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GTU Voices - Practicing What We Preach

Practicing What We Preach

By Debra Mumford

As a homiletician and life-long church goer, I have often heard people use the phrase “practice what you preach.” When people use this phrase, they are reminding others to actually personify or live out what they are advising others to do. 

This exercise should not be confined to individuals, but should be expanded to include all communities and institutions, including seminaries and divinity schools. We equip people of many different faith traditions to do work they feel God is calling them to do in the world. We teach them to critically interpret and critique sacred texts and the world in which they live to discern their divine callings. We must practice what we preach.

We must also do our own internal work to understand, critique, confront and dismantle white racism within our own institutions.

Over the course of the past few months, the painful and ubiquitous racially-motivated injustices perpetuated in our culture have been thrust into the spotlight. Racism is one of the original and perpetually pervasive sins of the United States of America. As a result, of the historical currents of white supremacy and white racism continue to permeate the cultural waters in which we all swim, and we are conditioned to adopt these racist norms and values in order to survive and/or thrive in this cultural context. Understanding this, practicing what we preach mandates that we not only teach our students to understand, critique, confront and dismantle the many structures that uphold white supremacy, but that we must also do our own internal work to understand, critique, confront and dismantle white racism within our own institutions. 

Louisville Seminary has begun to practice what we preach. Yet, we still have a long way to go. For almost twenty years, we have worked to teach our students about racism. We have educated our faculty and students about the culture of racism. We have examined our curriculum and decentered white male scholarship within various theological disciplines. We have restructured our faculty work into frameworks that decenter the Enlightenment notions that scientific ideas, Eurocentric worldviews and ways of being are the models upon which theological education should be based. We have committed to ensuring that our faculty is continually representative of the larger society (eight out of seventeen full-time faculty members are people of color). We have committed to ensuring that our senior leadership is representative of larger society (four out of six members of the senior leadership team are people of color).  We have begun to regularly recruit students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, faith traditions and associations. We continue to work to ensure that our Board of Trustees is representative of our wider society. All of this work is admirable. However, in all of our doing, we have never taken a deep dive into our own institutional culture to intentionally and systematically dismantle the systems and structures that continue to perpetuate white supremacy. 

Pray... that we may adhere to the advice the Apostle Paul gave to the church at Galatia (Galatians 6) to not grow weary in our well-doing before we reap the harvest God has in store for us. 

Now is the time to do this very difficult work. Beginning this fall, we as a faith community will examine polices, practices, traditions, and commitments (financial and otherwise) within every sector of our community for ways we all continue to uphold white racist culture. This will be difficult and painful work. No one individual, department or discipline within our community will be able to escape responsibility and culpability because we have all been socialized within this destructive, deceptive and damning culture. Undergirding this praxis is the belief that our students will learn more from what we do than what we say. 

How long this part of the journey will take, we do not know. What we will discover about ourselves, we are presently unsure. What we do know is that we need your prayers. Pray for us that we may adhere to the advice the Apostle Paul gave to the church at Galatia (Galatians 6) to not grow weary in our well-doing before we reap the harvest God has in store for us. 

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