Presentations at the ATS Workshop for Administrators and Faculty of Historically Black Institutions October 3-5, 2003 by John W. Kinney, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology of Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia
The task of theological education is the (trans)formation of competent, conscientitized, caring persons committed to excellence in leadership and ministry in the church and community. This formation should initiate an orienta-tion to lifelong learning that, for some, evolves into a career trajectory that revitalizes the community of scholars and administrators that direct that formation. The assignment given to me presumes that the task is particularized and variegated pedagogically and methodologically by social location, culture, history, and relational nexi.
Institutions and organizations have communities of accountability, histories, missions, purposes, and identities. Effective institutions operate with mission clarity. If the mission fulfills a meaningful purpose and violates neither legal statutes, the dignity of all creation, or the principles of justice, institutions should be encouraged to function faithfully and construct futures in light of their identities. Diversity in institutional mission in theological education is essential for broadly informed excellence in the pulpit and the pew. This commitment to contribute to excellence is shared by many institutions. Historically Black seminaries contribute, in part, through focused scholarly reflection and action in light of the classic and creative life of faith, worship, and practice in African American contexts. The learning environment of Black seminaries offer a relevant approach to theologi-cal education to all persons but particularly to persons whose point of entre' in responding to their call will be or is the Black community. There are several principles, which I believe recommend Black seminaries. While these principles can only be highlighted here, they include: culture, contextualization, convergence, communica-tion, critical/constructive consciousness, care, and celebration.
A. Culture: Diversity is an inherent aspect of creation. There are still those voices which eschew diversity and call for an amorphous oneness that mutes the vibrant and variegated tones of community and hinder authentic communion. Where there is true communion there will be difference and without the recognition of difference, the core of communion is destroyed. Communion allows us to sense the rich melody of life when different cords are struck and vibrate. Black seminaries help the faithful in the context of learning; hear the sound of Blackness and touch and be touched by the soul of Blackness. While we can debate intellectually the reality and the character of Black hard culture, we can feel soft culture. Black seminarians are inspired, nourished, challenged, and strengthened when studying in an environment bathed in the mood, tense sensation, demands, and spirit of diasporic culture.
Honoring Black culture demands the recognition of multiple intelligences, the celebration of the insurrection of subjugated knowledge, and the expansion of the theological circle. Regrettably, so many of the voices proclaim-ing a vision of unity calling for the demise of Black seminaries speak with a sacred dishonesty that uncritically embraces a cultural paradigm that claims universal validity and parades as a normative absolute.
There are still people of color who are deceived by this rhetoric and ignore their own institutions in order to get a "superior" education. Sadly, this arrogance, birthed paradoxically in self-negation, is nourished, applauded, and rewarded by some non-Black institutions.
In theological education, fleeing Blackness by being Black among folk who are not Black sometimes affords one immediate status, privilege, and the convenient crutch of race in any crisis. Being Black in a Black seminary confers a call to responsibility with no guarantee of status. We (Black seminaries) perform a great disservice to the church, community, and academy when we forsake our mission for the sake of survival with comfort and acceptance.
B. Contextualization: Consideration of contexts attends to the place of ministry, the people of ministry, and the praxis of ministry. Attention to context raises concern for both the reflective-analytical and the demonstration-incarnational dimensions of scholarship and service. For the Black seminary, the Black community is not an immersion moment. It is the dwelling place of care, concern, and commitment. Black culture and context are not peripheral matters appended to a dominant curriculum by adding books to a reading list, a course to the schedule, a visiting speaker in chapel, an adjunct instructor, or a full-time professor. At the Black seminary, the context should be at the core.
C. Convergence: Black people and Black seminaries have never had the "luxury" of being parochial in the understanding of contextualization. Contextualization has never been reduced to isolated localization. Authentic contextualization invites genuine convergence. This convergence has never erected barriers for any groups and has invited persons of diverse cultures to claim personal centers and explore the history, thinking, methods, and models globally. Being Black demands multicultural fluency, lingualit-y, competency, and savvy.
Convergence extends beyond the coming together of communities and ideas. In the Black setting, it is overcoming dualistic separation. The Black seminar can and should be the place where head and heard, academy and church, pulpit and pew, scholarship and celebration, campus and community, library and street corner all come together. The convergence also urges the coming together of the fractured self.
D. Communication: In convergence, there arises the necessity for "tongue." Tongue is effectively communicat-ing truth in familiar, new, and even alien spaces. Diverse forms of discourse are explored from the cloistered study carrel to the barbershop/beauty salon, pulpit to pool hall, and lectern to lounge. In the Black seminary, authentic voice is questioned, discerned, explored, embraced, and practiced. "Is there a word from the Lord?" is a passionately engaged question that demands an authentic response.
E. Critical/Constructive Consciousness: When all of the above are taken seriously, a critical assessment of models, methods, and thoughts is required. The need for disciplined scholarship can never be minimized. This critical consideration applies to both outside and inside the Black community and church. We must bring serious challenges to our own thinking and doing. The development and application of critical consciousness is directed toward constructive purposes. In the Black seminary, while tearing down is necessary, the primary purpose is building up and transforming. Creativity, imagination, and even spontaneity effervesce from serious study.
F. Care: The Black seminary honors the intrinsic worth and dignity of Black [people and Black students. Consequently, education is learner-centered. The souls of Black folk and the souls of the Black preacher are viewed with God's eyes and handled with Godly care. In a Black seminary, Black students do not count as numbers; they count as persons on a journey that has both peril and promise. This care is not the sappy, sentimental attention given to victims, but rather the genuine presence of those who know the struggle and see the "not yet."
G. Celebration: Black seminaries are centers of vitality where serious study is merged with "the rivers of the belly." Scholarship need not negate a dance with existence. The style, step, and rhythm of life and worship may vary, but the music is always in the air and we have the music in us. Life and service are embraced with such passion and faith that we can sing through the crisis, dance in the dirt, preach through the storm, and walk together and not get weary.
Black seminaries have their issues like all institutions, but they remain vibrant and essential contributors to the church, academy, and community. Black persons preparing for ministry, like the rest of the world, need Black seminaries.
© John W. Kinney