As Drew highlighted last week, we recently brought together an outstanding group of thinkers at Howard University School of Divinity to help us refine our approach to diversity and inclusion. Dr. Fred Ware (associate dean at HUSD) graciously hosted us, setting the tone for honest and fruitful conversation. For us, relationship building is the foundation. It is at the point of inclusion and diversity that I want to start reflecting on this challenging yet rewarding journey.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 encourages us to find friends who “build up hope so you’ll all be together in this” journey of creating spaces where “no one [is] left out, no one [is] left behind” (The Message). You see, relationship building is the foundation. These words reflect my experience with Science for the Church.
It is hard to believe it has been almost a year since I joined Drew, Greg, Heather, and Dave in this tremendous opportunity of ensuring that no one is left behind by highlighting the importance of employing science as a means for spiritual growth and community development. Thus, between jokes about Calvin and Wesley and deep (not really) discussions about predestination and prevenient grace, I have found a home on the SftC team by engaging science with two Presbyterian guys. Because most of my work has been with Drew and Greg, I’m only focusing on them.
Drinking From a Firehose: The Standard Model
Onboarding is always a fun and challenging experience. However, meeting new people, learning complex jargon, adapting to new procedures, and finding one’s way in a geographically dispersed team can be a bit jarring. It is like drinking from a firehose. During the first couple of months, I had no idea what was going on. In a primordial soup of acronyms, benefactors, prospective grants, website hosting lingo, marketing consulting, editing tasks, and a million other things, I didn’t know which way was up. Then, there was this fixation on the Standard Model. I remember thinking: Why are we so interested in quarks and leptons and how they relate to each other? Even when I fashioned myself as pretty smart, drawing on the Standard Model of Particle Physics to engage science did not seem like a good idea to me.
As Drew unpacked the parallelism of the relationship between the universe’s building blocks (i.e., the model’s central tenets) and how the relationship between scientists and pastors can work to reinvigorate churches, I understood the profoundness of our Standard Model. It is not just a program or a product we offer to churches and individuals interested in the faith and science dialogue. It goes to the core of whom we are as an organization. Relationships are essential to how we engage science and faith. Therefore, when I was asked to join SftC’s senior leadership, I was invited into a transformative relationship that challenged all presuppositions and assumptions. You see, engaging science with these two Presbyterian guys has become a metaphor for a relationship that is driven by acceptance, inclusion, and growth. Relationship building is the foundation. This is who we are.
...Drew introduced the Standard Model of Particle Physics and then our Standard Model for the church.
...The Barna Group showed in 2019 that Black Christians are twice as likely as their white peers to see race as a problem.
...I wrote about the need for a Christian action that cares for the most vulnerable members of society in this piece about race and health.
...Pastor Will Rose and Dr. Whitney Robinson illustrate how The Standard Model produces positive outcomes to benefit their church.
...The Synod of the Covenant of the Presbyterian Church (USA) asked us to lead two webinars exploring how science can shed light on race relationships (week one and week two). Be sure to check out Dr. Oveta Fuller’s presentation in week two.
Race and Science: A Touchy Subject
One of my primary responsibilities as engagement coordinator for SftC is cultivating and managing partnerships with theologically and racially diverse clergy, scientists, and communities of faith to encourage a significant and transformative dialogue around faith and science. As you can imagine, this can be a challenging task, predicated on the fraught history of problematic use of science against Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
For example, just think about the distrust engendered by the Tuskegee Study within African American communities. Or about the 1937 law that allowed forced sterilization of one-third of Puerto Rican women and their eventual use as guinea pigs to test the safety and effectiveness of the birth control pill. Eugenics, discrimination, and white supremacy are part of the subtext of this conversation for BIPOC.
My academic training has conditioned me to expect explanations that justify and normalize these reprehensible behaviors by underscoring the problems of injecting modern anachronic understanding and positions when interpreting these subjects. However, this approach does not reflect how these two Presbyterian guys communicate about science.
They boldly and prophetically insist on calling us back to the fact that we are created in God’s image and race is a social construct, not a biological category proper of Homo sapiens. They insist on calling God’s church to accountability for how this construct impacts and colors human relationships. Moreover, they challenge us to use this knowledge to make a better world.
Perhaps you have noticed that I am not a white Presbyterian guy. I am a brown-skinned Nazarene guy of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Some days I think I am out of place in a context preoccupied with mainline ideas. I know the following sentence will make Greg smile, but I have to say it: However, I cannot help but believe that God preordained that this motley crew would gather to help the church understand and embrace science as a tool for growth and inclusion.
I know it may sound cliché, but working with Drew, Greg, Heather, and Dave has reminded me of the need and benefit of authentic and genuine friendship. This type of relationship building is the foundation of TSM. Working with SftC is not all businesslike. We play and enjoy life as equals whenever we can. We share a passion for good food (remind me to tell you about Greg’s mushroom risotto and Drew’s grilled skirt steak), for shooting the breeze with a cold beverage in hand, good music, and life. We have learned that our bond extends far beyond the amount of melanin in our skin, beyond country of birth, and beyond theological minutia. We share an inheritance, a birthright, and a kinship that comes through our faith in Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of God (1 Peter 1:4-5).
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