Making Up for Lost Perspectives

1 Comment » Written on December 14th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Megan Herrold is a student at North Park Theological Seminary, pursuing an MA in Christian Formation, and is the seminary’s student representative on the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality. She recently completed an internship in formation ministries at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago.

ephesus-10-1545861-1There’s an African proverb about history that I like. I’ve heard a few different versions, but my favorite is from the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

In other words, history is written by the winners.

It’s something that always comes to mind around big U.S. national holidays like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. These holidays are centered on epic stories of a nation, but what parts, what voices of those stories are left out of our contemporary retellings?

This time, however, I’m thinking about it at the end of my internship, where I had my first major experience with children’s ministry. It’s got me reflecting on my own experience as a child in church, and on the Bible stories I learned and didn’t learn as a kid. And not just the stories, but how I think about God (my theology) because of those stories.

Why did I learn about Delilah and not Deborah? Why did I learn that Sarah laughed when told she would have a son and was chided for her lack of faith, but I never learned the stories of Abraham succumbing to fears and or having incomplete trust in God? And what did I learn through these stories about men and women as reflections of the image of God?

I suppose it’s clear through these questions that I think that whatever I learned, it was incomplete. I grew up in a Lutheran church, so a lot of the theology I learned in my confirmation class was based on the teachings of Martin Luther. In my denomination’s history, Luther’s ideas and arguments were the correct ones; he was the “winner” whose version of things was passed on through the generations. I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad, just that I think I probably missed some things.

The point is that not all Christians throughout the ages have had equal access to education. Not all of us have been garnered equal respect for our thoughts and ideas. The story of God that has been handed down to us is the one that came from people who were considered respectable, who were considered worth listening to, according to whatever social standards of their time.

I recently finished a biography on Katharine Bushnell, who was a Christian activist and theologian who had a global impact in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, but she was largely dismissed later in her life because her ideas and strategies were no longer popular. But I’m so glad I was able to find her story and learn from her experience and perspective. I feel like I was missing an important piece of church history that she represents.

So how do we access the stories and ideas that have been overlooked? How do we fill in the gaps in this story?

I’ve seen a couple of different ways to try to teach more complete theology. One is to simply start teaching new perspectives, especially those that have previously been discredited or ignored. Create a class on Liberation Theology or African Christianity. At North Park seminary, there’s a popular course titled Women, the Bible, and the Church. I’ve seen syllabi for courses that have all the traditionally taught elements of Christian history or worship, but then have specific classes devoted to what was happening or developed in other parts of the world.

However, I’ve also had courses where different perspectives are more thoroughly integrated throughout the entire semester, rather than having specific courses or classes devoted to one idea. The main textbooks are more comprehensive in presenting different perspectives, and the supplemental readings each week rotate between authors from a variety of different backgrounds. There’s an Intercultural Readings course next semester that I wish I could fit into my degree plan, and from what I’ve seen of the syllabus, it looks like it leans more towards this method of presenting diverse ideas.

It’s this second, more integrative method that I personally prefer.

I’m not writing this to say there isn’t a place for courses like Women, the Bible, and the Church. I’ve never taken the class, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that anyway. And I know it’s pretty popular and students—women and men—seem to appreciate what they learn there. What I mean is that there’s a reason I’ve never considered signing up for the course, or any like it: I’m not interested in learning about women as a special subset of church leaders, or Biblical characters, or Christians in general.

A few years ago, the church I was attending at the time had a sermon series on major characters from the Bible and what we could learn from their stories. A friend of mine mentioned at one point that she would love to hear a series on women in the Bible. I replied that I would rather have more women’s stories folded into the series we were already doing. (The series had featured only men up until that point. In fact, it may have ended up being exclusively male characters, but I feel like there was at least one woman. Maybe Esther was added in at the end?)

I had similar thoughts when I was in Washington, DC, in Spring 2015, when the National Museum of African American History and Culture was still under construction. One of the other students in the group I was with commented that it was about time that such a museum opened. And I agreed it was disappointing that it took so long for this aspect of our national history and culture to gain this level of recognition. (Apparently the idea for such a museum was first proposed in 1915, more than a century before it opened.) But I also said that what I would really like to see is more integration of all cultures in our nation into national museums that already exist, like the American History museum.

Of course, this integration has its own drawbacks. It could lead to appropriation. And I admit, there’s something about giving historically marginalized people or cultures or groups their own space that seems to do more to make up for past lack of respect.

I suppose for me the answer is to try to pursue some of both strategies. After all, the only really wrong way for me to try to make up for what I’ve missed would be to do nothing at all.


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One Response to “Making Up for Lost Perspectives”

Megan – Thanks so much for this post. I often share how separation is not segregation. If history were taught, displayed and experienced in a more diverse and inclusion format, someone would decide whose story would still need to be left out. I too long for a more comprehensive journey where the many sides of each story could be told. So much to ponder and think about when everything is truly censored by the winners of history. Thanks again for raising the need for a bigger table where all are invited in and each experience has equal value and worth.

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