.

But I would propose that falling off on the other side of the razor’s is actually much more often the case — namely, by refusing to recognize the positive side of identity politics — in this case, that black lives have mattered less than white lives in the historical structures of a White Supremacist culture. Healing of this centuries-long tribalism cannot begin to happen without being woke to a proper diagnosis. The most common outcome to conversations about race continues to be the label of “identity politics” as a justification to not have the conversation about race at all, thus falling short of reaching an historical diagnosis which might lead to genuine healing.

One of the places that I see New Reformation happening in our world is in South Africa. Like all reform movements it has certainly come with it ups and downs. On the positive side is the effort at “Truth and Reconciliation.” The very name implies that one cannot come without the other. We cannot get to reconciliation without some form of telling the truth of the disease of tribalism in need of healing. Sometimes, the overall aim is reconciliation, but the efforts at truth-telling are too quickly labeled as “identity politics” and then used as a justification to short-circuit truth-telling and move straight to reconciliation. For my part, I most often experience the cry of “identity politics” in this obstructionist sense of thinking we can move to reconciliation without truth-telling. Conversely, I most often experience movements like Black Lives Matter as a means of truth-telling on the way to any hopes for reconciliation. If Black Lives Matter is “identity politics,” then it is so in the positive step toward striving toward the interests and concerns of the larger political group. It is a striving toward the common good of reconciliation, of healing the tribalism that has become known as White Supremacy.

Theologically, the cry of “identity politics” as obstruction to truth-telling is akin to thinking we can have the forgiveness and reconciliation of resurrection without going through the painful truth of the cross. Anthropologically, especially in light of Mimetic Theory, it is akin to thinking we can move beyond the deeply embedded effects of the Scapegoat Mechanism without any solidarity with the victims who are the product of structuring human community founded on losers and winners, on those sacrificed and those who carry out the sacrifice. It means remaining blind to the mechanism at the foundation of all our human worlds, which the cross reveals.

In Mimetic Theory, James Alison has called this element of curing the blindness of the dominant viewpoint of a culture the “intelligence of the victim” (in many of his books, beginning with the first, Knowing Jesus); and Andrew McKenna the “epistemological privilege of the victim” (Violence and Difference). Here I’m suggesting that it’s simply the positive form, or the razor’s edge, of what is so often (too quickly) labeled as “identity politics.”

This raises a matter of disagreement between myself and my mentor, René Girard, when he commented in several places on “identity politics” (primarily the interview books When These Things Begin and The One by Whom Scandal Comes). He certainly has some truthful things to say about “identity politics” in the form of falling off on the one side of the razor’s edge into mimetic conflict between groups. But here’s the problem I’ve encountered with those remarks in my own work: Girard never made substantial comments on the razor’s edge of identity politics in the sense of diagnosing the institutional, systemic, and cultural embeddedness of the Scapegoat Mechanism in the isms of our time — racism, sexism, capitalism, etc. So I believe Girard left the door open to falling off the razor’s edge on the other side: calling something “identity politics” and then never getting around to the deeper truth-telling required for reconciliation, for healing the tribalism hidden since the foundation of the world. Antiracism work, for example, is not “identity politics” in the pejorative sense when it remains focused on the goal of healing racism for the common good. Yet the necessary first step is to provide a diagnosis of the problem which is too often hastily labeled as “identity politics” — as a justification for trying to get to reconciliation before there has been genuine truth-telling.

The greatest gift to me as a student of Mimetic Theory, and as a practitioner of peacemaking based upon it, has been the slow, gradual curing of my blindness (still ongoing!) as a educated white male in Euro-American white culture. It has opened me to listen to those who are oppressed in our culture. The analysis of the Scapegoat Mechanism as embedding sacrificial thinking and practices into a culture has made it easier for me to hear and understand movements like Black Lives Matter and inclusive language for gender. It inspires and motivates me to participate in things like the Poor People’s Campaign and ongoing antiracism work. These are the kind of movements which I experience as New Reformation — a sort of ‘virtual church’ of which the institutional church is now sometimes a follower.

Such work has increasingly become the work of Theology and Peace in recent years as we are now building a partnership with the American Bible College to live into Beloved Community. Please consider joining us in 2019 for “Engaged Mimetic Theory: Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu.”

Posted in Paul Nuechterlein's Blog | Leave a comment