Rediscovering King for Today: PLT Announces Prophet with a Pencil Initiative

Filing CabinetScholar Taskforce to Write Essays and Host Public Form

With the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death approaching in April 2018, University of Virginia’s Project on Lived Theology is pleased to announce a new, $30,000 initiative, Prophet with a Pencil: The Continuing Significance of Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’—a gathering of ten scholars and practitioners, conceptualized and organized by Arthur M. Sutherland, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology at Loyola University Maryland. Convening in Birmingham, Alabama, this June, the assembly’s work includes publishing a volume of essays and hosting a public forum on the theological ideas and questions raised by King in 1963 that are still relevant today.  

Typically read in American colleges and universities as an example of masterful rhetoric, King’s letter, written with a borrowed pencil, is actually a critique of Christian faith and practices; the letter admonishes a church in which King’s words had “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” Although many of the sentences in King’s letter, such as “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” supply the pages of our national quote book, their theological significance is often overlooked. The Prophet with a Pencil scholars will address this void by sharing and discussing their work during a research retreat at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in June of 2018. Located in the historic Civil Rights District of Birmingham just across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park, BCRI is a cultural and educational research center that promotes a comprehensive understanding and appreciation for the significance of civil rights developments in Birmingham.

During the three-day gathering, this taskforce of scholars will share drafts of their essays, meet with surviving participants of the Birmingham Children’s March, and participate in an exchange of ideas with civil rights activists. After the gathering, pastors, congregants, seminarians, students, and theologians from around the world will be able to read the essay collection and participate in the discussion of the relevance and significance of the words of King’s letter for the church today through Prophet with a Pencil’s website.

Dr. Charles Marsh, the director of The Project on Lived Theology called Sutherland’s concept and rationale “altogether compelling” and looks forward to a productive collaboration.

The mission of The Project on Lived Theology is to clarify the interconnection of theology and lived experience and promote academic resources in pursuit of social justice and human flourishing. The Project offers a variety of familiar and unconventional spaces where theologians, scholars, students, practitioners, and non-academics can demonstrate the importance of theological ideas in the public conversation about civic responsibility and social progress. The project was established in 2000 with a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Christianity Under Attack: Charles Marsh Addresses NRA Impact in Religion and Politics

Charles Marsh, Charles Marsh to Deliver 25th Annual Harry Vaughan Smith LecturesOn a Gospel Approach to Gun Control in America

On January 3rd, Project Director Charles Marsh published his latest essay in Religion and Politics. The piece, entitled “The NRA’s Assault on Christian Faith and Practice,” traces the American response to the laws regulating and statistics surrounding gun ownership and examines their underlying ties with Christianity today. Regardless of political affiliation, Marsh argues careful reflection of the Christian response to the ongoing gun epidemic is required by all to remain true to the teachings of the Gospel. Indeed, with gun violence and resulting death tolls on the rise throughout the country, the church and its members can afford to do no less.

In the essay, Marsh writes:

“On issues related to gun violence, safety, and regulation, evangelicals clearly need, and deserve, a more theologically robust discussion. A good start might be formulating questions for reflection and study, such as: Are there aspects of American gun culture that contradict or confuse the message of the Gospel? (If so, let’s name them.) Have evangelicals sought to understand gun violence in America under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with prayerful discernment of practical solutions? How can followers of Jesus preserve the distinctive speech and practices of Christian witness from the religion of the NRA, whose distinctive speech and practices cluster around the promise of overwhelming force? Under what conditions, if any, should the Christian lay down his or her arms? Does the support of the American gun lobby bring glory to God?…

It is of course the right of every law-abiding citizen to own a gun and of institutions, including churches, to think diligently about public safety and effective policing practices. Such matters have been heavy on the minds of my colleagues and compatriots in Charlottesville, Virginia, as we’ve tried to understand why our university and town were overrun by gun-wielding white supremacists on August 11 and 12 of last summer, with precious few interventions by university, local, and state police. But it is the responsibility of every person baptized into “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (II Corinthians 13:14) to engage the world with new habits of thought, speech, and behavior. Our reckoning as Christians with the “costs of discipleship” may not lead to the judgment that an armed church or gun ownership is behavior displeasing to God. But it must disrupt the easy alliance that currently prevails between the NRA and American evangelicals.”

Read the paper in full here.

Charles Marsh is the Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and the director of the Project on Lived Theology. His research interests include modern Christian thought, religion and civil rights, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and lived theology.

For more of featured writings of our PLT Contributors, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter,@LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyWrites. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Liberated Threads

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, Tanisha C. FordBlack Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul

In Liberated Threads, winner of the 2016 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, author Tanisha C. Ford explores how and why black women in places as far-flung as New York City, Atlanta, London, and Johannesburg incorporated style and beauty culture into their activism. Focusing on the emergence of the “soul style” movement—represented in clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and more—Liberated Threads shows that black women’s fashion choices became galvanizing symbols of gender and political liberation. Drawing from an eclectic archive, Ford offers a new way of studying how black style and Soul Power moved beyond national boundaries, sparking a global fashion phenomenon.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Creates a fierce and vibrant dialog on the rarely recounted women’s perspective on black style, beauty, and soul.”—Library Journal, starred review

“A scholarly masterpiece that squarely situates fashion as central to the US civil rights and Black Power eras.”—Winterthur Portfolio

“Ambitious and wide-ranging. . . . Makes a powerful and convincing case for how black women practiced the politics of civil rights, black power, and anticolonialism by crafting new, self-affirming appearances and fashions.”—American Historical Review

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr for Us Today: Stanley Hauerwas and Eugene McCarraher Lead Guest Seminar

Examining Past Theological Witness for the Present Church

On October 11, Stanley Hauerwas and Eugene McCarraher led a seminar discussion on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr, entitled “Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr: Why They Still Matter.”

Stanley HauerwasHauerwas focused on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose theological politics is best understood as the attempt to recover the church from the realm of invisibility known as religion, assumed to be an unavoidable condition of the human condition in his day. Rather, in Bonhoeffer’s mind, the proper place of the church is the locus of Christ’s presence in the world. The church is just as Jesus was, fully human, meaning that the church must denounce the most deceptive form of invisibility, the attempt to be pure, an affirmed association that prepared the way for the German church’s failure to oppose Nazism.

2008 SILT - Eugene MccarraherIn contrast, McCarraher argued Niebuhr cannot provide what we need for our time. Both Niebuhr’s political ontology and eschatology rest on a purely secular temporality, where love will have to wait until the end of history before its power can take effect. But any new radicalism must begin from a faith in the possibilities of the here and now, leaving today’s apostates of empire, McCarraher argues, to reclaim the language of realism rather than embrace the suspect Niebuhrian discernment. Indeed, others, such as the clergy activist A.J. Muste, are far better equipped to usher us forward through a realized eschatology.

In his discussion of Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the visibility of the church, Hauerwas states:

“We are tempted to think we live in a very different time than Bonhoeffer. We are not threatened, we think, by Hitler-like leaders, but the cynicism that produced Hitler remains alive and well. We do not trust our neighbors, nor do we trust ourselves, nor do we trust the church. In fact, many in the ministry prefer the church to be invisible. The invisibility of the church means that the primary role of those in the ministry is to be a pleasant person. What seems lacking is anything that you are supposed to do as a Christian. But Bonhoeffer gives those in the ministry and all Christians something to do, and that is the great genius of Christianity. In a world where people are dying of boredom, we give you something to do, and thats what Bonhoeffer did.” 

Listen to the full lecture through its resource page here.

Stanley Hauerwas is a longtime professor at Duke University, serving as the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School with a joint appointment at the Duke University School of Law. Involved in the areas of systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, as well as the philosophy of social science and medical ethics, his work and research interests intersect across many disciplinary lines. His recent publications include The Work of Theology (Eerdmans, 2015) and Hannah’s Child: A Theological Memoir, 2nd Ed. (Eerdmans, 2012).

Eugene McCarraher is an associate professor of humanities and history and the associate director of the honors program at Villanova University. A former Charles Ryskamp Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (2005-2006), he has written for Books and CultureCommonwealDissent, In These TimesThe Nation, the Chicago TribuneThe Hedgehog Review and Raritan.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

The Future of Civil Rights Activism: Ruby Sales Engages in Charlottesville Public Forum

In Conversation with Charles Marsh on Social Justice and Spirituality

Ruby Sales VFH, Charles MarshOn November 29, civil rights leader and public theologian Ruby Sales traveled to Charlottesville to participate in a public conversation on social justice and spirituality hosted by Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH).

The event, Every One of Us: A Conversation with Ruby Sales on Race, Spirituality, and Public Life, featured a dialogue between Sales and Charles Marsh, engaging Charlottesville community members on critical issues of race, spirituality, and public life. Extensive community interest brought 398 guests to the event, overwhelming the official capacity of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center of 200. While there was standing room only, even those with a seat rose to close the program with a standing ovation.

In an opening discussion on fellow civil rights witness Victoria Gray Adams, Charles Marsh asked Sales, “What is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement today?” Sales answered:

“These are the questions that are still on the table today. Movements seek to raise up our consciousness from the low level of empire consciousness to the high level of mountaintop consciousness, where we begin to see the world and each other in very different, and larger, and more relational ways. Because it is in the process of moving up to a high level of consciousness that we come to know a full meaning of God and we come to know each other in community.

So I think the question is still on the table today as white supremacy is rampant in this country, as political speech is violating, dehumanizing, and degrading, as white anger threatens to shed the very curtains of democracy in this country that threatens the lives of not only people of color, but also women… I think we are facing a spiritual crisis in America today. It is a spiritual crisis of meaning that gets at the very heart of what kind of people we will be in the twenty-first century in a capitalist technocracy where very few lives matter and most of us are unessential. I think that peace is not an abstraction.”

Her visit to Charlottesville also included an intergenerational master class at UVA, a roundtable lunch discussion with local community leaders, and a private dinner hosted by New City Arts Initiative. At the conclusion of her trip, Sales shared her plans to develop a history-focused reading list for people interested in her work and ideas, to be compiled and shared by VFH with the public.

To watch this discussion in full and view photos of the event, click here. More information on Ruby Sales can be found here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

Charles Marsh is the Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and the director of the Project on Lived Theology. His research interests include modern Christian thought, religion and civil rights, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and lived theology.

PLT event updates can be found online using #PLTevents. To browse our PLT resource collection, click here. Updates on our resources can be found online using #PLTresources. To get these updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Church in Ordinary Time

Church in Ordinary Time: A Wisdom Ecclesiology, Amy Plantinga PauwA Wisdom Ecclesiology

The liturgical season called “ordinary time” consists mostly of the weeks between Easter and the beginning of Advent. This season, generally ignored by theologians, aptly symbolizes the church’s existence as God’s creature in the gap between the resurrection of Christ and the consummation of all things. In Church in Ordinary Time, author Amy Plantinga Pauw draws on the seasons of the church year and the creation theology elaborated in the Wisdom books of Scripture to explore the contours of a Trinitarian ecclesiology that is properly attuned to the church’s life amid the realities of today’s world.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Beautifully framed and written, this is an ecclesiology that matters. Amy Plantinga Pauw is one of the leading American theologians of our generation; when you read Church in Ordinary Time, you can see why she is such a respected and important voice.”—Willie James Jennings, Yale Divinity School

“Wisdom traditions in Scripture and theology converge in this timely and provocative book on ecclesiology. Pauw offers a richly Trinitarian, ecumenically attuned, and profoundly relevant proposal for all who are serious about the church’s self-understanding today. Her writing is clearheaded and firmly rooted in Augustine, Calvin, Bonhoeffer, and biblical wisdom literature. It’s about time we had wisdom like this. Readers across all traditions will be challenged and grateful.”—Don E. Saliers, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Recapturing King’s Prophetic Witness in the Trump Era: Larycia Hawkins Delivers Guest Lecture

Larycia Hawkins, "The Mountaintop as the Valley of the Shadow", Bearing the Cross in the Age of Donald J. TrumpBearing the Cross as Creative Protest

On November 1, Larycia Hawkins delivered a guest lecture, entitled “Bearing the Cross in the Age of Donald J. Trump: The Example of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement.”

Utilizing the prophetic guidance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. to address the politics of Trump’s America, Hawkins breaks down the prerequisites of cross bearing to body work, soul work, and foot work, calling us all to embodied solidarity and the civil courage to pursue a committed activism. She moves on to discuss the nature of cross bearing through the witness of MLK in his quest to save the society he was calling to truth. Finishing with a discussion on the politics of cross bearing, Hawkins argues King is pointing us toward recapturing a prophetic vision of human dignity, where the perspective of the oppressed is heard and the moment for justice is always recognized as now.

In her closing reflection on King’s thoughts for these days, Hawkins compels us all to engage in ways that are prophetic and pragmatic and continue to have hope: 

So what would MLK say to Trump? I think he would say several things… I think he would say you shall know them by their fruits and ask the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for him, where is the fruit? I think he would warn us about false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. I think he would say, you are your brother and sister’s keeper, and their blood cries out to you from the ground. Do you see it?…

I think he would say to the Congress of the United States, you call yourselves righteous, but the prophet Isaiah says righteousness and justice go hand in hand and that in fact, kingdoms and cities will be redeemed by justice. Nevertheless, your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.

I think he would say to most of us in this room, how are you complicit in the vast inequality that masquerades as the truth of the American dream?… He would ask us how open the eyes of our hearts are.

He would ask President Trump to get caught up in a vortex of love. Heather Heyer’s father said at her funeral, ‘It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from. If she loved you, you were stuck.’ He would ask President Trump, who do you love? What do you love? And he would ask us the same question.”

Listen to the entire lecture through its resource page here.

Larycia A. Hawkins is the Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. She is the recipient of many honors, such as the Bridge Builder Award from The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (MI) and the Dr. Betty Shabazz Award from Women in Islam Inc. (NY). Dr. Hawkins’ recent publications include “Prophetic and Priestly: The Politics of a Black Catholic Parish” (2015) and “Jesus and Justice: The Moral Framing of the Black Agenda” (2015). Her research engages the intersections of race/ethnicity, religion, and politics. Her writing, speaking, teaching, and scholarship are squarely animated by a conviction that political science should be relevant to the real world.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Market as God

The Market as GodA theological look at the economy

In The Market as God, author Harvey Cox captures how our world has fallen in thrall to the business theology of supply and demand. According to its acolytes, the Market is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It knows the value of everything, and determines the outcome of every transaction; it can raise nations and ruin households, and nothing escapes its reductionist commodification. The Market comes complete with its own doctrines, prophets, and evangelical zeal to convert the world to its way of life. Cox brings that theology out of the shadows, demonstrating that the way the world economy operates is neither natural nor inevitable but shaped by a global system of values and symbols that can be best understood as a religion.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

The Market as God attempts to begin…challenging how political liberalism constrains moral and religious critiques from entering the public sphere, and how economic liberalism—by insisting the market holds primacy above all—constrains us from building a more just and equal society… By highlighting the limits of our economic and religious lives, and by reminding us of our powers to renovate our current world, Cox clears the space for a new generation of Christians to begin to develop a more public and egalitarian politics. And that alone is more than enough to be grateful for.”—Elizabeth Bruening, The Nation

Through an astonishingly productive lifetime, Harvey Cox has always been alive to the most important movements of the spirit in our culture. His observations on the deification of the market and his ingenious sense of how market theology has developed a scripture, a liturgy, and sophisticated apologetics allow us to see old challenges in a remarkably fresh light. Like so many of the market’s critics, he’s also trying to redeem it so that it might serve its proper ends. An essential and thoroughly engaging book.”—E.J. Dionne, Jr., author of Why the Right Went Wrong

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Bloody Lowndes

Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt by Hasan Kwame JeffriesCivil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt

In Bloody Lowndes, author Hasan Kwame Jeffries tells the story of the independent political party called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) and it’s protest of black enfranchisement. The LCFO inspired black people throughout the country, and was used as an inspiration for both Black Power and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Bridging the gaping hole in the literature between civil rights organizing and Black Power politics, Bloody Lowndes offers a new paradigm for understanding the civil rights movement.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Jeffries has written the book historians of the black freedom movement have been waiting for. His beautifully written account rescues Lowndes County from its role as merely a backdrop to ‘Black Power,’ to being one of the key battlegrounds for democracy in the United States. Here are local people whose local struggles have contributed mightily to the kind of politics we desperately need in the Obama age—the politics of ‘freedom democracy,’ a politics born in Reconstruction, rooted in social justice and human rights, and honed in the Alabama cotton belt.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“Jeffries is at the top of a very short list of ‘young lions’ paving the way for a new interpretation of the history of the Civil Rights-Black Power movement. His work on the legendary Lowndes County Freedom Organization is outstanding in terms of the breadth and carefulness of research, depth and clarity of conceptualization, organization and presentation of material, and the originality and the wealth of the results.”—Komozi Woodard, author of A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Civil Rights Leader Ruby Sales to Speak in Charlottesville

In Conversation with Charles Marsh on Race, Spirituality, and Public Life

On Wednesday, November 29, civil rights and spiritual leader Ruby Sales will visit Charlottesville to participate in “Every One of Us,” a public conversation on social justice and spirituality hosted by Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH). This dialogue between Sales and Charles Marsh will engage Charlottesville community members on critical issues of race, spirituality, and public life. Justin Reid, director of African American Programs at VFH, will serve as moderator. The event will take place from 6 – 7:30pm at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. Admission is free, and seating is general admission on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Every One of Us": A Conversation with Ruby Sales on Race, Spirituality, and Public Life, Charles Marsh

Ruby Sales is a nationally-recognized civil rights leader working at the intersection of race, religion, language, and politics since she was a student freedom fighter in the 1960s. She brings the wealth of African-American traditions to this generative conversation on the most pressing social and political questions in the 21st century. How do we make sense of a domestic and global narrative that reinforces a social hierarchy based on race, gender, class, and sexuality? How can we create a more complete and honest narrative that reflects a world that is majority youth, people of color, and women? What movements or countercultures are needed to accomplish this in modern society? What resources do we have to redress historic oppression, confront white supremacy, and imagine a world where every one of us is embraced in our human community?

As a leading thinker on the relationship between politics and religious life, PLT Director Charles Marsh will speak from direct experience as a Christian raised in the heart of the segregated South. Moderator Justin Reiddirects African American Programs at VFH, where he advances a complex and nuanced telling of African American history through the development of educational resources, including a database of historic sites.

This free, community event has been made possible by the Office of the Executive Vice President & Provost at the University of Virginia. Additional support has been provided by the Black Student Alliance at UVA, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at UVA, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, the Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity at UVA, and the Project on Lived Theology at UVA.

If you are unfamiliar with Ms. Sales’ powerful perspectives on racial and gender equity, among other topics, listen to her recent interview on On Being. Registration for this free event is encouraged but not required and is available here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

PLT event updates can be found online using #PLTevents. To browse our PLT resource collection, click here. Updates on our resources can be found online using #PLTresources. To get these updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology.