A Call to Action for Candler’s White Faculty

As white members of the faculty of Candler School of Theology, we affirm unequivocally that Black Lives Matter. 

The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade have once again revealed the deadly power of white supremacy and our failure as white people of faith and conscience to do the work necessary to dismantle it. We see the pain, grief, trauma, and anger experienced by our Black colleagues and students, and we join in protest against anti-black violence both here in Atlanta and around the nation. In this moment, we focus on Black lives, while we also confess that white supremacy harms other minoritized people. It is imperative that we not only affirm the value of Black life, but that we also confess our complicity with white supremacy and work to divest ourselves and our institutions of it. 

As faculty of Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, we recognize that we are nestled within institutions within a city within a state within a nation enmeshed in centuries of white supremacy, state-sanctioned violence against Black people, and the theft of Black labor. Furthermore, Candler School of Theology was formed in 1914 within the tradition of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, a denomination that separated from its national counterparts in 1844 in defense of human enslavement. John Emory, our university’s namesake, was a Maryland bishop and an enslaver. Warren Candler, our school’s namesake, advocated for Black education—but only within the separate and unequal framework of the segregated South, and not at the school that bore his name. We have too often accepted unremarked, and often unawares, the white supremacist theologies that have shaped white Christianity in this nation and that separate us from our Black and minoritized kin and thus from our God. We confront and confess this sin, and we repent.

We also recognize the broader legacies of white supremacy within our city and our state. The city of Atlanta stood as both beacon and barrier to Black southerners in the Jim Crow era, a place of opportunity and a place of terror, and then as a birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and a center of white supremacist resistance. Racist histories of school segregation, unequal school funding, redlining, racist housing policies, and unequal access to health care have shaped the landscape in which we live and learn. Black Georgians suffer disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic even as they provide the state’s most essential labor in its midst. Georgia’s history of convict labor, incarceration, and racist policing stretches unbroken from the nineteenth century to the present. These practices have always been contested by Black activists. We stand in solidarity with the protests and demonstrations against racial violence and injustice that manifest that tradition of activism in this very moment. 

As individuals, we stand in diverse religious and theological traditions that shape our commitments to justice. Together, we teach in a Christian theological school. This affirmation, confession, and commitment reflect core convictions of the Christian faith:

  • Each human being is a beloved child of God, a bearer of God’s own image of creativity and love; 
  • God calls us to tend first to the vulnerable, the harmed, and the oppressed; 
  • The health of the Body of Christ depends on the health of each of its members; 
  • God’s peace is inextricably interwoven with God’s justice; and 
  • God’s work in us is ongoing such that we stand in perpetual need of transformation and healing.

In its ideology, its theology, its practices, and its structures, white supremacy is a heresy that denies these core truths of the Christian faith. As long as white people participate in and benefit from white supremacy, we cannot be the people God calls us to be and we continue to undermine the kingdom of God. We desecrate the body of God when we participate in violence against Black and other minoritized people, whether through action, inaction, feigned ignorance, silence, or uncritical acceptance of the privileges of whiteness. 

We understand that white supremacy is embedded in our nation’s history, culture, and institutions. Furthermore, we recognize that white supremacy feeds on a pathological individualism that denies structural injustice. Therefore, we seek to do more than re-dedicate ourselves to personal change. We are confessing participation in the structural racism of our institution and committing ourselves to active anti-racist practices in our pedagogy and governance. 

We are painfully aware of the many ways public statements like this go wrong and fall short. And we are also deeply aware of how statements alone are not enough. But we recognize that the complicity of silence outweighs the risk of mistakes and that speech can be the first step to action. We write in a spirit of humility and repentance, aware that we are deeply complicit in the very ideologies and structures we seek to reject. We write in a spirit of prayer, asking that God give us the strength and courage to change ourselves and the structures that impact our lives together. We write in a spirit of hope, knowing that the God who calls us to change also makes the change possible, and that God forgives and corrects our flawed efforts.

Therefore, we make known the confessions and commitments we hold in our hearts. We ask forgiveness for where we have almost certainly gotten this wrong.  

We confess that:

  • We have benefitted from white supremacy. 
  • We have failed to challenge the practices of white supremacy in our curriculum, pedagogy, governance, and community life. 
  • We have opted for shallow claims of peace and unity at the expense of the deeper work of justice. 
  • We have mistaken white shame and guilt for the real work of collaborative efforts toward racial justice.
  • We have responded to criticism and challenging feedback with defensiveness, justification, and narcissism, instead of being open to learning, correction, and transformation.
  • We have allowed our behavior and decisions to be governed by a fear of losing power.
  • We have not purged our institutions of white supremacist worldviews and practices. 

It is not enough to affirm our convictions and confess our failures. We know that such statements ring hollow without accompanying action. And so, we also name how we will live into these commitments, with specific ways in which we plan to take action at Candler and beyond. This list is a living document, part of an ongoing conversation and dialogue. 

Therefore, we commit to:

  • Build up our understanding of the history and present constructions of race in our context, and the ways in which we are implicated in it, past and present: 
    • We are establishing faculty reading groups for 2020-2021 with bibliographies including work on the construction of whiteness and books by Black and other authors of color who write on race. 
  • Study and practice anti-racist pedagogy and challenge our white faculty colleagues to do so as well:
    • We will advocate for time at each faculty meeting in 2020-2021 for discussion and application of anti-racist pedagogical practice.
  • De-center whiteness in our curriculum, procedures of governance, and community life:
    • Beginning in 2020-2021, the Curriculum and Policy Committee will now review every core course in our curriculum every three years, with particular attention both to the diversity of sources and to assignments that honor the diversity of student backgrounds.
    • When Black and other minoritized colleagues are under-represented in key positions in our governance, we will name it and work toward more equitable distribution of leadership.
    • In meetings, we will amplify ideas and concerns expressed by our Black and minoritized colleagues.
    • We will make special effort to participate in community events (worship, special lectures, etc.) that center the voices of Black colleagues and students. 
  • Advocate for institutional policies and practices that contribute to the well-being of Black and other minoritized faculty, staff, and students: 
    • Aware of the cultural taxation that many of our Black and other minoritized faculty colleagues experience, we ask the Personnel and Academic Policy Committee to identify tangible and creative means of honoring that work and reducing its burden.
    • We will listen to Black and other minoritized colleagues and advocate for policies and programs that they experience as nourishing their academic life and vocational pursuits.   
    • We will invite quarterly reports during faculty meetings from the Candler Staff Advisory Council so that faculty will be educated about and responsive to the needs of staff.  
    • We support the Black Student Caucus’s call for Candler to direct resources to address the grief, hurt, and trauma that systemic racism and racist violence introduce into students’ lives and into the lives of their communities.  
    • We will support the Office of Student Life and student organizations representing the needs of under-represented minorities (such as the Black Student Caucus) with our personal presence, academic resources, and advocacy. 
    • We will advocate for compliance with the recommendations of Candler’s Community and Diversity Committee.
    • We will contribute to a faculty culture that attends to the impact of policies, practices, and current events on Black and other minoritized faculty, staff, and students.
    • Understanding their importance for emotional health, we will respect the sanctity and autonomy of Black spaces. 
  • Support Black leadership in our institution and community 
    • We will align ourselves with organizations and events led by Black colleagues and students.
    • We are identifying Black-led organizations in our own communities that are working toward racial justice and supporting them with our time and our resources. 

With these confessions and commitments, we re-dedicate ourselves to the ongoing process of sanctification, the conversion of self, the healing of relationship, and the transformation of structures. We are aware that every commitment will likely prompt another confession, but we pledge to keep trying to relinquish the power of white supremacy in our lives and lessen its grip on our learning community. And we pledge to continue the process of risk, confession, repentance, and reform. May God give us the courage to do what is required to create a learning community of justice, healing, and transformation.

Click here for a list of signatories.

Click here for a PDF of this letter.

15 thoughts on “A Call to Action for Candler’s White Faculty

  1. Thank you for this statement; it provides much for me to reflect and act on in my own life.

    Will Candler School of Theology and Emory University be sharing this widely via their social media platforms?

  2. Thank you to all the faculty who engaged with this and helped put this statement and action plan together. Your former students are grateful for each of you 🙂

  3. I was happy to sign this and support it. I do have a couple of suggestions for improvement.
    First, I think ‘God’s own image of creativity and love’ should just be ‘God’s image’. Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us what the image is, and historically attempts to define it in this way (viz., in terms of certain qualities or attributes) have been used to support just the sort of racial (and other) hierarchies this statement contests (viz., those who are more rational – or creative or whatever – have more of God’s image and so are more human).
    Second, I think referring to white supremacy as a heresy is wrong. A heresy is a public teaching put forward by a Christian or group of Christians as a specifically Christian teaching. So a heresy has to be explicitly taught, and taught as something purportedly Christian. But no US church (other than the Church of the Aryan Nations and other marginal groups) teaches white supremacy. Better to describe white supremacy as a sin that affects all majority white US churches, notwithstanding their public pronouncements of racial solidarity.

    1. I do not think that heresy is too strong a word. Certainly in the 1870’s, James Henley Thornwell infamously preached the biblical justification of slavery form a Presbyterian pulpit. Denominations split over the issue. In the civil rights era of the 1960’s many white southern churches were not just silent, as Martin Luther King points out in his Letter form a Birmingham jail, but actively preaching belief in the “separation of the races” (npr.org, 2020). The putting forward of white supremacy as an explicitly Christian teaching is certainly real until a very recent past, and naming it as heresy is an important step toward correcting it. The extent to which culture and religion have been intermingled in the United States and a current cultural environment that emboldens people’s beliefs in white supremacy, even if they are learned from a (generously) mere 50 years ago, makes fighting against this heresy more urgent in the now, and I applaud the strong language as it stands.

      NPR.org. “White Supremacist Ideas Have Historical Roots In U.S. Christianity.” Accessed July 15, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/07/01/883115867/white-supremacist-ideas-have-historical-roots-in-u-s-christianity.

      1. That there have been instances where white supremacy has been taught is clear. And where it is, then the label of heresy is appropriate (most famously, the WAR condemnation of apartheid as a heresy at the end of the last century). But in a context where it is not an explicit teaching in the present, the label actually allows too easy a way out. Churches and their members will simply (and justifiably) say, ‘We don’t teach white supremacy, so the codemnation doesn’t apply to us.’ The question isn’t whether the label is too strong (indeed, if that’s the issue, I can’t think of any label that could be stronger than ‘sin’), but whether it is accurate.

  4. Thank you for this commitment! Candler has so many excellent faculty members and I’m grateful for your efforts to support Black faculty members, staff, and students.

  5. This is a wonderful statement and commitment. I am specially thankful that the faculty will try to employ non-racist pedagogy. Years ago I spoke to professors and administrators about making sure we displayed multiple images of God in classroom PowerPoints. Several black students expressed concern (like our female peers) about not seeing God represented in ways that affirm their worth. If the faculty remains committed to listening to students of color, the classroom will grow as a safe space for black bodies.

  6. Yes. To every single thing on here, yes. Thank you for putting these words in writing and making a public commitment to anti-racism and to anti-racist theological pedagogy.

  7. Thank you for writing and publishing this statement. In sharing your collective confessions, convictions, and commitments to deeper understanding and further action, you have not only kept me abreast of how Candler is engaging in these necessary transformations; you are also reminding me as a Candler grad and UM pastor of the inventory I must take in my own life, and of personal steps I can take on the lifelong journey of sanctification.

  8. Thank you for this statement. It resonates deeply. And thank you for acknowledging white supremacy as heresy. Many do not want to acknowledge/believe it, but the American church played a MAJOR role in white supremacy, slavery and other structurally and physically violent acts against Black people, and TAUGHT it. Inherently at odds with the gospel, thus heresy. Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” is an excellent read on the topic. He documents how the Church supported robbing Africans of basic rights when Church leaders could have advanced laws for their protection, abused Scripture to benefit slave masters and keep their captives oppressed, etc. A tough read, but necessary if we are ever truly going to move forward as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ: https://g.co/kgs/6nea5g Without repentance from and acknowledgement of what happened, and the role the Church played, the centuries of pain and suffering Black people endured is undermined. So to move forward, we have to accept/denounce the Church’s early treacheries and heal those wounds. This statement is a beautiful step in the direction of true healing. Thank you!

  9. Thank you for this well- written statement. I hope that included in your work is supporting a living wage And democratic workplace for all employees on Emory’s campus. (MDiv 1980)

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