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YDS Students Explore Prophetic Voice at All-school Conference

By Mindy Roll '07 M.Div.

Mother Theresa, Nahum, Oscar Romero, Barbara Jordan, Franz Jaegerstaetter, Jim Wallis, Margaret Mead, Don Helder Camara, YOU.

During the month of February, signs bearing this unusual assortment of names, among others, lined the hallways of Yale Divinity School. Their common denominator? The theme of the 2006 All School Conference: the Prophetic Voice.

Sponsored by the Community Life Committee, this year's Feb. 20-24 All School Conference was a joint venture among a wide variety of students and interests at YDS. According to co-chair Martha Korienek '06 M.Div., choosing to explore the prophetic voice “seemed like a natural theme since it could bring together the many voices on campus as well as tap into the legacy of prophecy at YDS.”

In preparation for the conference, the planning team examined the work of William Sloan Coffin, Jr. and other “prophets,” an exercise suggested by Dean Harold Attridge, whose office supported the conference.

The opening lecture, delivered by Professor of Theological Ethics Thomas Ogletree and entitled “What Would Jesus Do?” highlighted the prophetic call of Christian social ethics and, in Ogletree's words, the “importance of having a voice that challenges systems of wrongdoing” in today's world.

Although Jesus was profoundly shaped by the prophets, Ogletree argued, Christians have a hard time with Jesus' social teachings. How can one both turn the other cheek and speak out against wrongdoing?

“We are called to a prophetic tradition,” Ogletree reminded the audience, pointing to the model of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. When Jesus overturned the tables, he was calling priests and sellers in the Temple to account for their actions, according to Ogletree.

But then comes the time to turn the other cheek, Ogletree noted, when Jesus returns to the Temple and engages the priests and scribes.

This is the model that Jesus offers, concluded Ogletree: He calls wrongdoers to account for their actions, exposes their deeds, but then welcomes them. He calls attention to practices, but he does not judge the people.

The Coalition for Racial Equity (CORE) sponsored a talk by the Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian '98 M.Div., entitled “Dismantling Racism: People of Faith as Agents of Change.” CORE member Matilda Cantwell '07 M.Div, described the work of CORE and the work dismantling racism as “theological and prophetic” in character.

Ayvazian, an anti-racism educator since 1984, defined racism as “a system of advantage based on race.” She pointed to a number of different forms of systematic oppression, including sexism, heterosexism, class-ism, ageism, able-ism, and religious oppression, noting that her work is to dismantle oppression in all of its forms, especially the bedrock issue of racism.

“Racism is the default setting,” explained Ayvazian. “Unless it is removed, it is happening.”

In her lecture, Ayvazian described racism as manifesting itself in three ways: personal, cultural, and systemic. It is transmitted by stereotypes, distortions, biases, and also by omission—the latter being a problem at YDS, she said, explaining, “The challenge is to be aware of it.”

The Rev. Harlon Dalton, associate rector of St. James and St. Peters Episcopal Church in New Haven and a professor at Yale Law School, and the Rev. Allie Perry, lecturer in pastoral care at YDS and United Church of Christ minister, hosted a lunchtime talk on “Prophets in (Non-Violent) Action.”

“Prophetic ministry begins with hearing the cries of the people,” Perry said, pointing to the story Moses and his leadership of the Israelites as they fled captivity in Egypt.

“The prophetic is pastoral because it responds to people's suffering,” declared Perry. “The pastoral is prophetic because the cries lead to a wake-up call which leads to action.”

Dalton also spoke about the relationship of the prophetic and pastoral ministries, particularly in the wake of 9/11. As a prophetic voice, Dalton recalled, he encouraged congregants to pray for their enemies while, pastorally, he refused to allow fear to govern his response.

“As a parish priest, my job is to help people hear the cries of the people and the Holy Spirit,” Dalton said.

Other activities during the week included a presentation by the Middle East Travel seminar participants, a panel on the prophetic voice in academia, a concert featuring the music of Haydn and Mendelssohn, lectures entitled “What Would Jesus Do?” and “What Would Bono Do?” and a workshop on spirituality and justice. Also, a “Prophets and Non-Profits” Fair, a panel on chaplaincy, an Ecumenical Community Eucharist, and a series of workshops. The conference closed with a “fatted café” dance party.

The All School Conference was sponsored by the Divinity School's Community Life Committee and co-chaired by Korienek and Angela Batie '07 M.Div. Batie offered her appreciation for the “creative and dedicated planning team of students,” noting that they met weekly for several months leading up to the conference.

Student groups involved included CORE, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Coalition, Yale Committee for Social Justice, Yale Environmental Concerns Committee, YDS Peacemaking Initiative, YDS Student Council, and the YDS Women's Center. Students on the committee were Jessica Anschutz '07 M.Div., Wendy Liddle '07 M.Div., Lindsay Lunnum '08 M.Div., Will Mebane '06 M.Div., Matthew Morgan '06 M.A.R., Tamara Shantz '07 M.Div., Erinn Staley '07 M.Div., and Andy Thompson '06 M.A.R..

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