Pitts Theology Library continues its Kessler Conversations program this spring with a fresh trio of online interviews with leading church historians and theologians addressing the relevance of the Protestant Reformation for contemporary communities.

Named after the library’s world-renowned Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection, the conversations focus each semester on a single contemporary theme and trace it back to the Reformers. Richard Manly “Bo” Adams, Jr., library director and Margaret A. Pitts Assistant Professor in the Practice of Theological Bibliography, says that feedback from the fall semester discussions has impacted the direction for the spring lineup, which carries the theme “Blessed are the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in the 16th and 21st Centuries.”

“Last fall, for obvious reasons, we focused on disease, healing, and pastoral care,” says Adams, who conducts the conversations. “What became clear to me while speaking with these leading scholars was that disease and health affect almost all aspects of society, and so a conversation about disease necessarily entails confronting the many other challenges present in any given society.

“We have all witnessed how crises like the coronavirus pandemic reveal and often exacerbate deep economic disparities between persons and groups. Therefore, it seems natural to turn our attention this spring to consider wealth and poverty in the 16th and 21st centuries.”

The three spring Kessler Conversations will consider how social, cultural, and religious change in the 16th century shaped the church’s mission to care for the poor. Most importantly, Adams says, speakers and participants will explore how contemporary communities can learn from this past to work toward deeper equity in today’s society and to care for those who are most vulnerable. 

Each conversation will take place via webinar at 1:00 p.m. and run for 30 to 45 minutes. The webinars will also be archived for viewing here. 

kessler-convos-chung-kim.jpgMarch 17: “Care of the Poor During the Reformation”
Speaker: Esther Chung-Kim, associate professor of religious studies and associate director of The Gould Center of Humanities at Claremont McKenna College

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During the Reformation, religious leaders served as catalysts, organizers, stabilizers, and consolidators of poor relief programs to alleviate poverty. Although once in line with religious piety, voluntary poverty was no longer a spiritual virtue for many religious reformers. As religious options multiplied within Christianity, one’s understanding of community would determine the boundaries, albeit contested and sometimes fluid, of responsible poor relief.

kessler-convos-fink.jpgApril 7: “Wealth, Work, and Wisdom in Early Modern Society”
Speaker: David Fink, associate professor of religion at Furman University

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One of the many changes brought about by the reform movements of the 16th century was a reevaluation of long-held Christian assumptions about money and its relationship to goods both in this world and in the world to come. Martin Luther’s radical new understanding of salvation by faith alone disrupted the ancient economy of salvific almsgiving, forcing both Protestants and Catholics to reconsider the meaning of money in a variety of practical and theological contexts. Fink's recent research has focused on early modern reception of the Hebrew Bible’s wisdom literature, a body of writing dense with material bearing on these questions, and which they used to fashion a new social ethic on questions of economic justice, almsgiving, work, and vocation.

kessler-convos-moe-lobeda.jpgMay 5: “Luther’s Ethic of Neighbor-love: A Theological Repudiation of Maximizing Profit”
Speaker: Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, professor of theological and social ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and the Graduate Theological Union

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Martin Luther’s economic ethics, largely overlooked in North American Lutheran practice, are grounded in his theology of justification, his theology of neighbor-love, his eucharistic theology, and his understanding of Christ’s indwelling presence. These sources shape Luther’s firm argument that a Christian must not comply with economic principles, systems, or practices that harm people who are economically vulnerable in order to maximize profit for oneself. This ethic holds tremendous import as we seek to define norms for economic life in the context of advanced global capitalism.