Dear Members of the Candler Community:

Like many of you, I have been praying for all those affected by last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and closely following the discussions in our community, the church, and the country this week. In the midst of all the vitriol and rhetoric, I have been searching especially for those places where the love and grace of God shine brightly, despite the hatred and bigotry displayed in such a disturbing way in Charlottesville.

I have been heartened by the reactions of some of those closest to Candler: Emory University, The United Methodist Church, and members of Candler’s community have responded with resolve and insight, prophetically declaring our common commitment against racism and white supremacy. God’s light shone through them, and it made me proud that they are the people and the institutions that shape and ground Candler’s work each day. I’d like to share with you just a few of the instances that resonated with me, both as a Christian and as dean of Candler.

Emory President Claire Sterk sent an email to the entire Emory community on Monday afternoon, denouncing supremacist groups. Such groups “seek to undermine the fabric of civil society through ignorance, fear, and violence. Their actions stand in contrast to everything we strive for as members of an academic community committed to the discovery and application of knowledge for the greater good.” You can read the entire statement here.

The United Methodist Church published a full-page ad in the New York Times Wednesday citing the beautiful passage from Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The ad points readers to resources on the UMC’s website about ways people can take a stand against racism. Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued a very moving statement invoking an admonition from Martin Luther King to turn our “thin words into thick action.”

Many in the Candler community have posted insightful statements on social media, including Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, who wrote of our need for new statues (now posted as an op-ed on Candler’s website), and Mathew Pinson, associate dean of development, who asked us to remember our Baptismal Covenant. Ellen Ott Marshall, associate professor of Christian ethics and conflict transformation, and Elizabeth Bounds, associate professor of Christian ethics, signed “A Statement from Christian Ethicists Without Borders on White Supremacy and Racism,” which you can read at Daily Theology. This is by no means an exhaustive list; it simply illustrates that Candler is part of the conversation.

As our community, the nation, and the world discussed and debated the issues surrounding Charlottesville this week, Candler welcomed new students to the school at orientation. At Wednesday morning’s opening worship, Khalia Williams, assistant dean of worship and music, preached an inspiring sermon and presided at the Eucharist. She reminded us that a full immersion in theological education requires dedication to the “persistent pursuit” of our callings and our goal of remaining close to God. Remaining close to God, in turn, brings disparate parts of our community together, as demonstrated when we administered the Communion elements to each other—a potent symbol of how inescapably we are bound to Christ and to each other, no matter how many other differences we embody in this rich and wonderfully diverse Candler community.

Eliminating racism and bigotry of any kind is one of the persistent pursuits to which we are all called as followers of Jesus, and the Eucharist is a powerful place to be reminded of this obligation. At Candler, we observe Holy Communion at least three times a week, and I hope you take advantage of these feasts. The liturgy for The Great Thanksgiving in The United Methodist Service of Word and Table ends with these phrases:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.

By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

Nourished in rich and meaningful worship, we at Candler must be “for the world the body of Christ,” just as the prayer at the Eucharist bids us. We need to witness here and everywhere to God’s love, grace, justice, and mercy. Racial healing and justice are a personal priority of mine, and I have spent part of my summer making plans for increased attention to these matters within the Candler community. I am eager for us to probe more fully how we as a community might be made “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” I look forward our work together to strengthen our community and our witness to the world.

Grace and Peace,
Jan Love
Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean
Candler School of Theology