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BJC conversation to feature four Black scholars on white supremacy and religious liberty

Each year since 2006, BJC has hosted essential, timely lectures about religious liberty on various college campuses across the country, featuring leading scholars and advocates. The Shurden Lectures this year will have a different, exciting format and focus on a critical topic. “Religious Liberty Has Been White Too Long” will feature four Black scholars presenting individually and then in conversation on Wednesday, April 14, at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. The event will be broadcast live and is free and open to all. Sign up here.

BJC’s press release announcing the event introduces the topic this way:

In our discussions about religious liberty, how can we dismantle a narrative that centers white experiences and upholds white supremacy? Learn from four experts as they examine ways that white supremacy has impeded our understanding of faith freedom for all.

The lecturers are Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood (Vanderbilt Divinity School), Dr. Anthony Pinn (Rice University), Dr. Nicole Myers Turner (Yale University), and Dr. David Goatley (Duke Divinity School). Their conversation will be moderated by BJC Director of Education Charles Watson, Jr. (For a great preview of the event, watch this Facebook Live conversation featuring Watson and BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler.)

The import and stakes of this year’s event couldn’t be higher. The topic reflects the growing recognition of the need to hear Black voices in all conversations revolving around faith in America. In a column for BJC’s spring magazine, Tyler wrote openly about the need for honest self-reflection when it comes to our understanding of the history of religious liberty.

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We hold up Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams and John Leland as our inspiration. But how often do we talk about Gowan Pamphlet, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Prathia Hall and Gardner C. Taylor as heroes of faith freedom?

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This isn’t just about representation but about valuing the contributions that members of our diverse community offer. I have come to believe that freedom is best understood through the perspective of those who know what it’s like not to be free. We see this truth in the Exodus story, in liberation theology and in the Black Church…


Before we white people speak, we need to listen. BJC is doing just that this year, as we focus on learning from BIPOC scholars, theologians, preachers, writers, philosophers, poets, prophets and podcasters about faith freedom for all. We are intentionally working to decenter the voices that have taken up almost all of the conversation about religious freedom to this point. We aren’t erasing those voices that have been dominant for so long, but we are making room for everyone to find a home and equal place in our conversations and organization.

This year’s Shurden Lectures promises to be an important step in that work, as well as an informative, insightful, challenging and moving conversation. Don’t miss it!

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