July 23 2018

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Chicago Theological Seminary

protestors stand together outdoors with signs

James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This is exactly the case in theological education today. There is a crisis that many schools are refusing to face, and in so doing they are closing the door to real possibilities to bring about positive change. This needs to be fixed.

The hidden crisis I want to invite us to face is the fact that increasing numbers of faculty are part-time and contingent. They often live at or near the poverty level, have no benefits or job security. Schools have often made the choice to reduce full-time faculty positions with benefits and replace them with part-time and contingent faculty to “balance the budget” and try to keep their endowment draws around the recommended six percent.

I believe, however, that in using this practice of increasing part-time and contingent faculty to close a financial deficit, these schools are now running what I have come to call an “Ethical Deficit.”

Rev. James H. Cone, author of Black Theology and Black Power, God of the Oppressed, and The Cross and the Lynching Tree; known as the founder of Black liberation theology; a central figure in racial and social justice movements; and dismantler of white supremacist assumptions in ministry and seminary education, died on April 28, 2018.

Obituaries celebrating the life and work of Cone appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and on the websites of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and of Union Theological Seminary, where Cone was the Bill & Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology. Union has also posted the livestream of his funeral, which took place on May 7 at Riverside Church in New York City.

Cone was a longtime member of the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was awarded AAR’s Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.

Below, four AAR presidents (Emilie M. Townes, Peter J. Paris, David P. Gushee, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr.) reflect on the legacy of Cone’s work in their scholarship, faith, and teaching.

 

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