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Yale Divinity School launches social justice center with progressive minister at helm

‘The intersection of theology and advocacy’

Yale Divinity School will launch a new theology center in the coming months that aims to advance social justice and battle systemic inequality.

It will be led by Bishop William Barber II, a prominent progressive Christian minister known for his “moral movement” anti-poverty advocacy.

Barber helps lead the Poor People’s Campaign, for example, which challenges “the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”

He will lead at Yale what is being called the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy.

It’s being created to instruct the next generation of theologians, lawyers and activists on how to engage with America’s current social issues relating to systemic inequality. To achieve this, the center “will pursue teaching, practice, research, and collaboration at the intersection of theology and advocacy,” according to a Dec. 19 news release from the school.

The center will also organize regular meetings and a “biennial training summit that brings together scholars, interfaith religious leaders, economists, activists, lawyers, students, and community members,” the release added.

In addition to economic inequality, the center will address such issues as “racism, the climate crisis, injustice, and more,” according to Yale’s news release.

“If we’re serious when we say the first goal of the society is to establish justice, or if we’re serious when we say the first premise of religion is love and justice and truth — that’s what we hope to bring, seed and propagate in the public square for this new Center for Public Theology and Public Policy,” Barber told Religion News Service.

Barber, who pastored Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., for 30 years, will fully transition to his new role as the center’s founding director in June, according to Religion News Service.

In addition to his directorial duties, he will serve as a professor in the practice of public theology and public policy.

“While I continue the work of movement building, I’m transitioning my pastoral work from the congregation to the classroom. I want to walk with the next generation of moral leaders and share with them what was passed down to me,” the pastor said in Yale’s news release.

The center will begin its work in early 2023, the release added.

“Establishment of the Center at YDS is an opportunity to deepen our relationship to a historical movement that revives nearly two centuries of social justice tradition to meet the complex social realities of our time,” divinity school Dean Greg Sterling said.

Neither Barber nor the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy’s staff immediately responded to requests from The College Fix for comment.

Asked to weigh in on the progressive nature of Yale’s new religious center, Corey Miller, president of the nationwide Christian campus apologetics ministry Ratio Christi, voiced skepticism.

In an email to The College Fix, Miller said he believes Yale’s new institute will act as an avenue for teaching young students “critical theories and their various iterations from critical race theory, critical queer theory (indeed, even queer theology), climate justice, and cultural Marxist activism of sorts.”

“While the new center is intended to spawn a movement of activists related to public theology and public policy, bringing it all together reveals it will really be political theology with a Leftist bent,” Miller said.

MORE: Judge rules lawsuit against Yale filed by concerned alumni may proceed

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About the Author
David Zimmermann -- Grove City College