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Parks-King lecturer: mission challenges are solidarity, healing, liberation

By Mindy Roll '07 M.Div.

"A theologian who 'gets it'" was the way Professor Serene Jones introduced 2006-2007 Parks-King lecturer Dwight Hopkins to a diverse group of Yale Divinity School students, faculty, staff, guests, and alumni Feb. 6 in Marqand Chapel.

Jones also described Hopkins as having "a poet's eye for language, a community organizer's sense for the rhetoric of group empowerment, [and] the prophet's sense of the call for justice." For the ensuing hour Hopkins was able to give listeners some idea of what "getting it" means to him, particularly with regard to the concept of mission. He challenged the black church to "pursue the missio dei on behalf of liberation and healing," and adapt the radical practices of hospitality expressed in Matthew 25, as over against "the prosperity Gospel, the God channel, deliverance ministries, or conversion from indigenous beliefs."

Hopkins is professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, a constructive theologian, and prolific author. His recent books include Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion; Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic (coeditor); and Heart and Head: Black Theology-Past, Present, and Future.

Dwight Hopkins with YDS Professor Adela Collins"At the dawn of the 21 st century, one of the major challenges for the black church in the United States is mission," Hopkins said. "However, the church needs to engage in a new form of mission. Rather than follow a type of imperialistic missionary work that we see carried out by Europe and the United States in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, a different black church missionary activity would focus on solidarity, healing, and liberation for oppressed communities and nations globally."

Mission, Hopkins suggested, should be at the forefront of the contemporary black church, following a long tradition of mission engagement that helped shape the identity of the black church and, more broadly, African-American identity.

"The history, the tradition, and even the biblical witness all undergird a call for the black church in the 21 st century to take on a new form of mission," Hopkins argued. "I believe that if we do not try to struggle for a better world and hold deep within our hearts that a better world is possible for 'the least of these' today, our children and our unborn children will judge us."

Prior to the Parks-King Lecture, the Black Alumni Forum featured a presentation on "Black Theologies: Pulpit, Academy, Pew." Panelists included: Flora Wilson Bridges, '86 M.A.R., associate professor of pastoral theology at the School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University; Enrique R. Brown, '74 M.Div., priest-in-charge at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Jackson Heights, New York; William "Bill" Jones, former YDS faculty member and professor emeritus in the Department of Religion and first director of African American studies at Florida State University; Bishop William M. Philpot, Sr. '53 M.Div., pastor of the Christ Chapel New Testament Church in New Haven; and Emilie Townes, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion & Theology at YDS and president-elect of the American Academy of Religion. Frederick "Jerry" Streets, '75 M.Div., Yale University chaplain and associate professor (adjunct) of pastoral theology at YDS served as panel moderator.

Panelists' comments ranged from reflection on their personal experiences at YDS to a call to recapture the prophetic voice of the black church. Bridges pointed to the need to transmit knowledge and wisdom to young African Americans, while Philpot spoke of YDS as being a place that challenges students to work together in the face of differences. Jones argued, "[We] must give attention to understanding oppression as part of our theological education," while another panelist, Brown, encouraged the academy to shape leaders who can "address a shifting scene." Townes argued that the academy must recognize and give voice to all those who have been silenced. "If you can't ask a question in the life of the church, then it's not the church," she declared.

The forum was part of a research project titled "Been in the Storm So Long: Yale Divinity School and the Black Ministry-One Hundred and Fifty Years of Black Theological Education." Leading the project are Yolanda Y. Smith, assistant professor of Christian Education at YDS, and Moses N. Moore, Jr., '77 M.Div., associate professor of American and African American religious history at Arizona State University

The goal of the Parks-King Lecture, hosted by Yale Divinity School since 1983, is to bring the contributions of African American scholars, social theorists, pastors and social activists, to YDS and to the wider New Haven community.