March 2021 News Perspective Online Top Story

Letter from the Dean: March 2021

At the Bolin Family Scholarship Evening program on February 16, many members of the Perkins community heard New York Times columnist David Brooks offer his thoughts on the past year. He started with the question, “How can we repair a society that’s become pretty broken?” He explored the question through the concept of Bildung – a German word for “the complete moral, intellectual, and civic formation of a person.”

Many factors contribute to a person’s formation – such as one’s geographic origins, faith upbringing, and educational background. Historically, many universities have viewed this kind of character formation as their first and foremost priority. Brooks believes that focus has been lost as educational institutions become more and more vocationally oriented.

At the end of his talk, I had the opportunity to ask Brooks a few questions. He earlier stated that he had been a “bookish” youth, so I asked, “What are you reading now?”  His off-the-cuff choices offered a revealing glimpse into his wide-ranging interests that have made him a prominent national thought leader.

I love to read widely, too. It expands my thinking beyond my own professional niche and even beyond the walls of the academy. Reading exposes me to people, experiences, history, and ideas that I might not otherwise encounter. It is one of the most enriching practices I know.

So, in the spirit of that evening, here are half a dozen books I’ve read in the recent past and strongly recommend:

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
David Blight, Simon and Schuster: 2018

This Pulitzer Prize winning biography is, simply put, one of the best books I have ever read. I am from Springfield, Illinois, home of Abraham Lincoln, and as a consequence have worked my way through dozens of books on 19th-century American history. Nevertheless, there is a great deal in Blight’s masterful account of which I was unaware, not only concerning Douglass, who deservedly ranks as one of the greatest Americans, but also about his times. The book is by turns informative, challenging, and inspiring. I can’t imagine anyone not benefitting from it.

Ron Chernow, Penguin: 2018

Speaking of outstanding recent biographies of 19th-century American leaders written by Pulitzer Prize winning authors… Ron Chernow, author of the acclaimed Alexander Hamilton (which inspired the musical), has written the definitive biography of one of the America’s most accomplished, under-appreciated, and unlikely generals and presidents. I confess to having a personal interest in Grant. My great grandfather came from Canada to fight under Grant in the American Civil War. The only memento I have of him is a copy of the newspaper from Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, which he picked up that day and handed down through the family. Reading Grant, I felt that I was also getting to know a bit more of my own ancestor’s story. Grant, by the way, was the basis for the recent History Channel miniseries produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
Charles Murray, Crown Forum, 2013

I have been fascinated with studies of changing American culture since reading Robert Putnam’s seminal Bowling Alone. Murray’s analysis of the increasing class and social divide in the U.S. overlaps a great deal with points made in the recent David Brooks talk. Indeed, Brooks himself wrote in the New York Times concerning Coming Apart, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.”  The core thesis is sobering if not surprising:  the U.S. is increasingly looking like two separate countries split along lines demarcated by education and wealth. One of the important takeaways from each of these studies concerns the vital role of the local church as one of the few remaining “middle institutions” that can bridge this gap—but only if it works to do so.

Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship
Father Gregory Boyle, Simon & Schuster: 2018

Barking is the follow up to Boyle’s incredible first book Tattoos on the Heart. If you haven’t read Tattoos, start there. If you have, you will want to read Barking, which offers more of what makes that first book so wonderful. For those who don’t know, Boyle is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang rehabilitation program in the world. One reviewer called Boyle’s books both “incandescent” and “humorous.” Another describes this as “A spiritual masterpiece touching the innermost sanctum of the human soul.” I couldn’t agree more.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
Father Richard Rohr, Jossey-Bass: 2011

My favorite book by the prolific Roman Catholic author Richard Rohr, Falling Upward is similar in many ways to David Brooks’s own The Second Mountain, about which Brooks spoke at last year’s Bolin Family Lecture. Both books deal with the fact that most of us spend much of our life striving to establish a career and an identity. Often as not, that quest leaves us dissatisfied or even broken. What comes after that, the upward or “second mountain” portion of one’s life, is what matters most. Brooks elsewhere describes it as the difference between creating resume virtues and obituary virtues. Or, as Rohr put it in an interview on, “First half of life preoccupations won’t get you into the great picture, the big picture, which Jesus would call the Reign of God.” As one well into life’s second half, I found both books greatly thought provoking.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown, Penguin: 2014

Knowing I had rowed while a student at Christ Church College, Oxford, several people have recommended this book to me over the years, but I only got around to reading it recently. I am an easy mark for an underdog true-life story, and this is one of the best. I have participated in a number of sports over the years (and have the surgeries to prove it), but none comes close to rowing for its physical difficulty and – during those magical moments when everything clicks –its Zen-like quality, both of which The Boys in the Boat captures beautifully. Whether you’ve ever sat in a scull or “caught a crab”[1] (which, I can say from experience, is absurdly easy to do!), if you’re looking for an enjoyable and inspirational read, you won’t be disappointed by Brown’s can-do masterpiece.

You can read more about David Brooks’ talk, and see his eclectic reading list, here.

[1] Having an oar caught in the water when moving the blade backwards. It costs the boat a great deal of its momentum, which likely also costs it the race.

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Office of Enrollment Management: March Update

We are forever grateful to our Student Ambassadors, who are not only enthusiastic about their choice of Perkins for their theological education but also perhaps even more enthusiastic to share their personal stories and experiences at Perkins with prospective students during our virtual recruitment events (planned and hosted by Samantha Stewart and Caleb Palmer). We know that prospective students enjoy making connections with current students, and we believe our group of Ambassadors are second to none. Without further ado, meet two more of this year’s Ambassadors featured in a series of Online Perspective Magazine publications.

Deneen Goldsmith: In Her Own Words

“I chose Perkins because I believe that Perkins provides the education and the tools for me to develop the discipline needed and necessary for faithful interpretation of God’s Word.  As a member of the UMC, it is my mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Thus, my Perkins education contributes to the mission of the UMC to expand the kingdom of God. I count it a privilege and an honor to be a part of the Perkins School of Theology family as I continue to grow spiritually, mentally, physically and educationally.

I chose to pursue ordination as a deacon in the UMC. I am a wife and a mother, and the deacon track allows me to fulfill my first ministry (which is my family) and fulfill my ministry in the Church. I am passionate about serving the people of God through word, service, and acts of compassion and justice. That said, I feel called to the deacon track in the UMC because it rightfully defines my call to ministry.”

My goals upon completing Perkins are to utilize my gifts and strengths in the area of business administration specifically in the area of marketing/ branding and leadership development.

Deneen is a certified candidate in the Texas Conference. Her current ministry is at the Journey of Faith UMC in Humble, Texas. She is a third-year Master of Divinity student in the Houston-Galveston Hybrid Extension Program.


Emma Ward: In Her Own Words

“I am a lifelong United Methodist and knew that a United Methodist seminary would make me the best future United Methodist pastor. Can you tell I love being United Methodist? I looked up the 13 United Methodist seminaries and narrowed down that list to those that had user-friendly websites. I figured that if a seminary could not give me a good website, they could not give me a good education either. I requested information from those schools; almost instantly, I received an email from the enrollment office asking if I was able to take a phone call. They were so intentional. I had been taught that I would have to fight to have my voice heard in grad school, but Perkins showed me that they cared enough about me to remember random things I had told them on the phone when I came to visit the campus. Not only did they offer me a welcoming environment to call home, but they offered me academics that would help me grow mentally as well as spiritually. Long story short, Perkins was the obvious choice. I found Perkins by looking up the 13 UMC seminaries. I only live two hours away from Candler and about four from Asbury so those were the only two I knew about until I researched for myself!

I love the community! This community fosters serious academic growth but also serious self-care. I believe some religious academic environments can get toxic fast… not only do you have to be a perfect student, but you have to be a sinless Christian as well. The students and staff around me at Perkins recognize that we’re all human and we have our own struggles. I have never been treated as a theology-paper-producing robot but always as a girl who is worthy of God’s grace as well as that of others. This recovering-perfectionist has found her safe space through Perkins.

After graduation, I plan to pursue ordination as an elder in the United Methodist Church. I believe it is crucial that we have people serving our local churches that have been educated in ministry and theology. If we do not, our churches will continue to become more biblically illiterate and judgmental. I could write you an impressive paper on how Jesus’s actions could be applied today but the average church member is not going to look up a journal article to learn more about Jesus. They are going to go to church or reach out to a pastor that their friend has sworn, for a pastor, is low key cool. We need to be able to share the information we learn in seminary and the best way to do that is by being present in our local churches so that we can have intellectual conversations about God in more places than academic conferences.”

Emma is a first-year Master of Divinity student at the Dallas location. She is a member in the Holston Annual Conference and comes from Chattanooga, Tenn.


Aren’t they terrific? As always, we ask for your continued prayers for our recruitment efforts as the climate and environment is extremely competitive. We are committed to intentional recruitment efforts even in the midst of such uncertainty on many levels and appreciate all that you do to send prospects our way. A personal recommendation seems to work a great percentage of the time. Please always reach Samantha Stewart and Caleb Palmer, current Ministry Discernment Associates, or any of us in the Office of Enrollment Management. Samantha currently oversees and guides the work of our group of Students Ambassadors.



March 2021 News Perspective Online

Capital Program

For Perkins student Pamela Brantley, the pandemic has at least one silver lining. It’s enabling her to participate in the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS).

“Normally, I couldn’t spend a semester living in D.C., but this year the program was completely virtual for the first time,” said Brantley, a first year M.Div. student in the Houston-Galveston program. With three young children and a husband with a job in Houston, moving to D.C. would not be an option. However, NCSS offered the program virtually in the Spring 2021 semester, enabling seminary students from across the country to participate.

NCSS is a semester-long, intensive program of study in ethics, theology and public policy. Seminary students from across the United States participate in the program offered by Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. (Details below.)

Brantley is pursuing ordination in the Texas Annual Conference as her second career.  Before attending seminary, she graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and worked as an attorney for 12 years. Prior to law school, she worked for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights; as an undergraduate, she interned in the office of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; and while in law school, she was on the editorial board of the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.

“I have a lot of interest in how religion, law and politics all work together,” she said.

Normally, NCSS participants would continue their seminary studies at Wesley while in D.C.; this year, they’re continuing their regular studies at their home seminaries. Brantley is attending the NCSS program on top of her regular M.Div. studies, and will earn four credit hours.

“I didn’t plan on taking five courses this semester, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.

Participants meet for two sessions each Monday, typically including guest speakers, lectures and discussion on class readings. The program is taught by Wesley professors Sondra Wheeler, a United Methodist, and Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and also a United Methodist.

“Mike McCurry is very well connected in D.C. and is able to bring very interesting guest speakers to the class,” she said. “Every week I think it couldn’t get better, but he just finds the most fascinating speakers.”

She added that, while McCurry is a Democrat, he works hard to bring speakers from a diverse range of viewpoints. Recent speakers included Tim Goeglein, Vice President of External and Government Relations for Focus on the Family and a former special assistant to President George W. Bush; and Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who shared his experience of the January 6 insurrection in the Capitol.

“He gave us some really interesting on-the-ground reports about what happened to him that day,” Brantley said.

This spring’s cohort includes a diverse group of students from different seminaries around the U.S., another aspect that Brantley appreciates. While many of her Houston-Galveston classmates are United Methodists serving as local pastors or aspiring to parish ministry, the NCSS group is comprised mainly of seminarians who don’t plan to become pastors.  A wide range of denominations are represented, too. That’s a plus for Brantley, who hopes to become a hospital chaplain after graduation.

“As a chaplain, I’ll need to interact with patients of different faith backgrounds and political beliefs,” she said. “We’re very tribal these days. I want to help move the conversation forward.  I want to see how Christians can help break down those walls.”

About the National Capital Semester for Seminarians

Perkins students are eligible to participate in the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS), a semester-long, intensive program of study in ethics, theology and public policy. Before the pandemic, seminary students came from across the United States to participate at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington; In 2021, NCSS was offered virtually for the first time. NCSS is open to any student who has completed at least one year of a degree program at an accredited seminary and is recommended by his or her home seminary. For more than 40 years, seminarians have come to D.C. to study the intersection of faith and politics; interact with policymakers; formation; engage in community organizing; and dive deeper into specific issues at the intersection of faith and politics. Perkins is one of 36 participating institutions in NCSS; students from these institutions are charged for tuition at their home institution’s regular tuition rate and pay the charges through their home seminary.

For more information, visit

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Brazilian Worship

In a typical year, Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel travels to Grand Rapids, Mich., in January to participate in the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship. This year, his role was a bit different: bringing Brazil to the symposium.

“I’ve been involved with Calvin for several years, and I usually go to Michigan in January to present a paper or lead worship,” he said. “This year, because of the pandemic, they decided to take advantage of the online format and have people worship with congregations in different parts of the world.”  Some joined from locations where worshippers had gathered in person; others, like the Brazilian service, were entirely remote.

Silva Steuernagel, who is Director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins, put together an online worship service for the 2021 virtual symposium, “Worship with the Church in Brazil.” All of the worship leaders – with the exception of himself and another Brazilian musician based in the U.S. – participated from various parts of Brazil. The lively service, titled “Esperança: A Liturgy to Renew Hope,” showcased Brazilian rhythms and sounds, and featured readings and music in Portuguese as well as Spanish and English.

“The organizers asked me to put together an immersive experience that would feel like an in-person worship experience in a congregation in Brazil,” he said.

Silva Steuernagel relied on a network of Brazilian musicians and liturgists, some of whom were part of the Brazilian delegation at the 2019 event. This year, he called on the delegates to put together the prayers and readings, along with musicians in Brazil he has worked with and knows. He curated music that was composed primarily of Brazilian worship music – instead of western hymnody translated into Portuguese – and that highlighted the flavor of Brazilian congregational music.

“It was a long process, because there was a lot of back-and-forth with the musicians to get that kind of live, improvisatory Brazilian-music feel,” he said.  “We really wanted to make sure we captured that vibe.”

The annual symposium is sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin University and the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Steuernagel added that the Calvin Symposium is one of the most well-attended events on worship in the U.S., attracting thousands from around the world. This year’s conference ran January 6–26, and attracted registrants, including students, faculty, artists, musicians, pastors, preachers, scholars, teachers, worship leaders and planners, and worshipers.

“Calvin does a really good job of bringing scholars and practitioners together,” he said.

Silva Steuernagel’s work with Calvin in the last few years has focused on multi-lingual worship, and that was part of the design of the worship service.

“We’re looking for better ways to worship in more than one language, other than the classic, clunky mode where the preacher says a sentence, you stop, and translate the sentence. Our goal was to move away from English as a presumed common denominator.”

He recalled an instance when he produced a multilingual worship service, without every piece translated. An American attendee commented afterward: “This was beautiful. I just wish we had translations with everything, because we didn’t know what was going on.” Steuernagel replied: “That’s how everyone else feels all the time. This idea that English is the lingua franca, the common denominator, of Christians worshipping around the world is not true at all.”

In the Calvin worship service, he designed it so that the worship flowed seamlessly between Portuguese, Spanish and English. He chose a few hymns from the hymnbook Santo, Santo, Santo/Holy, Holy, Holy (GIA Publications, 2019), and invited Brazilian participants to each create their own prayers and poetry. Maria Monteiro, a Brazilian and lecturer in Church Music at Baylor University, delivered the sermon, “Hope. Esperança. Esperanza.”

“I’m really proud of the way that we worked together to craft the liturgy,” he said. “The result is a good example of how to leverage the digital medium to create and keep some sort of worship flow when people can’t participate in the ways they’re accustomed to participating. The rhythm of liturgy changes when you’re doing it online. Sermons are shorter, transitions are different. Editing helps keep the pace lively and engaging.”

The worship service is viewable online, and Steuernagel says it’s worth a look for anyone who plans worship services online, for those looking for creative alternatives for incorporating more than one language into worship (in person or virtual), and for those interested in becoming more culturally hospitable in Christian worship.

Watch the service here: 

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Bolin Family Perkins Scholarship Evening a Success

The decision to hold the Bolin Family Scholarship Evening program virtually this year turned out to be providential. The event took place on February 16, a night when much of Dallas was paralyzed by a winter storm. But the Zoom program was able to proceed as planned.

The speaker was David Brooks, New York Times columnist, best-selling author and regular commentator for the “PBS NewsHour” and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Brooks returned, having spoken in 2020 on campus to a sold-out crowd at the Perkins’ Bolin Family Perkins Scholarship Luncheon.

The event was named for sponsors Jane Bolin, a member of the Perkins Executive Board, and her husband Pat. Sponsors for the event at various levels were all members of the Perkins Executive Board.  The planning committee was made up of the officers of the Executive Board, including Chair Bishop Mike McKee and Vice-Chairs, Katherine Glaze Lyle and Dodee Frost Crockett, Dean Craig Hill, Advancement Associate Lee Henry, and Development Director John Martin. All told, the 2021 event raised $175,000 for the Perkins Student Scholarship Fund.

For the program, Brooks offered his thoughts on the past year, asking the question, “How can we repair a society that’s become pretty broken?” He approached the question through the concept of Bildung – a German word for “the complete moral, intellectual, and civic formation of a person.”

His own formation, Brooks said, included the positive influences of a church camp he attended as a child. He’s still in touch with many of the friends made there.  “That’s the kind of nurturing community that instills certain values,” he said, adding that he was also formed by New York – where he grew up – as well as Grace Church School, where the seeds of his own spiritual formation were first planted.

Bildung has no equivalent word in the American vocabulary, Brooks added. “We think about teaching and learning and not formation,” he said. “As a result, this formation is not happening at a deep level.”

A crucial question now, he said, is: “How are young people being formed in this year of isolation?” Many young adults reported feelings of loneliness before the COVID-19 pandemic; those have increased significantly over the past year.

“That is the hardest part of a hard year,” he said. “It is the sense that we are not as connected as we were.  We are not being formed into the people that we could be. But these trends didn’t start in 2020; they’re been happening for a long time.”

Why? Brooks cited two theories.

“First, as a society, we chose personal freedom over connection,” he said. Americans no longer grow up in big families. They’ve chosen personal space and privacy over connection. There are fewer social connections. “Second, we chose achievement over equality,” he said.  He described the ways that the American meritocracy passes advantages from affluent, well-educated parents on to their kids. About three quarters of the students in elite colleges in the U.S. come from families that are among the top 1% of earners.

“As a result, a lot of people and parts of the country are being left behind,” he said. “People in big media and big tech don’t see them. We’re being raised in atmospheres of isolation and a loss of trust.”  He expected the pandemic might rally the nation; instead, it has fostered distrust and conspiracy theories. That distrust is a crisis, Brooks added – but crises have the advantage of revealing problems and pointing to potential solutions.

“It’s the hard times, ‘in the valley,’ that can open up our spirits and our souls,” he said. “The past year has been a hard year but a revelatory year. I hope it has shifted our culture, that we will come out of it different than we went into it.”

Brooks said that Americans “need to get a lot better at seeing each other. The Bible is full of stories of failures of the knowledge of the heart. We have to get better at that skill of seeing.”

Americans society needs to create a denser social architecture, “to lift up those who are community builders, who are trusted, who create community.”  He also called for an expansion of morally functional institutions.

“Every institution can become a thicker community, one that surrounds people with thick emotional spiritual and moral bonds,” he said. “It’s not passing people along. It’s doing Bildung.”

Brooks described the work of his wife, Anne Snyder, author of The Fabric of Character: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Social and Moral Renewal (2019). She developed a list of questions to assess how well institutions are forming people: Does the organization have a strong purpose? Does it have liturgies or rituals that unite people?  Does it enjoy the full engagement of all of its members? Does it put relationship wealth at the foundation of its success? Does it offer opportunities for struggle and growth? Are vulnerability, accountability and joy part of the experience?

Brooks concluded by citing the work of Samuel Huntington, who noted cycles in history marked by periods of vast change and low social trust that tend to occur every 60 years.  If the pattern holds, another cycle would’ve begun in 2020.

“The good news is, we’ve been through this before,” Brooks said. “Each time, we come out different. So, I leave this with a sense of optimism about the future. Our culture needs to get knocked in the nose sometimes. But it gets up different.”

David Brooks Recommends

At the conclusion of his talk, Dean Craig Hill asked Brooks what books he’s currently reading. Here’s his list:

Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman and Rod Dreher

The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite by Daniel Markovits

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Black Theology

Ray Jordan, Adjunct Professor at SMU’s Simmons School of Education, will lead “An Introduction to Black Theology” course as part of the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning on March 19-20. This course will examine the relationship of African Americans with Christianity and the Church by asking “Why Black Theology?” and “What is Black Theology,” and “Why Black Theology, Now?”

In addition to teaching graduate level courses in the SMU Liberal Studies program, Jordan is a pastor at First Community Church, a UCC congregation in Dallas, and a consultant to churches and corporations in diversity and inclusion. We asked him to share a preview of the course; here are excerpts.

Can you explain what you mean by Black theology?

The Black Church has often been called an ‘invisible institution’ because it was created during the era of slavery, when enslaved Africans had few, if any, rights at all. Particularly any rights that had to be acknowledged by the greater society.

Faith was one of the very few areas in which enslaved Black people had some autonomy or agency. Interestingly enough, while they were given the faith of their slave masters, they didn’t accept it wholeheartedly. They saw it, interpreted it, and expressed it through a unique lens. Other than the indigenous faith of Native Americans, Black Theology was one of the first, if not the very first, faith systems on American soil. The faith of white colonial folks and later white Americans was really the faith of European traditions brought with them.  The faith of enslaved Africans was unique, and continues to be unique, in the ways African Americans interpret the text and express their faith through lived experience and social consciousness.

In the course, we will take a look at what is unique about Black Theology – how it can serve not only persons of African descent but the greater society as well.

Can you give an example of how Black theology is unique?

The term “Black Theology” was crafted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, primarily by the father of Black Liberation Theology, Dr. James Cone, a storied and beloved academic, theologian and Methodist minister. He began to formulate the idea of Black Theology around the idea of human dignity and as a response to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. That was really the calling card.  He was one of the first to document Black Theology in an academic sense. He interpreted it for the masses, created hermeneutics and an exegesis, and made it into an academic discipline.

The core of Black Theology and the ways it is unique go all the way back to the era of slavery. It was centered around an idea we would think of as human rights today. But really, at the core, it’s better thought of as human dignity, as captured by a centuries-old saying in African American religious circles: “The god in the belly of the slave ship was not the same god on the decks of the slave ship.”

African slaves, from the beginning, would’ve come from myriad religious expressions, such as Islam and ancestral worship. What they garnered from their introduction to Christianity was the idea of human dignity. The idea that every human being is made in the image of their creator and therefore every human being is deserving and worthy of dignity, respect, love and compassion. But that is not what they were experiencing.  From the very beginning, Black folks were beginning to look at their white counterparts, scratching their heads, and saying, “Hmm. You are using a text that says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ but you’re not practicing it.”

The Bible spoke of the great exodus of the Hebrew people, which left Black people asking, “Where’s our Exodus?”

So, at the center of Black Theology, really, is an elevation of human dignity of all people, but also a critique of the white theology they were experiencing with slave owners and people that were complicit in slave owning and later white populations they would’ve encountered during Jim Crow. So human dignity is the core, the kernel, the heartbeat of Black Theology as well as a critique of their white counterparts.

As you tell this story, it’s surprising that slave owners shared their faith, given how empowering that faith ultimately became.

It was not a foregone conclusion. There was lots of discussion with church leaders and theologians of the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, beginning with the questions, “Should we introduce faith? Should we baptize our slaves?”

There were some differences. Many leaders of the Church at the time supported the slave trade. The justification was, well, these people are in darkness. They worship other gods, so we can justify their enslavement by introducing Christianity to them. That’s the way we can make ourselves feel better about it.

There were some people who were not resigned to being intellectually disingenuous, who were saying, “Wait a minute, folks, if we are baptizing slaves, doesn’t the Bible tell us to treat our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters?   How we can justify slavery?”

So, it was not a foregone conclusion that Christianity would be offered to enslaved persons. There were actually excerpts of Biblical texts that were excised from what was given to enslaved people, so they wouldn’t feel empowered to stand in their own human dignity. So they would somehow be pacified to remain in their so-called inferior state.

So, faith was really a tool weaponized against enslaved Africans. But those enslaved Africans took that tool, and inverted it, and from it, received great inspiration and encouragement and power to transform their condition. It really is quite a remarkable story.

Is there any prerequisite or assumed knowledge base for those taking the course?

No. All knowledge levels are welcome. You don’t have to be proficient in anything in order to join the course.

This course sounds like it’ll be of broad interest. Who might find it of particular interest?

There are three primary audiences as I see it. First, those who care about human rights and how the faith of Christians has always been interrelated with some struggle for human rights in the world. Though there have been great failings, there have always been those interested in that intersection.

Secondly, Christians who want to understand the experience of being Black in America. Anyone who wants to understand what it has been like. I often hear from my white counterparts: Help me to understand this experience. This course will do that.

Finally, the third group would be persons who want to deepen their own faith. Elie Wiesel once said, “Once you hear a witness, you become a witness.” I encourage people to study atrocious human rights violations, from all eras and from all around the world, because it strengthens and deepens your own humanity. You can’t hear a harrowing, transformative story of faith doing the impossible, without being affected by it and deepened by it yourself.

To learn more about Jordan’s course and the March 19-20 Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning, click here.

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Reaching Youth

“Reboot: The Congregation as Youth Worker,” the Lilly Endowment funded initiative at Perkins, has released the first guide for churches interested in implementing an innovative model for a congregational ministry with youth. Along with co-directors, Bart Patton and Rev. Dr. Priscilla Pope-Levison, Victoria Sun Esparza, founder and CEO of In the Water designs and Perkins alumna (M. Div. 2019), developed this guide to help congregations assess their current youth ministry’s challenges and opportunities through design-thinking strategies. Read the story and find out where to download the guide here.

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Holy Week Safety

Continuing its ongoing work of providing safety guidance to congregations, an ecumenical team has produced a 15-page guide for Holy Week. The guide offers tips to reduce health risks as churches celebrate Holy Week with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter worship services. The guide draws on a range of experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Among the contributors were Dr. Mark W. Stamm, Professor of Christian Worship, and alums Dr. Diana Sanchez-Bushong (M.S.M. 1986) and Brian Hehn (M.S.M. 2012). The Rev. Lisa Garvin, SMU’s new Chaplain, is also a contributor. Click here to read the guidelines.

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Student Spotlight: Rohan Abraham

In a pre-COVID universe, Rohan Abraham might’ve traveled from his home country to Dallas to attend Perkins School of Theology. This year, however, he began his studies from his home in Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai) in India.

That means attending class in the middle of the night – usually between 1 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in his time zone – but so far, it’s working. Abraham says it helps that he’s nocturnal by nature.

“Some would say a conversation about God isn’t odd at any hour of the day,” he said.  “On more stress-filled days, home-brewed coffee helps quite a bit!”

The first-year Th.M. student is pursuing a concentration in Systematic Theology. A member of the Methodist Church of India, Abraham hopes to teach at a seminary and serve the church by training future leaders.

“I am intrigued by almost anything cerebral, and as a consequence, there isn’t a shortage of interesting things I would pour myself into,” he said. “However, I am interested in postmodernity as a social phenomenon and postmodernism as an intellectual deliberation on postmodernity, modernity, and its inter-connections with spirituality and religion. This has me gravitating heavily towards postmodern theology and postmodern thinkers.”

Abraham learned about Perkins through his teacher, Dr. Abraham Varghese Kunnuthara, who encouraged him to consider studying in seminaries outside of India for his Bachelor of Divinity. After looking into Perkins’ mission statement, faculty, curriculum, and scholarship opportunities, he chose Perkins for graduate study, and feels confident he made the right choice.

“There is a quiet and stimulating balance between spirituality, critical thinking, and social engagement, which has been refreshingly inspirational in my Perkins journey so far,” he said. “I especially love the expertise, maturity, and creativity the teachers have, and their spirituality in many ways has been contagious.”

Abraham plans to begin taking in-person classes on campus next fall. Like many students during the pandemic, his participation in extracurricular activities has been necessarily limited, but he attends chapel services when he can.

Monastic spirituality is another area of special interest. The Confessions of Saint Augustine and Thomas Merton’s reflections on his spirituality have both provided ongoing spiritual nourishment.

“I tend to return to them and re-read portions of their writings to gain some devotional depth, especially when bogged down by the currents of life,” he said.

Abraham adds that he’s grateful to his family, and in particular, his father, who passed away shortly before classes began last fall, after battling debilitating kidney disease for seven years.

“His undying example and strength of will continue to fuel me, my purpose, and my sense of self,” he said.

Seminary study represents a bit of a detour from Abraham’s original career plans. Much of his life, he assumed he’d follow a career in IT or engineering. While enrolled in an undergraduate program in engineering, however, he entered a period of spiritual angst and searching. That was spurred, he said, by “an existential encounter with the crucifixion” inspired in part by songs by Michael Card, such as “Why?” and “Death of a Son.”

“I started seeking answers in Christianity that I had already found in Jesus, which made me go down the rabbit hole of atheism-theism debates and dispensational apologetics,” he said.  He left the engineering program and eventually earned his undergraduate degree at Union Biblical Seminary, part of Serampore University.

“I realized my questions had questions of their own, and in my time in seminary, I was able to accrue much-needed profundity for my faith and my person,” he said. “I learned about newer avenues of theological thought and was able to deepen my faith and theological aptitude.”

Looking back on his decision to pivot from engineering to theology, Abraham recalls a stanza from another Michael Card song, “God’s Own Fool.”

So come lose your life for a carpenter’s son, for a madman who died for a dream. Then you’ll have the faith his first followers had, and you’ll feel the weight of the beam. Surrender the hunger to say you must know; have the courage to say I believe. For the power of paradox opens your eyes and blinds those who say they can see.

“This stanza suits my own journey into theology and my leap into faith, he said. “It is quite possible that in a parallel universe, I am a skilled and successful engineer. And that possibility brings me sadness because that other Rohan doesn’t know the mysterious nourishment I get in being a student of theology and a worker (albeit flawed) for Christ.”

March 2021 News Perspective Online

Faculty Profile: Steve Long

For Steve Long, life is a pilgrimage. That’s a theme that echoes through his scholarly work, writing, and even his vacations.

An avid cyclist who has commuted by bicycle for more than 40 years, he’s currently finishing a book, The Art of Cycling, Living and Dying: Moral Theology from Ordinary Life, which reflects on cycling, ethics and his recent experience with an emergency pacemaker after a complete heart block. Cascade Press will publish the book in late 2021. Written for a lay audience, Long says the book looks at life as a pilgrimage, with a beginning, middle and end, as well as “the virtues and vices” of cycling.

“Cycling can make you very competitive, but it also teaches you to cooperate,” he said. “And there’s a certain element of courage that’s required to share the road.”

The road, he adds, is one of the few remaining common spaces, at a time when much of modern life has been privatized.

“I’m struck by signs that remind motorists to ‘Share the road’ with cyclists,” he said. “Where else do you see that? When you go into a bank, you don’t see signs that say, ‘Share the wealth.’ I know how precarious that can be, when people don’t want to share the road. I’ve broken six bones over the years. But I’ve also seen how generous people can be.”

He’s also working on another book, aimed at a more academic audience, called Infusing Virtue: On Teaching and Learning Ethics, which looks at the role theology and the work of the Holy Spirit play in teaching ethics. In 2019, Wesley Foundery Books published Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World, which Long wrote at the request of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. Long is also an ordained elder in the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.

As a university professor, Long has two offices – a small one in Hyer Hall, and another at Perkins. He teaches an undergraduate course each semester as well as one graduate-level course for master’s or Ph.D. students at Perkins.

For those who’d like to sample Long’s work and teaching, there’s a chance coming soon. He’s leading a program on “Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World” at the Perkins Summit for Faith and Learning March 19-20.  Details are here.

Long says the course will be a discussion about why telling the truth is a political matter. He will begin with SMU’s motto, “Veritas Liberabit Vos,” which means, “The truth will set you free.”

“The question I pose is — do we still believe that?” he said. “Or do we now have a politics where we just assume it’s all just power and antagonism, and that power and antagonism is what finally sets us free?  Trajectories in recent politics have suggested that we can’t come to any agreement on what may be true and good. That everyone has a right to their own view of what truth is, and that we really can’t adjudicate the most basic things, such as, how to respond to a pandemic. I also try to bring in the significance of theology and political theory.”

Outside of his scholarly work, Long volunteers with a nonprofit ministry called Bridges to Life, leading a 12-week restorative justice course for men who’ve just been released from prison.  Four students from one of Long’s classes have gone through the program with him as well. The program brings together people who have committed crimes with those who’ve been victims of other crimes.

“They are all sitting in the same room, and they go around and tell their stories and have to listen to one another,” he said. “These prisoners are hard men, but you see them break down and cry. It reminds you how life is for everyone and not just those of us who’ve had so much privilege. It keeps me grounded.”

Teaching Specialties

Christian Ethics; Systematic Theology; Moral Theology

Favorite Bible Passage

2 Corinthians 10:5: “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Book on his nightstand:    

Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hamalainen. “I love to always be reading something that’s not in my field,” he said. “This book has nothing to do with any research I’m doing.”

Fantasy Dinner Party

We have a lot of dinner parties – with our kids, grandkids and their friends – so I live my fantasy. But I’d be fascinated to bring together cyclist Eddy Merckx, theologian Karl Barth, and social activist Dorothy Day. And maybe someone like Randy Cooper, who spent his entire life in rural parish ministry. I’d like them to discuss vocations. I would ask: “What constitutes a live well lived? What regrets do you have?”


Long has been living in Wisconsin this past semester, near a medical facility where his wife is the former nurse manager.   He’s getting follow-up care there for the treatment he underwent in November in Dallas. He and his wife Ricka have three adult children: daughter Lindsey, a United Methodist pastor in Chicago, daughter Rebecca and son Jonathan, and three granddaughters.

Favorite travel destinations?

Long has visited the Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain, the nexus of a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe, three times with family and friends. Another favorite spot is his parents’ lake cottage in Buffalo, Indiana. Growing up in rural Indiana, he spent a few weeks there every summer, and returns once a year. “To me, that’s going home,” he said.

Question He’d Ask at the Pearly Gates:

“Was I asking the right questions?”

Personal spiritual practice.

“I use the Book of Common Prayer,” he said. “Doing it that way, I can just receive and reflect on it. I tell people that I’m religious but not spiritual.”

Something you might not know about him

“I know all the words to Doctor Suess’s Hop on Pop, Fox on Socks and Cat in the Hat,” he said. “I love to read to my three granddaughters. I’ve memorized them!”