Racial Segregation and its Impact on Theological Education

Racial segregation continues to impact quality of education in Mississippi—and nationwide | Hechinger Report.

I thought this an interesting article by Alan Richard of the Hechinger Report, but it prompted some thoughts for me regarding our President and his religious views. Many of my religiously conservative (and incidentally, politically conservative) often decry more liberal theological views such as Black Liberation Theology. Consequently, they also tend to look down on those who hold to such views.

Let me point this out as a classic example of chickens coming home to roost. According to his wikipedia page, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. earned a Master of Arts in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago. Considering he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968 and his master’s in English in 1969, one might surmise that he earned the Religion master’s around that time.

Consider that my current school of choice, Dallas Theological Seminary (and a bastion of conservative theological views), did not open its doors to blacks until 1965 ; as I understand it, DTS was one of the first to desegregate. The University of Chicago must have desegregated soon considering that Wright’s mother also graduated from the University of Chicago. Wright likely followed in her footsteps and toward an place familiar to him through his studies at Howard University. In any case, Wright landed in Chicago at one of the only schools which would have accepted him—a seminary with theologically liberal leanings.

Wright’s story is not unique: the black students who had the academic credibility and the financial wherewithal to pursue graduate-level theological education often had to choose the Chicago Divinity Schools of the world. Conservative schools simply would not educate them. In fact, I’ve heard one story (unconfirmed) of a major conservative seminary’s registrar who would discard the applications of qualified black applicants so there was no record of discrimination. Still, these gifted future pastors attended liberal schools and went on to pastor churches. Wright accepted his pastorate around 1972.

For more than 30 years, Wright pastored, taught, and led his congregation based on the theology he learned at the University of Chicago and later from Union Theological Seminary under James Cone. Among his flock? One Barack Obama, a community organizer who worked in and around the south side of Chicago, Illinois, and who would have worked with many pastors (with similar educations as Wright) in the area in order to bring much-needed resources to bear on the problems of the African-American community.

In short (and to use another metaphor), the seeds of segregation—planted and watered by conservative seminaries—blossomed into pastors who chose liberal institutions for their training. Those pastors then sowed the seeds of their new-found theology into their congregants who now hold significant political, social, and economic positions. Those congregants are the Beyoncé’s, President Obama’s, Oprah Winfrey’s, and Tyra Banks’ of the world. So, theological conservative: when you wonder why some people hold the views they hold, consider your history, and know that when the opportunity to influence minds came, theological conservatives built a chicken roost.

Now the chickens are home, and hungry.

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3 Comments

Filed under Christian Education, Theology

3 responses to “Racial Segregation and its Impact on Theological Education

  1. Great analysis – one too long overlooked and ignored. Maybe it’s time to have this conversation. d

  2. Brilliant analysis. The same thing happened w/ feminism when the conservatives schools kept out women.

    • Thanks for the comment, and you are absolutely right. Interestingly, many of those theologians also turned to various stripes of liberation theology as a result. Given the (extensive) history of suppression and oppression, I find myself unsurprised at the pattern.