A Call to Action to Princeton Theological Seminary
To President Barnes and the Board of Trustees at Princeton Theological Seminary:
We the people of PTS have been and continue to be grieved by the way we see our Black siblings brutalized by police violence and racism in our country. As followers of Christ, seekers of justice, and leaders in the Church, we denounce the violence and racism that have caused brutal deaths, the most recent of which include: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and innumerable others. When atrocities like this occur, it is important that we speak out against them quickly and definitively. While we sincerely appreciate the grief and lament expressed in your recent response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, we sense it lacks the appropriate outrage and the necessary call for our school to make responsible changes to become more explicitly anti-racist. We long for that type of institutional response from Princeton Seminary, not only from individual faculty members but also from its administrators and trustees.
For too long, white Christianity has been able to ignore the reality of Black suffering under white supremacy in America. For too long, our theological frameworks have remained fundamentally unmoved in response to the challenges of racism, police brutality, and mass incarceration. For too long, we have allowed propositional, doctrinal, academic theology to suffice when what we need is active, justice-oriented theology.
James Cone wrote The Cross and the Lynching Tree in 2011. At the time of its writing, Cone identified the failure of white Christianity to connect the cross with the lynching tree, symbolically, and theologically. He sought to make that connection explicit. In his conclusion, he wrote, “The lynching tree is a metaphor for white America’s crucifixion of black people. It is the window that best reveals the religious meaning of the cross in our land. In this sense, black people are Christ figures, not because they wanted to suffer but because they had no choice. Just as Jesus had no choice in his journey to Calvary, so black people had no choice about being lynched. The evil force of the Roman state and of white supremacy in America willed it. Yet, God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree and transformed them both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation, there is hope ‘beyond tragedy.’”(Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 166)
In our seminary classes, many of us have read some of James Cone’s theology. We may make connections between physical lynching trees and modern-day lynching of Black and Brown bodies via police brutality and extrajudicial violence. How can we hear of George Floyd’s murder and not associate it with the public spectacle of lynching meant to frighten and terrorize Black men, women, and children? We may also have read the words of John Sobrino. If Black men and women in America are being crucified, then we, as Christians have a moral obligation to “take them down off the cross,” as Sobrino says.
There is a time for weeping, for grief, and even (dare we say it) for silence. But now is not that time. Now is the time for action. How will the Seminary, how will you, President Barnes, how will you, Trustees of PTS, act and facilitate the action of taking the crucified people down off the crosses of America? We call for something stronger than words, something more powerful and dangerous than mere public confession or acknowledgement. “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18 NRSV). As part of our covenant together, we as a seminary must commit ourselves to the work of anti-racism.
As members of the Princeton Theological Seminary community, we call upon our institution and our leaders to stand against this kind of violence and brutality continually and constantly and to prepare our students for ministry that will stand firm and work for justice. We have a commitment to stand in solidarity with those who are grieving these losses and to work to dismantle the structures and systems that have led to this.
In the response given to the community after the Slavery Audit by the Board of Trustees, President Barnes stated that “Our response to the historical audit is the beginning of our community’s journey of repair as we seek to redress historic wrongs and to help the Seminary be more faithful to our mission as a school of the church, both now and in the years to come.” (PTS response Press Release) There is still work to be done in addressing the issue of systemic racism on our own campus and in the world that we live in.
In his response to the murder of George Floyd, President Barnes also stated that “For centuries our white dominated society has systemically made it so hard for blacks to breathe fully.” (Barnes on the Death of George Floyd) This is true globally and on our own campus. President Barnes, we would like to imagine with you what it would look like for PTS to be a place where Black students, faculty, and staff could breathe fully?
In light of all of this, we call upon you, Dr. Barnes, and the Board of Trustees, as Princeton Seminary’s leaders and decision makers, to do the following:
- To commit to making anti-racism training an intentional and explicit priority at all levels of the Seminary (faculty, staff, and students). As a covenant community, it is important that we commit ourselves to fostering a loving and empowering space for all of our members. We must therefore commit to anti-racism. This commitment should take shape throughout our entire community and students should have direct input and co-decision making power on the logistics of how anti-racism training is carried out.
- To partner with organizations and churches that are already doing the work of educating for anti-racism, fighting for justice, and doing advocacy work for systematized racial oppression. In creating relationships of financial and institutional support, we can participate in and learn about the work that is already being done, as well as better equip our students as future ministers and advocates in the communities in which they will live and work. We, therefore, invite you to support churches and organizations like the following:
- Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which has been organizing itself as a safe space in Minneapolis for protestors, and is taking donations and operating as a food bank for huge parts of the city where grocery stores are shut down. Providing tangible financial support (and encouraging our community to do the same) is an immediate way our institution can partner with the efforts of this church in this current crisis. https://htlcmpls.org/donate/
- Salvation and Social Justice, an organization based right here in New Jersey. Their mission is “...to liberate public policy theologically by building Black faith-rooted communication strategies, advocacy, and public education campaigns, to lift up poor, underserved, and traditionally oppressed communities with a particular focus on racial justice through abolition, restoration, transformation, and coalition.” https://sandsj.org/home
- Myers Park Presbyterian Church (Charlotte, NC), which has invited its members and other churches to participate in its 21-day race equity challenge called “Better When We’re Back Together.” This challenge provides resources for anti-racism training such as articles, videos, and podcasts that include the voices of Black and brown authors, some of whom you will be familiar with or might know personally. Established by Myers Park’s Faith Formation team, this challenge is an opportunity for us to unlearn what we have learned and reflect on the ways we can participate in anti-racist change, which is the faith formation our country and church desperately needs. https://myersparkpres.org/project/better-when-were-back-together/
- To call on and implore the leaders of other institutions of higher education to also take anti-racist action. Princeton Theological Seminary not only provides training for the church’s future leaders but the Seminary itself is a leader in the public arena, domestically and internationally, especially for institutions of higher education and those who are dedicated to residential learning and theological education. It is important for the Seminary to continue in that role of leadership and to set a precedent and example for the ways in which academic institutions can tangibly respond to injustice. As not only a Christian institution but as a seminary, it is our responsibility to unequivocally pursue justice and call others to do the same.
It is our severe hope and faith in Jesus Christ that compels us forward in this work and calls us to action as a seminary. As Kelly Brown Douglass has reminded us, “If faith is about partnering with God in mending the earth, then faith communities by definition are accountable not to a status-quo where the injustice and inequality of white supremacy reigns. Rather, they are accountable to a more just future where all people are truly created equal. Simply put, faith leaders are to be driven by the urgings of their souls—regardless of their political leanings. It is left to faith leaders, therefore, to live into who they claim to be and thus lead the nation back to its very soul.” (Douglas, America's Lost Soul) With all this in mind we call the leadership of Princeton Theological Seminary action.We ask that our institution stands with and for our Black siblings through both words and action.
Grieved and Concerned Members of the PTS Community
Nii Addo Abrahams M.Div. Alumni, Class of 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
C. Duke Anderson;M.Div. Alumni, Class of 2020; Cedric.email@example.com
Jalen Baker, M.Div. Student, Class of 2021, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tyler Brinks, M.Div./MACEF Student, Class of 2021 email@example.com
Lisa Bowens, Associate Professor of New Testament, firstname.lastname@example.org
Noah Buchholz, PhD Student in Religion and Society, email@example.com
Kamaria Byrd, MDiv. Student, Class of 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexis Davidson, Student Spouse, email@example.com
Samuel Davidson, PhD Student in Theology, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashley Gonzalez, Latinx M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, email@example.com
Carter Suzanne Grant, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bailie Gregory, M. Div. Alumni, Class of 2020, email@example.com
Christopher Henderson, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren Hoak, M.Div./MACEF Student, Class of 2023, email@example.com
Anthony Jones M.Div./MACEF Student, Class of 2022 firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtney Jones, Student Spouse
Peter Jonescu, M.Div. Student, Class of 2021, email@example.com
Zechariah Knepper, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy Lambson, MDiv/MACEF Student, Class of 2022, Jeremy.Lambson@ptsem.edu
Cleophus J LaRue, Professor of Homiletics, Cleophus.email@example.com
Emma-Claire Martin M.Div./MACEF Student, Class of 2023, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brooke Matejka, MDiv/MACEF Student, Class of 2023, email@example.com
Elsie McKee, Professor of Reformation Studies, firstname.lastname@example.org
Connor McManus, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, email@example.com
Lani McQuilkin, Student Spouse, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tyler McQuilkin, M.Div, Class of 2022, email@example.com
Alyssa Queen Mitchell, MDiv./MACEF Student, Class of 2023, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brittany Naumann, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, email@example.com
Emily Pruszinski, M.Div./MACEF Student, Class of 2022, Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
Jolyon Pruszinski, Lecturer, Princeton University, PTS M.Div. '14, Ph.d. '19,
Hanna Reichel, Associate Professor of Reformed Theology email@example.com
Harlan Redmond, M.Div. Student, Class of 2021, firstname.lastname@example.org
Neal Spadafora, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, email@example.com
Anna Stamborski, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily D. Sutphin, M.Div. Student, Class of 2022, Emily.email@example.com
Mark Lewis Taylor, Professor of Theology and Culture, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alisa Hovagimian Unell M.Div./MACEF Student, Class of 2021, email@example.com
Emma Worrall M.Div Student, Class of 2022, Emma.firstname.lastname@example.org
Nikki Zimmermann, M.Div. Student, Class of 2021, email@example.com
Emily Zinsitz, M.Div/MACEF, Class of 2023, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lena Zwarg, MDiv. Student, Class of 2022, email@example.com
And all the undersigned below