Black seminarians take first-time religious freedom course

Religion News Service | 1/10/2019 | Staff
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WASHINGTON (RNS) — As former religious freedom ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook stood before a class of black theological students, one raised his hand to ask her if it had been challenging to work with atheists and agnostics.

“It’s not about what I believe or what I think you should believe,” responded Johnson Cook, the first African-American and clergyperson in the State Department post. “It’s about you have the right to believe or not believe.”

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Gathered Tuesday (Jan. 8) around five round tables in a studio of the Newseum, 35 students from religious graduate schools at historically black colleges and universities attended the first session of a four-day intensive class on religious freedom. They were there to learn the lessons and lingo of a field that has traditionally been predominated by white men. The new pilot course is part of a partnership with the theological school of Virginia Union University and the Religious Freedom Center, a nonpartisan initiative of the Freedom Forum Institute.

The three-year program is funded by a $450,000 grant from the Luce Fund for Theological Education.

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The Rev. Sheila Davis, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor in Baltimore, said Johnson Cook helped her understand religious freedom from a different point of view.

That surprised her.

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“I thought I had it down pat at this point,” said Davis, who also is a student at Payne Theological Seminary.

Corey D.B. Walker, former dean at VUU’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology and a consultant on the project, said the partnership aims to help African-American students learn about the range of views on religious freedom in a religiously diverse and “religious averse” country. Those perspectives are shaped by everything from declines in traditional Christian church attendance to increasing Muslim populations from the African diaspora to statements by Church of God in Christ Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. defending...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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