Daily we are reminded of the very real forces which threaten to dismantle our democratic way of life, which scapegoat the most vulnerable members of society, which seem to have little to no regard for the preservation of life on our planet. In this climate many of us struggle to keep hope alive and our spirits high. Over the past several years Theology & Peace has been fortunate to encounter a number of inspiring figures who, in the face of adversity, continue to persevere for the good of us all. In this season of gratitude, let’s remember and give thanks for their compassion, their vision and their strength.
FOR SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER:
The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is an Episcopal Priest and Canon Theologian at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. She is the Susan D. Morgan Distinguished Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore. She is a leader in the field of womanist theology, racial reconciliation and sexuality and the black church. She uses Girard as one of the few white thinkers able to illuminate the experience of the black body. She has authored Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (2015), What’s Faith Got To Do With It?: Black Bodies/Christian Souls (2005), which explores the black body as the key reality where struggle for black identity, faith and freedom takes place, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (1999), and The Black Christ (1993).
Dr. Angela Sims is Robert B. and Kathleen Rogers Associate Professor in Church and Society, and Associate Professor of Ethics and Black Church Studies at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. She holds a doctorate in Christian Social Ethics from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Principal investigator for an oral history project, Remembering Lynching: Strategies of Resistance and Visions of Justice, her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Womanist Scholars Program at the Interdenominational Theological Center, the Louisville Institute, the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, and the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University. Dr. Sims is the author of Ethical Complications of Lynching: Ida B. Wells’s Interrogation of American Terror (2010), and co-author with F. Douglas Powe, Jr. and Johnny Bernard Hill of Religio-Political Narratives in America From Martin Luther King, Jr. through Jeremiah Wright (2013), and co-editor with Katie Geneva Cannon and Emilie M. Townes of Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader (2011). A native of Louisiana, Dr. Sims is an ordained National Baptist clergywoman.
Dr. Julia Robinson Moore teaches courses in African American Religion, Religions of the African Diaspora, and racial violence in America at UNC Charlotte. She uses Girard in her courses, has presented twice at COV&R conferences on the theme of lynching, and is recognized as a significant voice applying mimetic theory in the traumatic area of race in the United States. Her first book titled, Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Reverend Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit (2015) explores how Bradby’s church became the catalyst for economic empowerment, community-building, and the formation of an urban African American working class in Detroit. Her second book project, Overcoming Race in the Faith: Black Presbyterians in the New South speaks to the complexities of black and white race relations in the New South through the sacred context of the Presbyterian Church. Her third book project is titled, Corruptions in Christianity: Dismantling Racial and Religious Violence in Global Contexts. This work addresses the complicated and destructive nature of racial and religious violence in Africa, Europe, and the United States. It reveals how various mainstream Protestant organizations have sanctioned state and local violence in name of Christ.
FOR JUSTICE FOR PEOPLE AND POLICE:
Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) is a 34-year veteran of both the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department who oversaw 17 separate drug task forces and is now Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), an organization of police, prosecutors, judges and other law enforcement officials who want to end the war on drugs. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership’s mission is to unite and mobilize the voice of law enforcement in support of drug policy and criminal justice reforms that will make communities safer by focusing law enforcement resources on the greatest threats to public safety, promoting alternatives to arrest and incarceration, addressing the root causes of crime, and working toward healing police-community relations. Read more about Neill Franklin here.
Christine Mumma teaches at UNC’s School of Law and is Executive Director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (nccai.org), which coordinates the work of North Carolina Law School Innocence Projects, which studies and identifies solutions for causation issues associated with wrongful convictions. Instrumental in fighting for criminal justice reform in North Carolina, Chris has spearheaded legislation on eyewitness identification, the recording of interrogations, preservation of biological evidence, enhanced support for exonerees, and the establishment of the only Innocence Inquiry Commission in the United States. She represented Dwayne Dail, Joseph Abbitt, Greg Taylor, Willie Grimes, Larry Lamb, and Joseph Sledge in their successful post-conviction proceedings.
The Rev. Alexander E. Sharp is Executive Director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. He has been working on criminal justice issues for 15 years. He served as the founding executive director of Protestants for the Common Good from 1996 through June 2012. He and colleague Walter Boyd joined the early efforts in Illinois to provide a second chance for those seeking to re-build their lives after prison. They were struck by how many individuals, predominantly African American and Hispanic, were incarcerated for low-level drug offenses. They began to challenge the War on Drugs.
FOR PRISON OUTREACH:
Preston Shipp served as an appellate prosecutor in the Tennessee Attorney General’s office. While serving as a religious volunteer and teaching college classes in Tennessee prisons, he became good friends with many people who were incarcerated, one of whom he had actually prosecuted. These relationships caused Preston to wake up to the many injustices that are present in the American system of mass incarceration. Preston felt increasing conflict between his faith in Jesus, who was executed as a criminal, and his role as a prosecutor, which required him to argue for the punishment of people he did not know. Unable to serve two masters, Preston left his career as an appellate prosecutor in 2008. Since then, he has taught in universities and churches, lectured at conferences, and written about the urgent needs for criminal justice reform, a shift in how we regard imprisoned people, and a new vision of justice that seeks healing, transformation, and reconciliation, not merely the infliction of suffering. Preston’s conversion from prosecutor to criminal justice reform advocate has left him convinced that his salvation is bound up with that of his friends behind bars. Preston lives in Nashville with his wife Sherisse and their three children, Lila Joy, Ruby Faith, and Levi.
Rahim Buford is a man of passion and purpose who uses his voice and personal experiences to make a difference in the lives of others – from young people to veteran lawmakers. He is a formerly incarcerated social justice advocate from Nashville, Tennessee. Rahim was paroled in 2015 after being locked up for 26 consecutive calendar years. While in prison, he acquired certifications from numerous educational institutions and became a leader in SALT (Schools for Alternative Learning and Transformation). He received a Presidential scholarship at American Baptist College and loves being in college. Now a consultant organizer for Children’s Defense Fund Nashville Team and ICAN (Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network)member. Rahim self-published his book, Save Your Own Life, utilizing simple prose, poetry, reflection and writing exercises for youth battling the “cradle-to-pipeline.” He founded Unheard Voice Outreach to connect with at-risk youth and to assist individuals affected be incarceration. Rahim facilitates critical reading, writing, and dialogue sessions at the Metro juvenile detention center on Thursdays. Watch Rahim’s Story on YouTube
Andrew McKenna PH.D. teaches literature and scripture to prison inmates as a volunteer for Kairos Prison Ministry. Andrew is professor of French language and Literature at Loyola University Chicago and a member of the Anthropoetics editorial board. He is the author of Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction (1992), as well as of numerous articles on Molière, Pascal, Racine, Montesquieu, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Fellini, and critical theory. From 1996 through 2006, he was editor in chief of Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture. He is a founding board member of The Raven Foundation and of Imitatio, foundations devoted to research and education in mimetic anthropology.
FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY AT THE MARGINS:
Elder CW Harris is the founder of Intersection of Change (formerly Newborn Holistic Ministries), a community-based nonprofit focused on community development in west Baltimore. The organization is dedicated to providing programs that enrich the economic, social and spiritual lives of those dealing with poverty related issues in the Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding communities.
Work to date has resulted in significant neighborhood revitalization of the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue through the full renovation of six previously vacant and dilapidated buildings, transformation of 18 vacant lots into community green spaces and meditative gardens, and the creation of a dozen neighborhood murals. Programs by Intersection of Change include:
- Martha’s Place: A recovery program for women overcoming drug addiction and homelessness that offers both a six-month transitional phase as well as a long-term independent housing phase. The program helps women achieve sobriety while maintaining a job and housing and serves approximately 50 women per year.
- Jubilee Arts: A comprehensive art program that offers alternative to the dangers of drugs and violence in the community. Jubilee Arts provides art classes (in ceramics, visual arts, dance, and writing) six days a week and cultural activities to both children and adults and serves approximately 1,500 people annually.
CW Harris is the recipient of the 2017 Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award.
Becca Stevens is an author, speaker, Episcopal priest, and social entrepreneur. She is founder and president of Thistle Farms. After experiencing the death of her father and subsequent child abuse when she was 5, Becca longed to open a sanctuary for survivors offering a loving community. In 1997, five women who had experienced trafficking, violence, and addiction were welcomed home. Twenty years later, the organization continues to welcome women with free residence that provide housing, medical care, therapy and education for two years. Residents and graduates earn income through one of four social enterprises. The Global Market of Thistle Farms helps employ more than 1,800 women worldwide, and the national network has more than 40 sister communities. She is author of Love Heals (2017), Letters From the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life (2015), Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling (2014), The Way of Tea and Justice (2015), and Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me (2005).
Vince Bantu is Visiting Professor of Missiology and Director of the City Ministry Initiative at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He directs local networks such as the Inter-Minority Dialogue, Minority Scholars of Religion and Theology, and the African American Interfaith Dialogue of St. Louis, and serves as pastor of education at Outpour Evangelical Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Since 2004 Vince has led conference workshops for the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He has participated in the Emerging Leaders Cohort, and is a founding member and contributing author of CCDA’s Theological Committee.
FOR PEACEMAKING AND RECONCILIATION:
Jonathan Brenneman and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Jonathan is Coordinator, Israel/Palestine Partners in Peacemaking, Mennonite Church USA. He comes from a long line of Mennonites on his father’s side and a prominent Palestinian Christian family on his mother’s side. He grew up in a small town in Ohio. After attending Huntington University, where he studied History and Philosophy, he worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine (CPT) Project in Hebron. CPT’s mission is to build partnerships to transform violence and oppression. Jonathan worked on the ground with Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers, and organized in the USA to challenge oppressive Israeli policies. Most recently Jonathan completed a master’s degree in Peace Studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute. That program included a six month internship with Ndifuna Ukwazi in Cape Town South Africa, an organization which advocates for more just land policies. He currently works for Mennonite Church USA, coordinating educational opportunities about Israel-Palestine.
Vern Neufeld Redekop is a Full Professor in the School of Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University, Ottawa. His involvement in training and program development has taken him to Indigenous communities in Canada as well as to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan, Taiwan and other countries. His theoretical and practical insights found expression in
his book, From Violence to Blessing: How anUnderstanding of Deep-Rooted Conflict Can Open Paths to Reconciliation (2002), which included two chapters devoted to mimetic theory and scapegoating respectively and was organized around the concepts of mimetic structures of violence and mimetic structures of blessing. Subsequent research has focused on protest crowds and police, resulting in (with Shirley Paré) Beyond Control: A Mutual Respect Approach to Protest Crowd – Police Relations (2010). Oxford University Press has published Introduction to Conflict Studies: Empirical, Theoretical, and Ethical Dimensions (2012), which he co-authored with Jean-Francois Rioux. He editor with Thomas Ryba of René Girard and Creative Mimesis (2013) and René Girard and Creative Reconciliation (2014). Current research focuses on Spirituality, Emergent Creativity, and Reconciliation and Community Dialogue processes on Social Reconciliation and Economic Development.
FOR VOICES OF WISDOM & SANITY:
Sereta Richardson is a US Army Veteran and a former Mississippi Police Officer. She is an eloquent speaker on issues of racism, trauma, social justice, and her personal experiences as a veteran and a police officer. She has spoken twice at the Annual Theology & Peace Conference, including in 2016 as a Plenary Presenter on Circle Process. She is a tireless advocate for victims of racial discrimination and violence. At present she is an active voice on social media for the release of Cyntoia Brown, a juvenile victim of sex trafficking sentenced to a life in prison for killing her abuser.
The Raven Foundation was established in January 2007 by co-founders Keith Ross and Suzanne Ross. In addition to the Rosses, the Foundation is staffed by Adam Ericksen, Maura Junius and Lindsey Paris-Lopez. The Raven Foundation is committed to making religion reasonable, violence unthinkable and peace a possibility by spreading awareness of the transformative power of mimetic theory. Their goal is to foster peaceful individuals and harmonious communities that will reject scapegoating and violence as ways to form identity and achieve real and lasting peace. Their primary outreach is through hosting The Raven ReView blog that provides social commentary on current events, politics, religion, scandals, and popular entertainment. They also hold live events for the public to learn directly from scholars applying mimetic theory to literature, religion, history, psychology or peacemaking. Recently The Raven Foundation celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a workshop, “Hard Times for Truth”.
Brian Robinette, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Co-director of the Joint MA in Philosophy and Theology at Boston College. He taught at Saint Louis University (2003-2012). He obtained his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. Having twice appeared as a Plenary Speaker at the Annual Theology & Peace Conference, Brian has shared his work integrating mimetic theory with Christian contemplative practice. Distilling the wisdom of the desert monastics and contemporary teachers like Belden Lane and Martin Laird, Brian has described multiple ways contemplative practice loosens mimetic binds, freeing us from rivalry with our neighbors in order that we may truly love them. He is author of Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (2009), which won awards from the Catholic Press Association and the College Theology Society, and two pivotal essays: “Contemplative Practice and the Therapy of Mimetic Desire,” in Contagion 24 , and “Deceit, Desire, and the Desert: René Girard’s Mimetic Theory in Conversation with Early Monastic Practice,” in Violence, Transformation, and The Sacred: “They shall be called Children of God” ed. Margaret Pfeil and Tobias L. Winright (2011). He has also published several articles, including on the thought of Thomas Merton, Jean-Luc Marion, Charles Taylor, and René Girard. He lives in Needham, Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.
Brian McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for “a new kind of Christianity” – just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. Brian has appeared twice as a plenary speaker at the Annual Theology & Peace Conference, including in 2015 when he presented on Compassionate Economics. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and a leader in the Convergence Network, through which he is developing an innovative training/mentoring program for pastors, church planters, and lay leaders called Convergence Leadership Project. He works closely with the Center for Progressive Renewal/Convergence, the Wild Goose Festival and the Fair Food Program‘s Faith Working Group.
There are many more we could identify as sources of hope and inspiration and there are many more who work tirelessly without recognition or reward! Thank you!