Episcopal Divinity School’s seminar on Spirituality for Social Justice

Episcopal Divinity School
Posted May 3, 2024

The Rev. Dr. Alan Boesak, The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, Archdeacon Rosalyn Kantlaht’ant Elm, Dr. Kwok Pui Lan, the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes.

On April 13, 2024, Dr. Kwok Pui Lan, Professor of Systematic Theology at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, joined EDS Interim President the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas to co-lead “Spirituality for Social Justice,” a day-long seminar that explored the critical role of spiritual practices in the work of social justice. Dr. Douglas and Dr. Kwok offered their insights on what spirituality means to them in the context of their justice work, and invited guest speakers the Rev. Dr. Alan Boesak, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, Archdeacon Rosalyn Kantlaht’ant Elm and the Rev. Jim Merritt, to do the same.

The day began with Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas and Dr. Kwok Pui Lan in conversation about the relationship between spirituality and social justice. Dr. Kowk Pui Lan began this conversation by asking, “At a time like this with [so many] religious, racial, and forms of violence, how can we live out a life with hope and integrity? What is the bread for the journey? Where can we find sustenance? Who are the other pilgrims on this journey to find God and to be a prophet or a light in this very troubled world?” Dr. Douglas added, “When we talk about spirituality for social justice I think of not simply that sustaining spirit, but the transforming spirit—that which transforms, that which expands our moral imaginary in such a way that we can understand more broadly, expansively, and inclusively the meaning of justice itself.”

From there, Dr. Douglas joined in conversation with South African theologian and anti-apartheid activist Dr. Allan Boesak for a discussion of the ways in which his unshakeable faith carried him in the face of oppression and violence. “Spirituality means to be as intimately connected to God in everything I do. The worship of God in the sanctuary should be the worship of God in the streets” he shared. Dr. Boesak also reflected on how he reconciled the Jesus he knew and the Jesus the colonizers claimed. “Only the Jesus who took on the woundedness of the people and the woundedness of the world is the Jesus who is real,” he said.

Dr. Kwok Pui Lan then led a session with Archdeacon Rosalyn Kantlaht’ant Elm, Archdeacon for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ministry with the Diocese of Huron, and the Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt, chaplain and Director of Eastern European Affair at the Global Justice Institute, to hear about their on-the-ground social justice work and the ways their spiritual practice infuses their service. They shared about how they maintain their spiritual practice daily and the importance of taking care of oneself when working in fields that directly confront injustice.

The final guest speaker of the day was Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Diocese of Washington. Bishop Budde shared about the way spirituality and social justice are foundational to her ministry, and her personal journey toward understanding the ways in which the two are interconnected. “If we think of social justice as the ways we try to embody love for all people and not just for some people, human dignity for all people and not just for the ‘blessed’ or the ‘lucky’, it’s a commitment to ensure that no child of God is deny the full experience of being human,” she shared.

Throughout the day, it was acknowledged that spirituality is not solely an intellectual exercise, but more an embodied experience. Accordingly, the day was filled with song, including Breathe” by Maverick City Music feat. Jonathan McReynolds & Chandler Moore, “God Who Sees Us” by Gloria Fanchaing, and seminar-exclusive performances by systematic theologian, legal scholar, and gospel singer Byron Wratee, and Candler School of Theology professor and sacred music composer Tony Alonso. The seminar also included small discussion groups throughout the day to encourage community reflection and learning. The seminar ended with liturgy from the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, Professor of Worship and Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, leading a participatory ritual that grounded participants in connecting to the earth as a source of spiritual sustenance for justice work. “Spirituality and social justice are,” as Dr. Carvalhaes shared, “ two wings of the same bird.”