Emily Miller to Study the Divergent Histories of Two Charlottesville Baptist Churches

The Project on Lived Theology (PLT) has selected Emily Miller to be a 2022 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology. Emily, who is a rising third-year undergraduate at UVA, is double-majoring in religious studies and statistics.

As part of her fellowship, Emily will receive a $3,000 stipend and work directly with a UVA faculty mentor, who will act as a theological-academic mentor and offer guidance on a research project. 

Emily’s project will explore the history of two Charlottesville churches: First Baptist Church on Park Street and First Baptist Church on Main Street. The two churches used to exist as a single church, Charlottesville Baptist Church, but split during the Civil War when Black members decided they wanted to form their own church. Currently, First Baptist on Main Street remains primarily Black, while First Baptist on Park Street remains primarily white. Since so little information is readily available about the split, Emily will visit the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and UVA Special Collections, as well as each church’s archive, to find what historical documents exist. 

From there, Emily hopes to form a fuller, more detailed narrative from a variety of sources about the history of these two churches than what is currently accessible to the public. This project will also contribute to a more comprehensive theological history of Charlottesville in general. Emily is also interested in how the history of the separation has impacted each church today. She hopes to interview members and clergy of both congregations, as well as to attend services at both churches, in order to form a sociological narrative of the churches as well as a historical one.

“Emily’s got a terrific project, and she’s already hit the archives and turned up some fascinating documents,” said PLT research fellow Guy Aiken, who is serving as Emily’s faculty mentor. “It seems the full story of the big Baptist split in Charlottesville during the Civil War and Reconstruction and its reverberations down to today has never been told—until Emily. It’s exciting.”

“I am passionate about both theology and the rich civil rights history that exist in Charlottesville, and so as a part of this fellowship, I’m excited to bring these aspects together under the guidance of incredible professors, Guy Aiken and [PLT director] Charles Marsh,” said Emily. “The story of the First Baptist Church is deeply ingrained into Charlottesville and has a profound impact on the state of the Baptist church writ-large in Central Virginia, and I am so honored to have the opportunity to bring the many moving pieces to light.”

Currently a teaching fellow in UVA’s Department of Religious Studies, Emily also conducts research for The Global Inquirer (a podcast produced by UVA undergraduates) and tutors elementary school students in math. She is a lifeguard and championship dancer, with experience in fitness training. Emily hopes to eventually earn a PhD in religious studies and become an academic researcher.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Theologian and Writer David Bentley Hart to Speak on the New Atheists and Christianity

On Tuesday, April 5 at 2:00 p.m. EST, David Bentley Hart will be a guest of the Project on Lived Theology for a Zoom talk on “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Critics.” In addition to being an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion, Hart is also a philosopher, writer, and cultural commentator. 

Hart’s lecture will be based on his acclaimed book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, published by Yale University Press in 2009. His other books include In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments (Eerdmans, 2008); That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (Yale, 2019); and Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief (Baker Academic, 2022).

In his book Atheist Delusions, Hart dismantles distorted religious “histories” offered up by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and other contemporary critics of religion and advocates of atheism. He provides a bold correction of the New Atheists’ misrepresentations of the Christian past, countering their polemics with a brilliant account of Christianity and its message of human charity as the most revolutionary movement in all of Western history.

Hart outlines how Christianity transformed the ancient world in ways we may have forgotten: bringing liberation from fatalism, conferring great dignity on human beings, subverting the cruelest aspects of pagan society, and elevating charity above all virtues. He then argues that what we term the “Age of Reason” was in fact the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value. Hart closes the book in the present, delineating the ominous consequences of the decline of Christendom in a culture that is built upon its moral and spiritual values.

The April 5 event, which is free and open to the public, can be watched on Zoom at https://bit.ly/3DuhGfE, Passcode: 921417. A question-and-answer session will follow the lecture.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

“Theologies of Resistance and Reconciliation” UVA Seminar Videos and Resources

The semester may have just ended, but you can still watch and listen to many of the lectures from Project on Lived Theology director Charles Marsh’s Fall 2021 seminar, “Theologies of Resistance and Reconciliation: Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr, King.” Speakers include Marsh (who is also a religious studies professor at UVA) and PLT research fellow Guy Aiken, as well as special guests.

Wisdom to Know the Difference: Why Reinhold Niebuhr Isn’t the Theologian We Need Today (September 15, 2021)
Eugene McCarraher, associate professor of humanities and history at Villanova, asks, “Why do ‘very serious people’ like Reinhold Niebuhr so much?” and ultimately argues that Niebuhr’s philosophy of political realism cannot provide what we need for our time. According to McCarraher, public theologians and intellectuals must reclaim the language of political realism because Niebuhrian realism is not realistic or visionary enough. 
Watch the video.
Read more about McCarraher’s talk.

Evangelical Theology in the 19th Century: Thinking after Karl Barth on the Story of Modern Protestant Thought (September 22, 2021)
Charles Marsh uses theologian Karl Barth’s essay “Evangelical Theology of the 19th Century” from the book The Humanity of God as a narrative framework for the seminar. Barth reads the Protestant liberal tradition’s emphasis on human experience and “ecstatic joy” as a theological mistake that had political and historical implications when Christianity then became an ingredient in the development of the Third Reich.
Watch the video.

“A Theological Miracle”: The Awkward Brilliance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio (September 29, 2021)
Charles Marsh discusses the first of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s two dissertations, Sanctorum Communio, which Karl Barth called “a theological miracle.” Marsh argues that Bonhoeffer, as the theologian of the concrete, shows how the doctrine of God comes to expression in lived social experience and only by this concept of revelation can the Christian concept of the church be uncovered. 
Watch the video.
Listen to the audio.

Letters and Papers from Montgomery, Alabama: The Formation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theological Imagination (November 3, 2021)
Charles Marsh demonstrates the tensions between trying to understand Martin Luther King, Jr. as theologian and how the documentary evidence illuminates that for King, the political was always understood primarily through the lens of the theological. Marsh then uses the Montgomery bus boycott as a case study in lived theology as well as a historical moment that represents an awakening of the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. 
Watch the video.

Kingdom Come: King and the Third Way of Nonviolence (November 10, 2021)
PLT research fellow Guy Aiken presents a comprehensive overview of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence by drawing out some of the oppositions that were always at work in the civil rights leader’s mind. Aiken then demonstrates how King saw nonviolent resistance as a third way between fight or flight. Ultimately, King thought of nonviolence as morally, strategically, and tactically superior to both violence and passive resistance. 
Watch the video.
Listen to the audio.

Writing Blackness: A Conversation with Danté Stewart on Theology and Memoir (November 17, 2021)
Writer and speaker Danté Stewart reads from and discusses his book Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle (Convergent, 2021). He describes his experiences as a Black man in predominantly white evangelical spaces and his study of Black texts, which led him to not only confront Black death but to also embrace Black life outside the white gaze.
Watch the video.
Listen to the audio.
Explore Danté Stewart’s recommended reading list.

Thinking Theologically after Dorothee Soelle on the Future of Christian Faith and Practice (December 1, 2021)
Charles Marsh explains how theologian Dorothee Soelle’s theology has been characterized as radical, political, feminist, mystical, post-theistic, post-metaphysical, and post-religious, while her writing style has been called lyrical and fragmentary. Marsh argues that Soelle’s memoir, Against the Wind: A Memoir of a Radical Christian, asks readers to consider how we might understand her as a theologian.
Listen to the audio.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

When Life Give You Lemons: Re-Imagining an On-Site Internship Into a Collaborative Fellowship

Spring 2021

Each summer, the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia selects a talented group of undergraduate fellows to step beyond the classroom and “live theologically.” These summer interns study and work in a variety of settings, helping others, engaging with community groups, and seeking to integrate ethical, religious, and spiritual dimensions with the pursuit of a more just world. They consider what it might mean to strive for the “beloved community” that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of. In prior years, summer interns have embarked on many on-site experiences, such as educating prisoners at the regional jail in Charlottesville, Va., to building homes in Kenya. 

In 2021, due to the global pandemic, the students were unable to undertake the work that usually happens at field sites. As a result, the Project on Lived Theology re-imagined the internship as an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology. In this new arrangement, the eight fellows worked closely with faculty mentors from the University of Virginia to design and complete their own intensive projects. The fellows also came together weekly in a group led by Dr. Isaac Barnes May, a PLT research fellow at the time, to read, think, and discuss works from various prophetic writers who had espoused socially transformative theologies. The individual projects allowed for an in-depth focus on a specific topic, while the efforts to contemplate these questions in a small communal group kept broader questions clearly in mind. 

Before the program began, fellows received copies of the March trilogy by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, three graphic novels that provide an autobiographical account of Lewis’s involvement with the civil rights movement from his childhood in rural Alabama to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These volumes provided a focus for several of the weekly discussions. 

At an initial orientation session conducted over videoconference, fellows met with the entire Project on Lived Theology staff and with all the faculty mentors. This enabled them to get a sense of both the other projects and interests within the fellows group as well as the support system that existed for them over the summer. Because of the move online, it was important that the kinds of in-person communities that had existed in prior years exist as far as feasible. 

The fellows’ independent projects led them to pursue many different lines of intellectual inquiry. Because the University of Virginia and the Project on Lived Theology are in Virginia, many of the projects explored local topics. For example, Siana Monet, working with Professor Vanessa Ochs, studied how a Quaker community in Blacksburg, Va., had changed its worship and religious life in the difficult circumstances of the pandemic. Sophie Gibson, under the mentorship of Professor Heather Warren, delved into the archival records of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, exploring how that predominately white congregation had responded to the civil rights movement. Looking at church minutes and reports, Sophie worked to put that material in a larger historical context, seeking to understand the role of one congregation in aiding, and in delaying, efforts to secure civil rights. 

Fellows Josh Heman-Ackah and Rachel Olson spent the summer working with project mentor Dr. Isaac Barnes May on a digital exhibit about religion and civil rights in Virginia, which will be included on the Project on Lived Theology’s website. For this effort, they read the work of several scholars who have written about Virginia and civil rights, and ultimately interviewed them. You can listen to one of Josh and Rachel’s interviews here. By going through newspapers and exploring the University of Virginia’s archives, Josh and Rachel also carefully documented how the civil rights movement affected churches.

Two of the fellows worked on projects related to the role of religion in the nationwide reckonings over racism, white supremacy, and police violence. Malia Sample, with her faculty mentor Professor Paul Dafydd Jones, used theology as a lens to look at the implications for faith in the diverse responses to the murder of George Floyd and in the mass protests against anti-Asian violence that occurred in the wake of the Atlanta shootings. Annie Webber, working with Professor Heather Warren, specifically focused on the ways that religion played a role in the work of Black Lives Matter activists.   

Two students did projects that explored specific Christian communities. Karen Cortez worked with mentor Dr. Isaac Barnes May on a project about American evangelicals and social ethics. Karen was particularly interested in how American evangelicalism had become politicized. She spent time researching and reading about Latinx evangelicals, and the complex interplay of religion, identity, and politics that affected social action and philanthropic work in that community. Maddie Pannell, mentored by Professor Heather Warren, wrote about the experiences of Chinese and Chinese-American students with Christianity. As part of this work, Maddie did extensive interviews. 

Throughout all these projects, the summer fellows prioritized understanding the lives and religious experiences of others. The fellows’ summer projects were constructive works rather than dispassionate research and had a clear focus on thinking through how theology could respond to the challenges of the present moment, including COVID-19 and the legacy and current realities of racism. Fellows wanted their work to be a form of service. The staff, faculty, and fellows were mindful of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison to what we owe others.”         

In the weekly gatherings, the fellows encountered the insights of past generations of thinkers and activists and considered how those voices could speak to the present. Initially fellows read portions of Lived Theology: New Perspectives on Method, Style, and Pedagogy, edited by Charles Marsh, Peter Slade, and Sarah Azaransky, to gain a sense of how to approach subsequent readings from a lived theology angle. 

One of the first texts that fellows read was by Howard Thurman, the civil rights leader who espoused radical nonviolence and founded one of the first interracial churches in the United States. In his 1949 Jesus and the DisinheritedThurman began by contemplating a question he was asked while visiting India: how did he retain his Christianity with the knowledge that he shared a faith with slaveholders and segregationists? Thurman found an answer that allowed him to retain his faith and advocate for justice. He began to believe the teachings of Jesus might have a special message and meaning to the most marginalized members of society, at the time African Americans. The fellows found Thurman sympathetic and appreciated that his writing mixed a blend of history, preaching, and Biblical studies. Reading him alongside John Lewis, the fellows wondered what the place of nonviolence and religion is in modern efforts for racial justice.

Fellows also engaged with another civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington, by watching the 2003 documentary Brother Outsider. Rustin’s Quaker faith was key to his early organizing, and he developed many of the strategies that he would later use in the civil rights movement while imprisoned as a religious conscientious objector during the Second World War. The documentary examined how Rustin’s identity as a gay man caused him to be excluded from public recognition in the civil rights movement. In discussing the film, fellows observed Rustin’s effectiveness was as an organizer and concluded that seemingly mundane activities, like event planning, could be used for the purpose of pursuing racial justice, making events like the March on Washington possible.

Another class had fellows read a brief selection by Dorothy Day. Fellows were moved by Day’s efforts to live among the poor as well as her belief that her faith required active work with the destitute. Fellows considered the impact of the Catholic Worker movement, and particularly how it has used small communities to try to generate social and cultural change. 

Late in the semester, fellows encountered the writing of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, perhaps the most famous Jewish theological thinker of the twentieth century. Born in Poland, Heschel had come to the United States fleeing the Holocaust and became a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary. In addition to his theological work, Heschel had been a supporter of civil rights and an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Fellows read Heschel’s speech, “The Moral Outrage of Vietnam,” a fierce and critical denunciation of American involvement in that conflict. Fellows discussed what function religious beliefs should play in international politics and what role faith leaders have in public life. The fellows were moved by Heschel’s words “In a free society, all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible.” Together, they wondered if living out a prophetic theology requires entering the political fray.  

For the last week of the fellowship, students read the work of Thích Nhất Hạnh, the Buddhist monk known for his peace work during the Vietnam conflict and leadership of the Plum Village Community. Students read Nhất Hạnh’s reflections on the importance of living in community and about his advocacy of nonviolent conflict resolution. Nhất Hạnh made the case that even the apparent failure of a movement for peace might actually bring a kind of success, observing, “We never lost sight that the essence of our struggle was love itself, and that was our real contribution to humanity.” Reading Nhất Hạnh was an important reminder of the breadth and diversity of theological resources available to think through contemporary challenges.

At the end of the ten weeks, fellows finished the summer internship, having completed their substantial projects and participated in numerous discussions on what it means to live out theological commitments. Though COVID-19 made it impossible for fellows to have on-site experiences with partner organizations, as was done in prior years, they still managed to significantly be engaged with the questions that drive the Project on Lived Theology. The Project on Lived Theology faculty and staff look forward to keeping in touch with the 2021 fellows as they start promising professional careers and to welcoming a new cohort of fellows this coming summer.

The Project on Lived Theology plans to share details about the 2022 fellowship application process soon. Details will be posted at livedtheology.org.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Danté Stewart’s Recommended Reading List

The Project on Lived Theology was happy to host writer and speaker Danté Stewart for a special Nov. 17 event, “Writing Blackness: A Conversation with Danté Stewart on Theology and Memoir.” As part of his talk, Danté cited various Black authors and texts (as well as other voices) that inspired him on his journey. We’ve compiled that list below if you’d like to read along.

You can also watch the video or listen to the audio of Danté’s talk on the PLT website.

Elizabeth Alexander, The Black Interior: Essays (2004)

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

Toni Cade Bambara: Gorilla, My Love (1992); The Salt Eaters (1992); Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations (1999)

Sarah Broom, The Yellow House (2019)

Tarana Burke and Brené Brown, You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience (2021)

Octavia E. Butler, The Parable series (1993-98)

Rebecca Carroll, Surviving the White Gaze (2021)

J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (2008)

James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2013)

Patricia Hill Collins, Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory (2019)

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas (2000)

Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race and Class (1981)

Mark Dery, Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose (1994)

W. E. B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920)

Farah Jasmine Griffin, Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature (2021)

Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (1955)

bell hooks: Salvation: Black People and Love (2001), Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995)

Viola Huang

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson

N. K. Jemisin, How Long ‘til Black Future Month? (2018)

Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets (2021)

June Jordan, Some of Us Did Not Die: Selected Essays (2002)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)

Nella Larsen, Passing (1929, also a 2021 Netflix movie)

Kiese Laymon, Heavy: An American Memoir (2018)

Audre Lord, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (2020)

Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (1997)

Darnell L. Moore, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America (2018)

Toni Morrison, “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at the University of Michigan on Oct. 7, 1988

Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (1932)

Deesha Philyaw, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (2020)

Josef Sorett, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (2016)

Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)

Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped (2013)

Ida B. Wells

Elie Wiesel, The Trial of God (as it was held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod) (1979)

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

PLT Collaborator Nathan Walton Finds His New Calling at Richmond’s East End Fellowship

Nathan Walton

The Project on Lived Theology (PLT) congratulates Nathan Walton on being named co-lead pastor at East End Fellowship, a multi-ethnic, economically diverse Christian church located in Richmond, Virginia. Walton started his new position this fall.

As a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, Nathan Walton was actively involved in PLT research initiatives and public events. He began as a PLT graduate research fellow. In the summer of 2016, Walton coordinated the curriculum for a class on spiritual autobiography at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail and developed a university course around issues of mass incarceration. He received his PhD from UVA in the spring of 2019.

“It was a joy to serve as Nathan’s dissertation advisor,” said Charles Marsh, PLT director and UVA religious studies professor. “His dissertation integrated ethnographic research and theological analysis to produce an incisive study of the Prosperity Gospel and theological perspectives on wealth.”

In addition to mentoring students as part of the 2014 Summer Internship in Lived Theology, Walton participated in numerous PLT events during his doctoral studies. He most recently spoke to UVA undergraduates on “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Witness of the Black Freedom Church” and moderated a public discussion with civil rights pioneer John M. Perkins.

Prior to his new appointment at East End Fellowship, Walton served as executive director of Abundant Life Ministries, an initiative that demonstrates “God’s love through holistic community development” in the Prospect neighborhood of Charlottesville, Virginia. Walton holds an MDiv from Duke Divinity School, and both a BA and a PhD in religious studies from UVA. 

“Nathan exemplifies the best qualities in the vocation of the engaged scholar,” added Marsh. “He is well versed in the technical skills of his discipline, charitable and compassionate in his interpretations, agile in his ability to grasp complex ideas with maximum clarity and make vital connections to critical issues in contemporary society.”

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Writer Danté Stewart to Speak on Black Identity and the White Evangelical Church

On Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. EST, writer and speaker Danté Stewart will be a guest of the Project on Lived Theology to talk about his new book, Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle (Convergent, 2021). Shoutin’ in the Fire is a coming-of-age memoir on being Black and learning to love in a loveless world.

Stewart, whose work focuses on the areas of race, religion, and politics, has been featured on CNN and in the Washington PostChristianity TodaySojournersThe Witness: A Black Christian CollectiveComment, and elsewhere. His recent essay, “How I learned that Jesus is Black” has inspired exuberant public debate weeks since it appeared in the New York Times on Monday, October 18. 

“We are delighted to welcome this dazzling young writer-activist to UVA and look forward to a generative exchange on matters that remain urgent, persistent, and confounding to us all,” says Charles Marsh, Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies and the director of the Project on Lived Theology.

In Shoutin’ in the Fire, Danté Stewart gives breathtaking language to his reckoning with the legacy of white supremacy – both the kind that hangs over our country and the kind that is internalized on a molecular level. Stewart uses his personal experiences as a vehicle to reclaim and reimagine spiritual virtues like rage, resilience, and remembrance – and explores how these virtues might function as a work of love against an unjust, unloving world.

“Only once in a lifetime do we come across a writer like Danté Stewart, so young and yet so masterful with the pen. This work is a thing to make dungeons shake and hearts thunder.” (Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times best-selling author of The Prophets).

Stewart received his BA in sociology from Clemson University and is currently studying at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

The Nov. 17 event, which is free and open to the public, can be watched on Zoom at https://tinyurl.com/joinPLT, Passcode: 546359. A question-and-answer session will follow the lecture.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research community funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., commissioned to understand the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Cheryl Sanders, Howard Professor and Pastor, Praises PLT Publication Lived Theology

Cheryl Sanders, a PLT collaborator and dear friend to the project, recently shared a few kind words about our book Lived Theology: New Perspectives on Method, Style, and Pedagogy (Oxford University Press, 2016):

Lived Theology is essential reading for students, activists, pastors, and scholars who are attentive to present and future opportunities for theological engagement and witness in the public square. These essays establish the importance of lived theology as a rationale and methodology for analysis of the primary source data of social change, such as field reports, position papers and oral histories, in order to discover vital theological conversations, convictions, and commitments.” 

Sanders is a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University’s School of Divinity, where she teaches courses in Christian ethics, pastoral ethics, and African American spirituality. She also serves as senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. She has participated in several PLT initiatives.

Thank you, Cheryl! We are thankful for the way in which this important volume about lived theology as an academic discipline continues to help shape theological curriculum in seminaries and graduate programs in the U.S. and beyond!

Amazing Grace For Every Race

In the summer of 1973, Dr. Robert Marsh accepted the call as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dothan, Alabama. Early in his tenure, an African American couple and their two children walked the aisle on a Sunday morning to join the church. 

Dr. Marsh welcomed the family into the 3,500-member congregation as he would any new family. But when the morning service ended, a gaggle of deacons approached Marsh to let him know in no uncertain terms that Blacks were not permitted to join First Baptist, according to bylaws written in the early 1960s, buried deep in the church records. 

In the coming weeks, Marsh used the Wednesday Fellowship Meal and Bible Study to explore the theme of racial reconciliation, focusing on Gal. 3:26-29 and 2 Cor. 5:11-21. The month-long study, attended by 150-200 church members, concluded with this sermon, “Amazing Grace for Every Race,” which led in turn to the full acceptance of the Black family from Queens, New York, and the removal of the whites-only paragraph in the church bylaws. 

The sermon marks one of many small acts of individual conscience that brought southern segregation in its extralegal forms to an end. 

Charles Marsh, October 12, 2021

Changing the Tide

Rachel Olson

by Rachel Olson, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a fellow at the Project on Lived Theology. Throughout my time, I had the opportunity to create a comprehensive addition to the Project on Lived Theology’s website, composed of all topics relating to religion and the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia. I was able to gather a plethora of information on the subject, then present that information in a manner which could be easily understood by those in academia. 

Under the leadership of my mentor, Isaac Barnes May, I was able to navigate historical and religious research. Isaac was a phenomenal mentor, whose expertise guided me to connect fragments of information into a whole work. At the beginning of my project, I obtained numerous primary sources detailing events and figures of the Civil Rights era in Virginia. Soon after, Isaac advised me to make timelines and categories of events, which led me to investigate further. At the end of my fellowship, I was able to conduct my first interview in the form of a podcast and write extended articles on major topics.

From taking these steps, I gained an in-depth view of the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia, of which I will highlight a few. First, I learned about Harry Byrd, former Virginia senator, whose segregationist ideas bled into society. I also learned about the lengthy public school shutdown in Prince Edward County, which was an exceptionally harsh stance of white massive resistance. It is because of heroes such as Dr. Milton Reid, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, and the Reverend Curtis Harris, who all were champions for the rights of African Americans, that progress could be made. I also read about the civil rights demonstrations in Danville and “Bloody Monday,” a historic time when African Americans unified in opposition to segregation in their community. Finally, I realized religion and civil rights go hand in hand. They both deal with issues of the heart, and religion became the driving force of the Civil Rights Movement. 

My experience not only expanded my knowledge, but it also aided my personal and professional development. I gained a key takeaway that it is important to think critically about one’s opinions and views. We must ask ourselves why we hold these views, how our environment and personal biases have impacted our opinions, and what effect these views have on others. I believe if we answer these questions so that they have a positive impact, then we can continue to make strides towards a society of justice, peace, and love. In the future, I aim to become a physician. I will utilize my expanded knowledge of civil rights and religion to treat every interaction with sensitive care and respect, knowing that the way things are can always change for the better and that individuals can be shaped in unique ways. 

Read Rachel’s first and second blog posts here and here.

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.