I am looking at my bookshelves as I write this.
The books that were required for my seminary training are arranged in particular shelves, easy to find.
If these books were people standing in my living room, I would be surrounded by dozens of white men and two nonwhites: one African and one Peruvian. It would be an overwhelmingly homogeneous gathering.
Don’t get me wrong, I read a great number of books written by minoritized scholars from different perspectives, but practically none of those was required reading. I also learned much from white thinkers.
Walter Rauschenbusch, Henri de Lubac, the young Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Jürgen Moltmann, Karl Barth – even Stanley Hauerwas – among others, provided important and formative insight.
But the set of experiences and epistemological commitments that informed their theologies could certainly be problematized by marginalized scholars.
When I moved to graduate school, I quickly found out my other two languages – Portuguese and Spanish – were not acceptable as modern research languages. In the competition between colonial languages; German and French stood victorious.
The living room of my graduate training is much more diverse than the one from my seminary pilgrimage, but nowhere near adequate.
Of course, this only speaks to curriculum building, but there is more.
In both my seminary and my graduate school training, all my courses were taught by whites.
For many reasons, I did not have the chance to study with the very few nonwhites who taught in the schools I attended.
Some of my former professors became very good friends of mine. I am thankful for how instrumental they were in my journey. I owe them much love and respect.
Yet, it was clear to me the hiring practices of the schools I attended – and they are not an exception in this regard – were heavily informed by the structural whiteness that surrounded and inhabited them.
And it does not stop there. Structural whiteness is so embedded in institutions of theological training that they tend to try to conform even the sporadic faculty of color they hire into a form of whiteness.
William James Jennings said it best, “Theological institutions count on a reality of assimilation in order to sustain their theological and pedagogical traditions. That assimilation, however, when embedded in the historical trajectories of white male subject formation, works against the healthy cultivation of a faculty and tempt some toward racial and gender mimicry.”
White supremacy is not only representational; it is also thoroughly structural and ideological.
This is not a new critique. Odds are that, by now, administrators and faculty members in schools of theological training know how their schools operate.
What may be new now, in an environment in which even the president of the Southern Baptist Convention says that black lives matter, is that this moment gives our theological schools an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is.
Do black lives matter in your school of theological training?
If black lives matter in your school of theological training, your curriculum reflects that. How many nonwhites were you required to read in your journey?
If back lives matter in your seminary, the hiring practices of your school reflect that. How many courses with nonwhite scholars did you take?
If black lives matter in your school, nonwhite scholars do not feel pressured to conform to standards they think reproduce the whiteness their presence is supposed to balance and counteract. Have you paid attention to this dynamic?
Statements of solidarity to minoritized communities, verbal condemnations of the evil of white supremacy and even confessions of sin are important, but are not enough.
Real challenges lurk beneath the surface. In theological education, these challenges are strongly manifested in curriculum building, hiring practices and organizational culture.
Let us hope black lives matter enough for those to be addressed accordingly.
Recruiting and training nonwhites is also central in this process, of course. But we are past the stage of being able to affirm plausibly that not enough material or people exist to take more significant strides.