willie-jennings

Two recent events honored the legacy and contributions of black theologians at Candler School of Theology. On October 15, Willie Jennings delivered the 2014 Howard Thurman lecture, and on October 16, the school dedicated a classroom in memory of Grant S. Shockley, professor of Christian education and the first African American to serve full time on Candler’s faculty.

Jennings’ address, “In The Footsteps of Our Ancestors: Revisiting, Renovating and Revolutionizing the Path,” explored the challenge that inspires his work – the challenge of belonging.

“Christian faith should announce a new reality of belonging that would show us to be a wonderful surprise to this world,” said Jennings, associate professor of theology and Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School. “Yet the reality of Christian belonging continues to be thwarted by the power of ‘racial faith.’”

According to Jennings, there are four key components that make up racial faith: gentile forgetfulness, the emergence of whiteness as a principality, the destruction of place and space in the minds and hearts of Christians, and pedagogical imperialism. He gave an account of how the Christian faith in the West has been defined by the early settlers’ self-claimed authority to teach and interpret in their New World context who is Gentile and who is Jew based upon race.

Jennings said it’s time to turn a new page in our history, and invited followers of Jesus to “imagine and seek to enact a life together that will be a wonderful surprise to the world, a surprise they are waiting to see.”

The following day, Candler dedicated the Grant S. Shockley classroom. Teresa L. Fry Brown, professor of homiletics and director of Black Church Studies, and Dean Jan Love offered words of welcome, and Noel Erskine, professor of theology and ethics, gave a tribute to Shockley, whose widow, Doris, was in attendance.

After teaching at Candler from 1970 to 1976, Shockley became president of the Interdenominational Theological Center and, later, Philander Smith College. He is considered one of the eminent contributors to Christian education in the black church in the 20th century.